Lost in Translation: Musings of an Online ESL Tutor

Ging Aquino
2 min readApr 10, 2022


Photo by Christian Lambert on Unsplash

As an ESL tutor on an online platform, I’ve had various students ranging from 3 to 70 years old. Going from an absolute beginner to a fluent speaker was definitely challenging. I handled Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Spanish, and well, just one Turkish to date. Students could choose their lesson for the day, such as the Daily News, speaking, pronunciation, grammar, reading, Business English, but definitely one of the most popular is Free Conversation.

My students and I discussed different topics ranging from getting-to-know stuff, like hobbies, favorites, and jobs, to the more serious ones, like the meaning of life, core values, political views, faith, and others. I listened as students talk about their secrets, motivations, dreams, plans, fears, regrets, and yes, sometimes even marriage woes.

Most of the time it felt like the students just wanted someone to talk to, for someone to listen to them.

I realized through these classes that people truly want to be valued, they want to feel important, and they want to be listened to. They want to feel validation, affirmation, and empathy. To speak without being interrupted much. And they want to be complimented often. To be appreciated. They would respond and open up more with encouragement, rather than being corrected all the time.

Genuine concern could go a long way. I had to envision that the student was my favorite, even before the class started.

I took down notes about students’ hobbies and other pertinent information as I am very forgetful. Students are usually surprised that I remembered something they mentioned previously, the next time we see each other. (Since it’s by booking, teachers get different students every day, but there are also the regulars, though.)

There are classes where a student talked pretty much the whole time, and I listened attentively, giving some nods, smiles, short replies, and of course, follow-up questions from time to time. One student told me about fishing for 25 minutes, even though I didn’t know a thing about it.

I realized that if I could give my undivided attention to my students and see things from their perspective, surely I could do that in my daily dealings with family and friends as well. But sadly, that’s where I fail most of the time. I can list a number of misunderstandings I’ve had for the past few days. So, I’m putting this here as a reminder to myself. Seek first to understand, then to be understood, as Stephen Covey said.

(Originally published on my Instagram.)



Ging Aquino

Teacher by profession but a student of life