You’ve done the hard part.
You went online, found the perfect tutor and are ready to go.
It’s time for the first full class.
You show up to you computer 5 minutes early to check that your microphone, headphones and camera are working correctly.
Your palms are sweaty with a euphoric mix of excitement and that fun nervousness you feel when you know you are about to do something you have dreamed of for years.
You’re doing it.
Your going to learn another language.
Your Skype account rings.
It’s your teacher. You click on the green answer button and it starts. You see your tutor on the screen, with a small image of your own camera in the corner. Your first thought is “I should have brushed my hair this morning”, but before you are able to think anymore about that the class start.
Everything is going well for about 5 minutes. Then, it happens.
It starts slowly. The voice of your teacher starts to be delayed. The video starts to become choppy. You start missing parts of the class, and the teacher can’t understand you.
You panic. Is the problem on my side, or with the teacher’s?
What can I do?
You are not alone.
This is not an uncommon experience when people using Skype speak to people in other countries, and there are numerous things you can try to improve your connection and get the most out of every minute of your class.
This one is quick and easy.
If you have any browsers open on your computer (Google Chrome, Mozilla, Safari, Firefox… or heaven forbid, Internet Explorer) then close them all.
Even when you are not using them, many sites, like Facebook or email, keep updating in the background and use your bandwidth
And admit it, you sometimes find yourself being distracted and checking
Better internet speed and more concentration for the call.
This is a win-win.
These days everything is connected to the internet.
There may be many things making your poor little modem work overtime, even if you are not aware of it.
You can check this in a systematic way.
First off, make sure your computer is not the culprit. If you have already done step 1 and closed your browsers, make sure there is no other system taking up your internet bandwidth.
Some of the most common culprits of this are software like Dropbox or Google Drive. Pretty much any software that syncs up files in the background.
If a co-worker or family member has added a file to a shared folder while you are in class, your computer will start to sync automatically, taking up all of even the fastest internet connections.
I recommend disabling the sync on any such systems while you are in the class, just in case.
The other place to look is the other people in the house.
If your daughter is streaming their favorite computer game, while your son is binge-watching Something About Us on Netflix, all while your spouse is listening to the latest season of the Serial Podcast on the living room Alexa device, then chances are your Skype video will look like you’re watching a slide show and your audio will sound like a CD full of scratches (for those of you who are under 25, a CD was something we old-folks used to use to listen to music… and if they got scratched, which they did, they skipped).
Since the first days of the computer, there has been a panacea to fix 90% of all the problems.
Turning it off and on again.
This solution also applies to software like Skype. Sometimes, all it takes is hanging up and calling somebody back to get a better internet connection.
Without getting too technical… ok, who am I kidding, this is technical.
What Skype does when it connects you to your teacher is to pass you through a number of servers and hubs around the world before connecting you with the person on the other end of the call. Sometimes when you hang up and call back, Skype will use a different route (set of servers and hubs) to get you to the end point. This may fix any connection problems by removing the slow component from the connection.
It won’t always work, but it only takes a few seconds to try.
Resetting does wonders, and nobody – even computer engineers like me –really know why.
I know we – computer geeks – come up with fancy answers, but that is just to keep up the aura around computers that we like to have.
So, reset your computer and try to reconnect with your teacher.
It may also be worth resetting your modem.
Normally you can do so with a small button behind your modem.
For some reason, some modems like to make it hard and make the reset button really, really, really small at the back. So small that you need a paperclip to poke it.
If you don’t have a paperclip, just unplug it and plug it back in. We know that people say not to do it, but I have been doing it for years and never once has it caused any problem.
Back in the days of yore (early 2000’s), we used to have things called “wires”.
These “wires” look like long plastic snakes and were used for everything from transporting telephone signals, to connecting our computer to this new
Most people have forgotten about these almost mythological tools, but I am here to remind you.
I know that most people use wireless connections these days, but they are still very useful.
Connecting to your modem with a wire, specifically an Ethernet cable, can improve your internet speed 10-50x. And best of all, these wires are very cheap.
Quick tip, make sure you buy the right length of
Before you go buying them though, make sure your computer or device can use them.
Some of the super-slim laptops don’t come with an Ethernet connection, and as far as I know, no tablet or smartphone does.
Finally, if none of those things work:
Check your internet speed.
There may be something going on with your internet provider, or they may not be providing you the speed they promised when you signed up for them (happens all the time).
Use this free tool to see what your upload and download speeds are:
Normally the minimum speed for a decent call (assuming nothing else is using any bandwidth) is 5 megabytes per second download speed (mbps) and 1 megabyte per second (mbps) upload speed.
The more, the better.
Also, have your teacher run the same test to make sure the issue is not on their end.
If you find that the issue is your internet speed, then call your internet provider and see what can be done.
If the problem is on the teacher’s end, ask them to do the same.
If they are not able to – since in many countries there is only one internet provider and internet is very expensive –then the answer may be – unfortunately – to find another teacher.
You followed the steps and your connection is now running as smoothly as your new car the first day you drove it off the lot (assuming your car is not a Pinto).
It feels like your teacher is in the room with you, even though they are thousands of miles away.
You’re making progress at an incredible rate.
You think to yourself “nothing can stop me now, I’ll soon take over the world!”
Then your teacher chastises you.
You are obviously day dreaming about taking over the world.
Cowed, you apologize and jump back into the class.
Ray is a third culture child who has lived and worked on 5 different continents and has trouble figuring out what his native language is. When he is not running daily operations here at Live Lingua he moonlights as a semi-professional sword fighter.
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