If you do not know al least 10-20 words in English, do not know basic sentence structures, and can’t write full sentences in English, you should start with an English teacher. Most English teachers are trained to help you learn fundamentals of English. On the other hand, if you already have a vocabulary of more than 500 words and know how to form basic sentences in English, a native English speaking conversation partner will be more beneficial for you to get to that next level in proficiency.
Unfortunately, we live in an era where word likes “teacher” and “expert” are misused a lot. Just like with Yoga teachers, Social media experts and fitness trainers, almost anyone can identify themselves as English teachers. There are tons of TESOL teaching diplomas and certificates that you can get without ever attending a real classroom.
A better strategy for a student is not to get too hung up on your teacher’s paper qualifications. Can your teacher connect with you? Can they create enough opportunities for you to actually speak English in class? Do they just teach you grammar theory or do they really help you apply that in conversations? Ask these questions first and pick someone to help you become more fluent in English.
Another really important question you should ask yourself is whether you want someone to teach you “theory” or whether you need more opportunities to practice. If you need more help with theory, a formal English tutor might be the best fit for you. Alternatively, if you are at an intermediate level and want someone to practice speaking with some corrections, a Native English speaking Conversation Partner would be more suited. Most ESL teachers are more used to working with absolute beginners of English, so they are more used to conducting lectures where students take notes, than conversational English lessons.
Cost is always an important factor is any decision in life. If you pick an English teacher, you will most likely end up paying more money than a Conversation Partner. The question is whether that extra spending is worth it? If you goal is getting more fluent in English, a smarter investment might be to pick a Conversation Partner at a lower price and practice more frequently.
If you are a beginner, start with a tutor. If you already learned the basics and have studied English for few years, pick a Conversation Partner. But always make sure you learn from a Native English speaker so that you get your accent and pronunciation to be perfect from that start.