How to choose the right English language school?

If you are looking for English classes how do you choose the right English school to go to?

You are about to invest your time and money so it matters that you get the best language lessons to learn English quickly and well.

What are the important questions I need to ask?

    • How much should I pay?
    • Will I get enough attention?
    • What are the teachers like?
    • Will I learn accent-free “proper” English or a regional version?
    • What ages are the other students? Are they all teenagers?
    • Can I develop towards fluency and learn specialist/professional English?
Description of the different levels of English skill

Will I be lost in a crowd?

One of the most important considerations is the size of the group.  If it is too big you will get insufficient opportunity to practise, your uncertainties may be easily overlooked, and it can be more intimidating to speak up in front of a lot of people.

We believe that more than 10 people in a class is far too many.  We have set our maximum at 8 people per class.

What will the teacher be like?

Should the teacher be a Native Speaker?  Just because someone is born speaking a language does not mean that they use it correctly and, more importantly, does not mean that they can teach the language.  Fluency in the language is more important, especially at the higher levels.  The most important factor is their ability and enthusiasm as a teacher.

We only select the best linguists with extensive teaching experience.  They all have postgraduate qualifications in language teaching and many years practice in helping people learn in a flexible, sympathetic way.  They passionately want to enable their students to enjoy speaking the language as much as they do.

Will the course enable me to speak the language?

Many years ago language classes emphasised correct grammar and concentrated on reading, writing, listening and speaking (in that order).  Modern communicative methods are focused on developing the student’s ability to communicate in many contexts and topics.  Grammar is still important but as a supporting structure that is introduced when appropriate.  Now the emphasis is first on listening and then expressing oneself.  Reading the language comes as a natural part of the course.  Writing skills are more important in higher level classes.

Our whole purpose is to enable our students to use the language effectively – correctly conveying their meaning and engaging in productive dialogue.  Whether the intention is to get more from foreign travel, using the language for work, enjoying literature in other languages, or even studying other subjects in the language, we mould the course to meet your objectives.

Will I learn “proper” English?

There are many different accents and variants of English.  It matters where you learn and who you learn from.  If you plan to only speak within one region then it is OK to learn to speak with that accent and use that set of words.  If, however, you have a strong regional accent on top of your native language accent colouring what you say, it is very likely to sound strange (and not understandable) outside that region.  This will greatly get in the way of your ability to communicate and will affect how people view you.  If you learn from tutors with a neutral accent and a wide vocabulary you will be understood wherever you go.  The classic English accent is Received Pronunciation (once known as BBC English).

Our school is based in Hertfordshire, just north of London, where the local accent is reasonably neutral.  All our teachers have a neutral accent.  They focus on helping students to perfect a “proper” English that is universally acceptable and enhances  their credibility.

Will the course use a textbook?

There are many excellent, and some not so excellent, course texts available.  Some classes stick rigidly to the book and use little additional material. Some schools use a fixed set of proprietary materials.  So what is the value of a course text book?  It can provide a valuable structure to the learning process and source of reference material.  It can also provide an indication of progress.  A textbook can also be used by an innovative tutor as the jumping off point for exploration of other material including authentic television, video clips, news media and prepared worksheets.

Our tutors use their considerable experience to understand how each student learns and then use a selection of materials to stimulate, inform and encourage active learning.  Most of our classes will have a textbook as core reference material but we do not slavishly stick to any one method.

Will it be a formal classroom environment?

Many course providers are also schools or further education colleges.  Their classrooms are designed for large groups of young people.  They probably haven’t changed much since you were at school!

We believe that adults expect something different.  Our rooms are designed for comfort and interaction between course members and with the tutor. There are no serried ranks in our rooms – come and have a look!

What extra support can I get?

Should learning stop at the end of the class?  Language learning is a continuous process and needs constant reworking.  Will you get assignments to do between lessons?  Are you helped to identify alternative sources of input? Can you communicate with your tutor between sessions?

We will provide whatever support each person wants.  Most classes have assignments defined – and we are considerate of the multiple pressures on our lives.  We can recommend additional sources on the internet and on television that can keep you learning between sessions.  You can also check things out by email with your tutor when you are linguistically challenged!

When can I start?

Most other language classes still act as if they are at school with fixed start dates at the beginning of academic terms.  If you are ready to join part way through a term this might be difficult.

We try to make it possible for anyone to join at any time.  Our small group approach makes it possible to integrate new people easily – especially for learners who have a basis in the language.  Absolute beginners often need to start together or have a few individual coaching lessons before joining an Elementary group.  We will also enable people to move between groups to be able to work at the right level whenever possible.

What does it cost to learn a language?

One of the most common, and unanswerable questions, is how long will it take to learn a language.  There are so many variables: natural ability and prior language learning experience; the amount of time and effort that is put in between classes; frequency and duration of classes; the skill level that the student wants to achieve; opportunities taken to use the language in “real life”; and the quality of tuition.  A low hourly rate may not actually reduce the real cost – as with everything you usually get what you pay for so pay as much as you can afford and demand the best.

There is no absolute short cut.  Language learning takes time and effort.  We aim always to make it an enjoyable journey and accelerate it as much as possible through expert tuition and focused teaching methods.  However, as Derek Bok is quoted as saying, if you think education is expensive you should try ignorance!