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Questions and Answers for English Language Learning Tutors


The first step is to fill out an application, which you can find online here; paper applications are also available at the circulation desk on the first floor of the library. After you apply, the coordinator will contact you about the next steps, including attending an information session and the tutor training workshops.

You need to speak English fluently. It’s important to be patient, flexible, interested in other cultures, and comfortable with people of different backgrounds. You don’t need teaching experience or the ability to speak another language, though it’s great if you have those things!

It takes time for tutors and students to become accustomed to working together and to achieve some momentum. It can be very discouraging for students to have to get used to a new tutor (or be placed back on the waiting list) every few months, and it impedes progress.

Yes, but please indicate this on your application. Depending on when you apply, it might be better for you to wait to get started. Keep in mind that it’s possible to meet with a student via Zoom or another online method while out of town.

No, but your level of English should be advanced, with excellent grammar and pronunciation.

Tutors must be at least 18 years old.

No. ELL teachers use English to teach English. The training workshops will provide you with a variety of techniques for teaching English without the need for translation.


The workshops are held several times per year, on different days and at different times of day (evenings, weekends, etc.) in order to accommodate volunteers’ varying schedules.

The workshops cover the basics of lesson planning; strategies for teaching the four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing), grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation; best practices for working with English learners, such as effective error correction; and recommended tools and tips for teaching online.

If you have experience teaching or tutoring adult English learners, please contact the coordinator to discuss this.

Tutoring Sessions

Tutors and students typically meet once a week for 60-90 minutes. You and your student can decide on a schedule that makes sense.

It depends on your schedule. For example, if you only have free time in the morning, you will be matched with a student who also has free time in the morning. You will be asked to indicate your availability on the application.

Tutors and students can meet in person or online. There are two study rooms for the ELL program on the third floor of the library; these are reserved through the program coordinator and are intended for tutors and students meeting at the same time every week. You can also meet in the study rooms on the second floor, which can be reserved on the library website or by calling the library. It’s also possible to meet elsewhere in the library or in another convenient location, such as a park or a coffee shop. If meeting online, you could use Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, FaceTime, etc.

No. Our students have diverse needs and goals, so there is no one-size-fits-all curriculum. Tutors might decide to use one of the many ELL textbook series available at the library or a variety of online resources. The coordinator can make recommendations based on a particular student.

No. You are a volunteer providing a service, and we do not ask anything from our students in exchange.

Please contact the coordinator to discuss this. Most pairs work well together, but occasionally things don’t work out.

Some tutors meet with two or three students at a time — for example, if their schedules coincide and their levels of English are similar. We have many volunteers leading group classes; if you are interested in doing this, please contact the coordinator.

Our Students

There are over 225 active tutors and over 250 active tutees. There are also other students who attend classes without having a tutor or while on the waiting list.

Students in our program come from over 40 countries. The most common ones are China, South Korea, Ukraine, Japan, Russia, and Brazil.

Many are immigrants who decided to move to the United States because they wanted a better life and more opportunities for themselves and their families. In some cases they are refugees or others fleeing armed conflict or persecution. Some of our students are in the Boston area for a few years to do research or work on a temporary basis (or because their spouses are doing these things). Students sometimes say that they chose to live in Newton because it is quiet, safe, and friendly and they like the schools here.

Our students have a wide variety of levels. Some have very little English and lack basic communication skills; others are quite advanced but are interested in sounding more like a native English speaker; most are somewhere in the middle. This range of abilities is the reason why instruction is tailored to each individual.

This varies a great deal, depending on the individual’s previous education, age, daily exposure to English, level of motivation, etc. Some students stay in the program for several years. Others study for a shorter amount of time, then move on to other programs/opportunities.

Different students ask for help with different things. Most students want to improve their speaking/listening skills and would like to be able to communicate better in everyday life (with coworkers, neighbors, school personnel, health care providers, etc.). Some also want to be able to read and write better in the workplace or other situations. Some students have a specific goal in mind, such as getting a job or a driver’s license, passing a test like the TOEFL or GED, or becoming a U.S. citizen.


There is an extensive collection of books and other materials in the ELL collection on the third floor of the library. A list of recommended print and online resources is available to tutors. (You can find a shorter list here.) The coordinator can help you identify which of these resources would be appropriate for your student. There is also an email newsletter, and the program offers regular workshops and other learning opportunities for tutors. If you have any questions or difficulties, please contact the coordinator to discuss them!

Andrew Shapira’s regular schedule is Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. His office is on the third floor of the library, near the ELL collection. You can reach him at 617-796-1364 or newtonell@minlib.net.