Finding the right language school can be a daunting challenge. In fact, here in Hamburg, there are more than 60 schools to choose from. Yes, you read that right. Sixty schools in Hamburg! How do you know which one will best serve your needs? Spend a little time and do a little digging. A bit of work now will save you the expense and hassle of choosing the wrong school.
So, the question you are faced with is straight forward. Which language school is best for me?
The answer, however, is not so straight forward. It will require you do a little work and put in some time. I have prepared the following guide to help you choose the right language school for your needs.
7 Important Questions
1.What is the right language school for my learning style?
First, before you look at a slew of websites and phone a dozen schools, find out what YOU need. If you don’t know what your exact needs are, how can you ever find the right language school?
This seems obvious, right? But unfortunately, very few people understand what type of learner they are. While some people need to “learn by doing”, others need something more academic. Some students thrive in a conversation class, others need structured grammar lessons. Some are looking for a relaxing and fun environment, others want an intensive language workout. Find out what you want out of your course. Then you’ll be well on your way to finding a school that fits your personal needs.
2.What is the atmosphere like?
This goes back to point one and can’t be overstated. You need the right type of atmosphere to learn effectively. You want to find a class that suits your style so that you can enjoy your time there. If you are not having fun, you will not learn. That is a fact.
This doesn’t mean you should hire a comedian to teach you English. But make sure that you are comfortable and happy in the room where you will learn. This could be your office, a conference room or even your living room at home. The room has to suit your needs.
I have taught lessons all over the place. Mostly conference rooms at a client’s office, but I have also taught in people’s homes, cafés and bars. A nice cold pint can really help to get a conversation class rolling!
Whatever school you choose, make sure they can provide a comfortable atmosphere where you can learn. Most importantly, you want somewhere where you can have fun and enjoy yourself!
3.What qualifications do the teachers have?
Now this can be a tricky one. You don’t need a degree or certification to be a great teacher. But it helps. It helps because the training the teachers receive guides them on a path to greater success in the classroom. Knowing how and why you teach something is just as important, if not more, than knowing what you are teaching. The industry standard for English language teachers is the CELTA. Check to see if the teachers at the school have this or a comparable level of training.
Perhaps an even more important question is, are the teachers native speakers? In my book, this is an absolute must. The depth of knowledge and understanding of vocabulary and grammar a trained native speaker has is head and shoulders above a non-native speaker. The nuances of phrasing and the subtleties of tone and inflection are paramount when teaching a language. This is particularly true at higher levels.
Ask the schools you are looking at what training the teachers have and if they are native speakers. You won’t regret taking this into consideration and it will make all the difference in how effective your language course will be.
4.What is the right course material for me?
Find out what the course content is. Seems simple, but students often come to class with pre-conceived ideas of what will happen in class. They expect one thing and get another, and then are left unsatisfied.
Not all language courses are created equal. Every school and every teacher adds their own unique brand to the lessons that they offer. Some classes spend thier time focused on grammar training, and this isn’t for everyone. A lot of lessons are simply conversation groups. Maybe you are looking for targeted training in specific Business English skills. Or maybe you want to brush up on small talk before a networking event.
Inform yourself first about what the courses and schools are offering. Find one that suits your needs and one that you will find fun. Then, go into the lessons with your eyes wide open, ready to succeed!
5.What type of language course is right for me?
This can be a difficult decision for a lot of language learners. Do I want private lessons? How about group lessons? Should I do an intensive course? There is no one right answer to this question. It depends on what your needs are and what you want to spend.
An intensive course may be the right choice for you. If you have an important negotiation or presentation next month, you need to learn fast. An intensive course can help you do this. The trade-off is time. Intensive courses mean giving up time at work to go to lessons. Some employers will offer you an extra week of holiday for language training, especially if it improves your performance.
Private one-to-one lessons will be expensive. No question. But, the teacher can tailor the class to your specific needs and progress at exactly your speed. On the other hand, group lessons will be cheaper, but you can’t guarantee the other students share your interests. Groups also offer the benefit of greater insight. More students means more questions and more perspectives to a topic. Discussions can be more dynamic, but there can also be that student who always talks about their dog “Pancake”. Watch out for them!
The type of course you choose depends on your needs. If you need results now, take an intensive course. If you have a long-term goal, weekly lessons may be the way to go. Then you have to decide for private or group lessons. Private lessons are YOUR lessons. Whereas, you have to take the good with the bad when you join a group lesson. As always, choose the option that offers what you are looking for most.
6.What is the average class size?
This point is very similar to the last one, but is important enough to get a second mention. Not all group lessons are created equal either. Often universities and governments will offer very affordable language courses, but they might have groups of up to fifty students.
This may be the right language school for you, if your budget is restricted. In fact, for students and seniors on a fixed income, these can be great options that offer a bit of training without a lot of cost. The downside of these courses is that you won’t have that personal touch that comes with a small group.
In smaller groups, the teacher and the students form a bond that will help create a better learning environment. They also allow the teacher to spend more time dealing with the individual needs of each student.
My personal choice is a group of six students. This offers a great dynamic for group discussions where each student gets plenty of opportunity to speak. It’s also great for teams. They can be divided nicely into groups of two or three for a wide variety of role playing and games.
Another thing to remember is that most lessons are only 90 minutes long. You are going to share speaking time with each student and the teacher. With 4 students and a teacher, the average speaking time will be 18 minutes per person. With a group of 8, that drops to 10 minutes.
If you decide that group lessons are for you, keep this in mind. If you don’t speak, you won’t learn. So, try to find a small to medium group and take advantage of the speaking time you have.
7.What does the right language school cost?
A recurring theme throughout the previous six points has been money. That’s because you usually get what you pay for. The more personalization and speaking time you want, the more it will cost. You have to consider the urgency of your need to learn English, as well as what will work best for you.
At the end of the day, choose a language course that fits your budget. But beware, if they don’t offer the services you need, even a great deal will be a waste of your money. Do your research and find the school that will give you the product you want. Pay some money and get quality instruction.