I choose the wrong foreign language school when I signed up for an intensive German language course in Stuttgart. I have since changed schools and my German has improved substantially since changing schools. Along the way I learned a few tips to help you choose the right foreign language school and avoid the mistakes that I made.
How Does The Foreign Language School Assesses Your Language Level?
Most language schools will want to assess your current abilities in the foreign language you wish to study. If no assessment is required, run in the other direction as fast as you can, unless you are an absolute beginner, in which case no assessment is necessary. At my old language school the only assessment done was a grammar test. This should have been my first clue that the emphasis of the course would be on grammar. At my current school I was tested for grammar as well, but also speaking and writing. The writing was a problem since I was required to write 250 words and I had never written more than a few sentences. As a result, I ended up repeating a 200 hour course I had already completed at my old school, wasting time and two months to redo the course. This ended up being a good investment as I learned so much, but had I chosen the right foreign language school from the beginning, it could have been avoided.
What Standards Does the Foreign Language School Have in Place?
At my old school, the program was a 6 month Beginner German program, broken into three different 200 hour courses. This is standard among language schools in Germany and while testing was in place, it turns out that even if students failed the test badly they were permitted to continue on in the course. This is not a good result for anyone and it was not communicated until the time of the exam that they “didn’t really matter.” As a result, we had people of all different language abilities in our course. The more advanced learners became bored while the learners who had not grasped the concepts in the previous course quickly became overwhelmed. At my new school, a similar system is in place, but students have to pass the exam or they are not allowed to continue into the next course. This certainly puts more pressure on the students (I know I was very stressed about my German language test), but it also sets standards and results in students being at similar language abilities so the class flows much more smoothly benefiting all the students and providing a more enriching learning environment.
What is the Focus of the Foreign Language School?
This can be tricky to assess, since most schools will tell you they focus on developing a wide range of language skills from speaking, reading, listening and writing. Before I registered in my old school I was assured it would be interactive and I would learn all the language skills I needed, but in reality the course was 90% focused on completing grammar worksheets, which done alone isn’t useful for learning a language, not to mention not a fun way to learn a language. To assess the focus of the foreign language school try and sit it on a class first so that you can see first hand how the teachers teach and how much time is spent developing each of the different language skills. If this is not possible, ask for the contact info of a couple of past students that you can contact and ask them questions directly. My new school also promised that they focused on all of the language skills and they have delivered. Before I registered I spoke with several past students and the information they provided was invaluable in ensuring that I would develop the German language skills in all areas, not just grammar. To further your foreign language skills see The Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language
If You Choose the Wrong Foreign Language School Get Out Fast
None of us like to admit we’re wrong and if the language school you’ve chosen is not working get out sooner rather than later. Looking back on it, I knew after a week that this wasn’t the right German school for me, but I stuck with it for 4 months! Had I changed schools after the first week or even the first month, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had to redo a 200 hour German language course. Along with this, be wary of schools that want all their money up front. You want to be able to get out without losing all your money.
What other tips do you have for choosing a foreign language school?