February 10, 2014
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Hebrew and Torah Skype tutors

Skype gripe

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Wouldn’t it be easier to have bar mitzvah lessons using video technology like Skype?

Can you hear me? … No? … How about now?

The answer is sure, it could be a lot easier. Parents, for instance, would be spared an extra round trip to temple and kids could take lessons anywhere — they don’t even have to put on their shoes! Students can continue learning on vacation, sitting in a distant hotel room in Tahiti, Thailand, or Timbuktu.

But before you drop $500 on a new iPad, keep reading.

Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who is an attorney. He told me that he constantly travels all over the country conducting depositions for his law firm. I asked him why that was still necessary given the technology that we have today. Why not simply set up a video conference? After all, we’ve seen it done a million times on TV shows—there’s an important meeting where some are present in person and others appear as a face on a monitor. All are able to participate equally and easily. Certainly, I told my friend, whatever amount the equipment cost would be quickly offset by the savings in travel and lodging expenses.

He explained to me that during depositions and other important meetings, it’s vital to observe a participant in person. The reason?

When you’re not physically in the room together, you miss a lot of critical nuance and subtlety.

My friend’s answer resonated strongly with me because I’ve had a similar experience in giving virtual bar mitzvah lessons.

There are certainly huge logistical advantages to having video bar mitzvah lessons, but they are a poor substitute for the real thing. At best, they’re a decent Plan B when a face-to-face lesson is impossible due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances.

Even with the incredible technology that we have at our fingertips, cell phone and Skype conversations are no substitution for human interaction. For instance, there’s often a barely perceptible delay when using a device like Skype, which when you think about it, makes singing together very awkward. Sometimes my joining in with a student will throw her off because she hears my words a fraction of a second later than what she’s singing.

Other times I’ll hear an error that I want to correct, but by the time my student hears my correction and processes my words, she’s already passed that word and the correction is lost or is confusing.

Additionally, virtual lessons make it very difficult to point out specific places in the text or help with reading or vowels. Across my desk, it would be simple to point to a certain letter and say, “You missed this.” Over Skype, it becomes a production:

Me: You missed that second word … No, not that line … the one before. You missed the gimmel, third letter. You sang it as a nun … OK, go back four words before that one, last word on the previous line. No. Not that one, the one before. No …

Student: … ????!??!!?

And just like my attorney friend, it’s important that I see my student in person. There’s a lot more to bar or bat mitzvah lessons than “Here’s the tune. Sing it. Good. Now go to the next page.” When I can see body language and facial expressions, I’m able to get a better idea of how my student understands the material. I can figure out when she’s about to become overwhelmed, if I lost her ten minutes ago, or if she’s just too shy to tell me she’s completely confused. I can literally watch her eyes as she tracks the page and give her tips on reading the words.

The one scenario that does lend itself very well to video lessons is when a student is at a more advanced level. There are often times when I’ll have a phone lesson or even a Skype session with a student to hear them sing through a haftarah that they know very well. My job is to just sit back and listen — very easy to do over video. It even allows for the occasional correction and it’s pretty convenient. I don’t even have to put on my shoes!

The bottom line — the traditional method for lessons is still the best. Face-to-face beats Facetime, every time.

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Reader Feedback

piyush from india says:
the best place to find various languages' skype tutors
Jan. 10, 2015, 1:42 pm

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