Hi there, I’m James
There's a lot of information here, so feel free to skip to the sections that are most relevant to you using the buttons and paragraph headings provided!
For more informal background on why I love languages and tutoring, check out my early blog posts.
If you are here about singing and piano lessons and would like to know more about my career as a professional opera singer, check out the Singing and Piano page, or head directly over to my opera website. (Opens in new window)
Languages are my yin and yang, opera singing is my nirvana, teaching is my gift onwards...
School and University
I have always enjoyed meeting people and making new friends! I am naturally curious about people, I guess, and that extends across borders too. In fact, the more 'foreign' someone is, the more intrigued I am by them. Throw in a language barrier on top... then I'm really hooked!!
I loved language lessons at school and the trips abroad that came with them. At that age I didn't have a career plan in my head, so I simply decided to learn more about the things that interested me. I applied to read Combined Honours French and Russian at Exeter University, spending my third year in Bordeaux and Воронеж, (Voronezh) Russia. I was meeting a lot of 'foreign' people, exploring our similarities, and enquiring about our differences...!
CIMA at BA; English teaching in Milan; GSMD, the Opera Studio and opera career
After university, I worked for three years at British Airways (employed on the basis of my languages degree and a very rusty maths A level!), qualifying as a CIMA management accountant. I gained invaluable financial and commercial experience which left me with a workable understanding of the daily demands of corporate life. But a new pathway opened, and I headed to Milan to study opera singing and teach English. This was my first taste of tutoring, and whilst it had its challenges for someone with no formal teacher training at the time, I had some incredible clients, from professors of town-planning and young legal professionals to the Direzione Investigativa Anti-Mafia! Returning to the UK to pursue my singing, I gained entrance to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and then the London Opera Studio. Since then, I have had some wonderful experiences performing operas in Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Czech around the UK, Europe and further afield. Opera is the meeting point of music, language, literature and art, so it remains my spiritual home.
PGCE Modern Foreign Languages
Canterbury Christchurch University, Kent UK, 2016-2017
Professional Assignments: Talk for Writing pedagogy for development of MFL speaking skills; Motivational Theory on Second Language Acquisition; Strategies to support autistic learners. Enhanced Studies Project with placement: Education systems in Belgium and Holland.
Online and Residential, Kent. 2016
TEFL Certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)
The residential part of this course was brilliant, and was facilitated by an inspiring teacher who superbly demonstrated Best Practice teaching techniques, especially of grammar, requiring the student to understand what they already knew, and take ownership of what they needed to know and how to go about learning it! (In technical terms; executive function and self-regulation)
Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London UK
MMus in Pusic Performance, 2000-2001
Vocal Training, Movement and Performance studies (Opera and Lieder focus)
Birkbeck College, University of London, UK
Diploma in Performance Studies and Opera (with Distinction)
Specialisms: History of opera, Theory and Practice, Career Management
Exeter University, Devon, UK
BA Combined Honours in French and Russian (2:1)
Specialisms: Language, Literature, History, Art. Modern French Poetry, Fiction as Film. Novels of Yourcenar, Tournier, and Dostoevsky. Reading knowledge of Czech and the evolution of Slavic languages.
TEFL & PGCE; Classroom experience; Move to France
Following a TEFL course and a PGCE from Canterbury Christ Church, I taught French and Spanish in schools in Kent (UK) and since 2018 I have been tutoring full-time, operating initially out of London. In 2019 I moved to the South of France, at which point much of my tutoring transferred online. My exposure to French as a foreign language has also reached new peaks, and I continue to come across a wealth of new words and expressions on a daily basis. We are always learning... how dull life would be if we weren't!
Why I love teaching
My training in languages and my continued inquisitiveness about them have paved my way and allowed me to pursue the different career paths mentioned above. It is this enthusiasm, delight, and spirit of enquiry into languages and foreign cultures that I am keen to pass on to others. Every word we use has its own history, evolution and mini-culture embedded in it, along with its connections to other languages. Our thoughts are shaped by the words we choose to frame them and give them life. What is the effect on the mentality and culture of a people whose native language has noun genders and adjectives that must agree with them, compared with a people whose language doesn't? Or a people whose language withholds the action of the sentence - its verb - to the end, like in German? It is this fascinating world of thought and communication that I enjoy helping others to explore as well.
Yoga and Tai Chi keep me fit and relaxed, and all I ask otherwise is a bike to ride, a boat to sail, a hill to climb, a view to enjoy, an interesting book, an engrossing film, and the occasional glass of the local Blanquette! Oh... and world peace would be nice!
Introduction; Personalised Learning Blueprint; Ownership of learning
We all learn languages differently, and it is my job to find out how you learn best so that you can make progress in a mixed spirit of fun and challenge. We'll start with your 'Learning Blueprint'; WHY you are learning your chosen language, your current level of proficiency, what your hopes and objectives are, your strengths and weaknesses, and how I can best help you move forward and achieve those objectives in a given timeframe. In every tutoring session, clear lesson objectives covering vocabulary, grammar points and language skill practice are established, and every activity in that lesson is designed to ensure progress towards those goals. It is important that learning is "owned" by the student - I can't do the learning for you, I can only facilitate your own - and mutually agreeing useful, motivational and relevant lesson objectives is an integral part of the process. Mini-plenaries, quizzes, games and questioning help to assess accuracy of understanding and feed back into the learning loop.
Language Skill Practice
Language learning is not just the acquisition of vocabulary and grammatical knowledge. It is the combination of employing that knowledge and deploying that grammar across four practical skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing. The clue to the skills bit is in the word practical, as all skills need regular practice. Sourcing topical, relevant and engaging resources aligned wherever possible with your interests, I provide audio clips to listen to (radio, music, news, interviews, real life dialogues...), opportunities to speak, articles to read and structured writing tasks. These are designed around topic-based vocabulary lists, allowing you to memorise words by practising them, rather than learning lists of words in isolation. Pronunciation is especially important for communication, so careful guidance and lots of repetition help here! As an opera singer, I received extensive pronunciation coaching from native French, Italian and Russian coaches, so I can bring this experience to bear.
Conversation-based lessons; Cultural Elements
Nine times out of ten, the goal of any language learner is conversation. But make no mistake; free-ranging fluent conversation is the province of the 'Proficient language User'. So, whilst all of my teaching is aimed to facilitate conversation, care must be taken to avoid repeated errors of grammar, pronunciation, and vocab which, if allowed to persist, become deep-rooted habits that become harder to correct. Unstructured conversation lessons can also be immensely frustrating and de-motivational if attempted too early. An approach I find highly successful is to select a specific conversational setting, then divide the lesson into parts. The first part might revise a specific grammar point via one or two of the receptive skills (listening/reading). Then we might look at another topically related or culturally themed resource to build relevant vocabulary, and the third part of the lesson will be the opportunity to consolidate those elements in conversational practice. It is often pleasurable and rewarding to explore various cultural elements of the country's language you are studying through these kinds of lessons.
Grammar - the nuts and bolts
As for grammar - this is the science behind the art. It is the logical "glue" that sticks words together and makes communication happen. For instance, if I ask you about something I've asked you to do, and you reply, "I've done it", "I'm doing it" or "I'll do it", I only understand what you're telling me if we both appreciate the communicative difference in these tenses. So, I won't avoid grammar, but I can approach it very differently according to how you feel about it. Some people love it and lap up the rules! Others glaze over just at the thought of it. Essentially, grammar can either be explained or a learner can be guided towards absorbing it more intuitively (the deductive and inductive approaches), but it remains a vital part of the toolkit that will eventually boost your confidence, allowing you to succeed in exams and providing a shortcut for learning other languages later in life. It can also help to improve expressive competence and communication skills in your own language. Bonus!
Learning vocabulary depends largely on motivation and self-discipline, and ideally happens in between the sessions. It's certainly more cost-effective that way! Quizlet is a useful tool if you like language apps and quizzes. I have a range of topic-related vocab lists I can share with you, and I will encourage you to make your own as we go. It doesn't take long, and the act of creating them helps you to learn! There are a range of other techniques: flashcards, post-it notes, or even the traditional vocab book - whatever works for you really - but the key is RRR: Regular Repeated Review.
Note-Taking; Reference; Homework
Successful langage learning is achieved by regularly returning to past learning, deepening grammatical understanding, and consolidating vocabulary. Efficient notetaking for easy reference is essential and can be effectively achieved with a little structure and organisation. See Learning Tools for my suggestions. I will happily set and review homework between sessions, but this will depend on your goals, your learning blueprint, and other commitments. It will certainly contribute to a speedier progression if you can commit to it.
Exam Board Preparation; CEFR Framework; Other language qualifications
For set exam board specifications, each lesson is carefully planned either to complement any scheme of learning you may be following in school or, if appropriate, to establish a tailored scheme of our own. The National curriculum, for example, prescribes the specific topics that must be covered, but we will aim to approach them in a way that matches your interests. It's hard for anyone to learn well if they are not hooked into the subject matter! Practise assessments, past papers and listening materials are important to help students practise for the exam environment, anticipate exam requirements, and build confidence in their abilities. I also have useful resources for assessing your target language grade of the CEFR framework so that knowledge gaps can be identified and closed. This is important for nationality applications and employment opportunities abroad, for example.
A level is an extension of the learning at GCSE, but with the added bonus of investigating some of the literature, films, and music of a country's culture. Having performed and directed operas in the past, the exploration of plays and stories is close to my heart. It's all about looking at how writers and filmmakers communicate themes, social ideas and characterisations through style, form, medium and choice of words. We'll go about developing those skills via a range of approaches, study aids and exam-style questions. When it comes to exams, we will carefully adopt productive revision methods and develop efficient and effective exam technique to help you get the results you're after!
Continual Professional Development
It is important to continually reflect on and refresh one's tutoring approach by exchanging with other educators and gathering innovative ideas. I regularly participate in CPD talks and collaborative workshops, networking, and discussions on effective approaches with other tutors and educators. Examples are the week-long "Love Tutoring" Festival and CPD provided by exam boards and language platforms such as Teachit Talks. I have also played the part of "teacher as student" by signing up to conversation classes in other languages, both to refresh my own skills and remind myself what it's like to be on the receiving end of language tuition!
DBS / Casier Judiciaire CLEAR / April 2021
Tutoring and Classroom Experience
Since 2018 I have enjoyed a full client rota and have clocked up thousands of hours of tutoring experience. My main client focus has been preparing students in the UK for GCSE exams (AQA, EDEXCEL, iGCSE), which was particularly challenging recently both for teachers and students with the pandemic greatly reducing teaching time and causing huge uncertainty around exams. The usual support role of a tutor became more one of teaching the subject knowledge itself, plugging knowledge gaps caused by the reduced contact time with the classroom teacher, and developing neglected language skills.
Range of exam boards and clients
I have also supported pupils through iGCSEs in Italian, the Baccalauréat in Spanish, and I am increasingly working with an expanding base of English-speaking clients interested in improving their conversational fluency in French, either online from the UK, parts of France and abroad, or in-person with local clients.
School experience; SEN; Teachers' Standards
Teaching French and Spanish as a classroom practitioner in secondary schools (Key stage 3 to A level) provided me with a wide range of research-proven, pedagogic techniques to engage young minds and enable them to make outstanding progress, including those with Special Educational Needs. It gave me the chance to observe and learn from experienced departmental colleagues, heads of department and professional mentors, and afforded an invaluable opportunity to reflect on their teaching methods and to feed techniques into my own teaching practices. This reflective process is at the heart of being an effective educator. (See Teachers' Standards Nos. 4 and 8)
A level Form Tutor; UCAS
I also worked as a Year 13 form tutor, supporting students through their final school year and the UCAS application process, refining their personal statements and applications, and helping them to secure places on a range of Higher Education courses. This provided the opportunity to participate in and experience the end result of a child's school education, towards which all the KS3, GCSE and A level preparation is geared.
Belgian and Dutch Exchange Programme; Varied educational structures
As part of my PGCE Enhanced Studies project and school-based experience, I participated in an exchange programme in Belgium and Holland, which involved teaching and observing lessons with Belgian and Dutch pupils in varying educational environments. An additional element was meeting Syrian and Afghan refugees who were struggling - or, in many cases, impressively succeeding - to learn the languages of these countries. Exposure to these educational systems offered incredibly useful pedagogical insights and perspectives, and the discussions with the refugees highlighted issues of cultural integration relating to language ability. This was a very enriching, challenging, and multi-layered experience.
Corporate clients in Milan; Telephone; Emails and Correspondence; Effective communication
Before all this, when I lived and worked in Milan in my late twenties, I taught English both to small groups of corporate clients and to private individuals. This was primarily aimed at business professionals wishing to improve their communication skills in English. I was required to address my clients' specific needs, for example building their confidence over the phone, writing letters and emails with appropriate formal/informal register, or correcting their conversational miscommunications. It was a teaching experience that demanded a wide range of creative solutions, not least how to plan and conduct themed, topic-driven communication-based lessons that facilitated effective learning.