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5 Questions to Ask When Picking a Language School

by David DeFranza Apr 20, 2008
Whether jumpstarting a new language or refining one you’ve nearly mastered, the right program can make all the difference.

When choosing a language school, start by asking these five simple questions to help narrow down the options, uncover your own needs, and asses the quality of potential programs:

1. What is the average class size?

Keep in mind that a larger number of students is not necessarily a bad thing. More classmates will provide more opportunities to make friends, form study groups outside of class, and learn with a variety of styles and abilities.

However, small, or even private classes, allow you more time with a teacher and the possibility to tailor a class to your own strengths and weaknesses.

2. What are the teacher’s qualifications?

While most language schools have teachers with excellent qualifications, this is not always the case. Ask the program for information about the teachers you will be studying with. Other things to consider: how much the teacher can, or is expected to speak English, and how many different teachers you will be exposed to.

3. What is the format of the classes?

Language schools affiliated with universities will have a different format and style than private schools. While every language class will have some combination of conversation, lecture, and exercises, different schools and programs will emphasis these activities to differing degrees. Think about how you learn best and look for a program that fits your own style.

Many language schools also offer more “hands on” programs featuring field trips, cultural activities, and social events. While these are excellent experiences that are necessary to contextualize any language study, they required more personal direction and focus for the beginning student to keep up.

Another important consideration is the teaching style of the program. Some schools focus on teaching very formal versions of the language, the goal being students who sound “proper.” Others like to emphasize colloquial language, introducing idioms and slang into lessons. Take a close look at your goals in the language, not only your personal preferences, when deciding on a teaching style.

4. What is the placement process?

How students are placed in classes is an important consideration for all students, whether they are just beginning or very advanced. More experienced students want to ensure that they will be able to be placed in the class at their level. Make sure you know what areas of language are assessed and that you are prepared to show your best.

Beginning students don’t usually have to worry about how they will be placed, but should be aware of how others may be. Sometimes beginning classes can become filled with weak, experienced, students not yet ready for intermediate classes. While this can push beginners to work harder, the classes may move at a faster pace than is comfortable.

5. What is the difference between the intensive and regular programs?

Intensive programs often follow the same curriculum of a normal course but offer one or two additional hours of instruction per day. This can be an excellent opportunity to spend extra time studying with a teacher or your classmates. These extra hours are particularly useful in programs with larger class sizes.

Still, it is important to determine how the extra time is spent before you choose the intensive program. If the additional class activities match your needs and interests then the intensive class will be a good fit for you.

Keep in mind that intensive language programs can be very taxing on their students and often lead to the burnout. If this is a concern then a non-intensive program, one that allows plenty of time outside class for studying, work with language partners, travel, and fun, might be a better choice for you.

Picking a language program can be hard but if you take your time, do a little research, and ask plenty of questions, you’ll find one that fits your needs and goals perfectly.

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