How to choose a language teacher and/or a language academy?


How to choose a language teacher and/or a language academy?


Before I became a language tutor or a language teacher I had not had any idea how this business operated. In the past when I needed to brush up on my language skills I would look for a language academy reasonably close to my flat or I would (less eagerly) look for a private teacher on various websites dedicated to language learning/teaching. For some reason, a language academy always seemed to be a better choice. With more than 10 years of teaching experience under my belt, I can honestly say that it is not always the case.


From my experience, there are at least two types of a language academy. There are small, local academies that have 3 or 4 classrooms and there are national (or international) chains that are usually backed by a lot of capital. If they decided to establish an academy in a new country or region it would simply be a ”copy & paste” type of endeavor. They have all the resources to make this process as smooth as possible. When you enter their academies they ooze professionalism and standards. You immediately feel like being taken care of. These academies target business professionals and corporations. I don’t know any details of the contracts a student or a company signed with such a big academy I used to work for but I discovered that the asking price per student per hour was 35 Euros. I received 17,5 Euros before tax out of it.


Big academies usually have a huge library of resources and well-equipped classrooms. Smaller academies vary in these regards. The latter ones are often family businesses and therefore all the administration is simplified, which is a huge advantage from the perspective of a student (and a teacher as well). Big academies can take on more students which directly affects their profits. That, in turn, affects the investment made into school equipment, resources, promotion, etc. But which type of school should you choose? Maybe a private tutor would be the best option for you?


In my very honest opinion the best option, in most cases, is to have classes with a private tutor. But not any private tutor! There are not that many insurmountable obstacles nowadays to teaching English, especially in your national market. If you want to pursue it, all you have to do is actively and cunningly promote yourself, usually online, and after some time you should find your first students. Add a bit of personality and acting skills and there you go! Over the years, I have met quite a big number of teachers without any qualification, training, or education in teaching English who managed to pull it off successfully. I know native teachers from the US who loved doing trivia quizzes once a week. Can you imagine a student wanting to learn as much as possible paying for classes a lot of money just to get a trivia quiz once a week? They were teaching at a small academy in Madrid, Spain. Some academies in the country don’t really care about the student as much as they would like to admit.


So if you decide to find a private teacher/tutor of English remember to ask him or her for his or her qualification, degree, years of experience, and employment history. If they are serious about their job, they should offer their prospective students a free class (around 30-40 min). They should ask you what your preferred method of learning is. Maybe you learn best using a lot of visuals and prompts? Or maybe you learn by listening? Or a mix of both? Your future teacher/tutor should adjust to your needs and not the other way round! Some tutors don’t like it because over the years they have developed their own favorite methods of teaching and therefore they use the same materials and resources again and again. There is nothing wrong with that as long as a student gets what he or she is paying for! In some cases, tutors will send you some materials and it is your responsibility to print them. That’s why it is very useful when your tutor works at a big language academy and can print materials for you for free. They could even copy something useful for you from the school’s library of resources. Not a bad deal I guess!


Whichever option you choose, the most important thing to remember is your gut feeling. If it tells you that your tutor is the right person for you then stick to him or her. If you don’t feel it then you should look for someone else, no matter how good the reviews of that teacher are. What works for other people may not work for you! The next thing to remember is that you should both devise a plan of action. That’s why you should always know what you want to gain from the classes and what your strengths and weaknesses are (language-wise). Your tutor should choose a book for you if that is what you want. If you have been learning English for quite some time, you have probably used various books and resources. Tell your teacher which ones you liked and why!


If you decide to go to an academy, remember to ask about the number of students in the group because that will affect the entire dynamic of it. Too many students are never good because your teacher is going to devote less time to you and your progress. I would say 4 students in a group is a good number taking into consideration that you have a 90-minute class two times a week. If you have a chance, choose a face-to-face class. It is nearly impossible to teach pronunciation over zoom. The other very important thing to remember is that language teaching is a huge and competitive business. It means that any academy will likely want you to pay them and not the competition. Therefore, very often groups are larger than expected and the average level in the group might be lower or higher than yours. It simply means that you might end up in the wrong group. It will be too easy or too difficult for you. It happens frequently because academies don’t want you to go to their competitors. And you should check a few academies before you make a final decision. Ask for a free class or for an option to observe a class. It will tell you A LOT about the school, the teacher, etc. You should also ask the academy if you get a full refund or the option to join another group if you don’t like the group you were put into. Make the most of the experience!


Lastly, I want to warn you that some academies, usually the big ones, have different agreements with various publishers and therefore the coursebooks used by students may not be the best for them. I, personally don’t like certain coursebooks but I had to use them in my classes in the past because my supervisor told me to. Once when I expressed my concerns that the particular coursebook was not the best option for my group, she told me that ”it’s all about the business!” Additionally, academies, especially the prestigious ones, have special offers to basically milk you even more! So, for example, you pay for the course, the coursebook and then on top of that you are cordially asked to buy a workbook. If you pay some extra you might also get conversational classes with a native speaker. Sometimes those deals are good. Keep all your wits about you! All academies will try to sell you private classes, especially when you have finished or you are about to finish a course. I am writing this amidst a pandemic so I guess the price has risen sharply. Yet, as I have noticed recently, some academies offer atrociously expensive private classes pocketing more than 50 % of the price. If you do your due diligence for the price of one private class at the academy you can have two with a private tutor. I think it is still possible but it is getting rarer and rarer!




Good language academy (small & big):


- has good reviews but not only the 5-star ones. It is suspicious if it is the case!

- offers a free class

- offers a refund and has a transparent cancellation policy

- has a clear and fast channel of communication with students

- is in a safe location

- has an uncluttered website with updated info (a cluttered website reflects school’s administration, decision-making processes, and planning)

- if the teachers working there complain about it, probably you will too

- has well-equipped classrooms

- offers an online learning zone with additional exercises (usually limited)

- offers online classes/in-company classes/private classes at a student's house

- offers a wide range of resources

- a student has the possibility to change a group (if one exists and other factors allow the switch)

- the class coordinator/customer service representative knows who the teachers working at the school are. They know and can show you their qualifications, resumes, degrees, and can describe their teaching styles to you as a student (it is good to know who they are employing!)

- level test includes listening and speaking, not only a typical 100 questions on grammar and vocabulary. If writing is involved then I suppose you are in good hands!

- the classrooms, facilities, corridors of the academy are clean

- the staff is welcoming, professional, and not pushy. They shouldn’t bombard you with useless emails trying to sell you something you don’t need


Good language tutor:


- respects you, your time and money

- speaks much less than you do (a bad tutor speaks too much about himself/herself all the time)

- checks your homework and gives you feedback

- doesn’t ignore your complaints and suggestions

- is flexible but will not suck up to you because you pay him/her

- has a refund and cancellation policy

- devises an action plan in order to help you meet your clearly-defined goals

- provides you with various resources

- if you have classes at the teacher’s flat/house, this place should be clean and safe

- adjusts to your learning needs/style and you don’t adjust to his/her teaching style

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