Top 10 questions… to ask a language school

language-school-reviewHallo ihr alle,

wie geht’s?
Don’t worry. I’m not gonna start doing list posts here. I actually need your help with something.

What’s going on

A language school recently emailed me asking me to spread the word. I was like “Yeah, that’s gonna be 50.000 dollars.” and they were like “Oh. we were thinking like… for free.” and I was just like laughing at them.
Okay not really. I actually thought that was a good idea. Not doing just promo but doing an honest and objective review of the school with a little surprise for you.  I asked them if they’re interested in this kind of thing and they said yes, so I decided to give it a try. Now, how do you review a language school. The best would be to sneak in undercover and take a course and be a really complicated student. Maybe some day I can do that. For now it’s gonna be a little less investigative. I’ll check out their offers and prices, visit their rooms to get a feel for the vibe and, and this is the most important part, do a little interview.  The idea with behind the interview, or lets call it a questionnaire, is to give you guys an impression of the school that goes beyond the facts you can find on the webpage.  What kind of people are working there? What’s the vibe? Does it “feel” right? It should be more than just some stock Q and A like

“What’s your teaching philosophy?”
“We at Generic School 1423 believe that teaching is always also learning.”

So boooring. I have some different questions in mind. They will hate me for it :).
But I’m not a German learner. You are. You know best what questions you would have for a language school. So let’s draw up the questionnaire together:

What questions would you want ask a potential
language school before making a decision?

All questions are fine…  Can I make a certificate at the school? If your school were a person following a specific diet, would it be Paleo or Vegan? And what’s with the stupid colors? Meh… the last one is probably not a good example. But seriously, let me know all your questions, even the really crazy ones, in the comments so we get a nice pool to chose from and I also know what to look for when reviewing the school. Oh and let me know what you think about reviewing schools. Picking the right school can be really tough if there are a lot of choices, but on the other hand I know that most of you are NOT in Berlin, so maybe it is super boring. But I don’t know. And we have a really cool set of questions we can do that with any language school really.
So, I’m really looking forward to your questions and I’ll see you all later this week with a real article.
Bis dann und danke!

UPDATE:
I sent the school the questionnaire I compiled with your help (here it is)  and I haven’t heard from them since. Well, one intern told me that the intern who contacted me wasn’t working there anymore and she would be the new intern and the people who could answer the survey were still on vacation and so on and so on. 
Maybe they are all very busy and forgot. Or maybe they just wanted some cheap promo and shied away when they saw that answering learners’ concerns actually takes some time. Either way, the school is the Sprachenatelier in Berlin. 
If you’re now like “This school seems awesome” then you’ll find it on Google. 

PS.: A big thank you to the people who have donated recently. You’re awesomazing! And to Youssef: German will stop bullying you eventually :). It just tests your patience. Seriously, danke!!

for members :)

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DantesDame

Gruetzi! I don’t have a question for the Mystery Language School, but a preference: I want a class situation where there is a lot of conversation and discussion about real world situations. The instructor is there to guide the conversation and make frequent corrections. I also prefer when a new word is written down on the white board so I can see it. I’m a visual learner, so I like to see what I’m learning, and then put it to use in a conversation.

Oh, and thanks for a great site. I enjoy reading your posts, although I admit that some times you write more than I have time to read in one sitting. Still, better too much than too little information!

webatxcent
webatxcent

I second this. My vocabulary and understanding only started to increase since taking on reading real world material. I am reading Krimis, along with reading an article or two from Der Spiegel every day. The only thing missing is an immersion opportunity to hone my listening skills and my speaking skills. I am considering a German language school here in the US.

Becks
Becks

Does the class include activities outside of the classroom? Projects? Homework? Are classes all-day or an hour two per day?

Glenn AWB (@glennwolf)

Are there any extracurricular activities, like city tours or excursions?

Jeff
Jeff

On a scale of one to ten (with ten being extremely and one being not at all) how practical is your German Language school and what factors contributed to your rating?

Miloš Bošković

How strict the professors are towards students? It often happens that a group of good students has one slacker who is constantly ruining the mood and getting on everybody else’s nerves for not willing to fully commit and participate. If professor is not strict enough, that will pass unnoticed and other students will suffer.

Lynda
Lynda

Is the program conversationally based or traditional 4 skills approach (reading, writing, listening, grammar)?
How much grammar study is done?
(Basically, if I want to know how to speak German am I going to be able to do so better after the program or not?)

Is there an entrance test so we will be grouped according to ability? (An intermediate-advanced student doesn’t wantlots repeated for beginners)

chris murphy

I think this is an interesting topic. I am the incoming Treasurer at a local German School (Saturday mornings only) and this year at our campus we more than doubled our Adult student count from 6 students at an intermediate level to 19 students between beginning and intermediate. We would like to split our classes but was unable to find another teacher willing to work Saturday mornings.

jules
jules

In class now, so I’ve got some suggestions. Doubt they’ll tell you all this, but it interests me.
Quantitative:
# Students / class (avg., max)
cost (per mo., per hour)
what level do they teach up to (c1 or c2?) and do the teach to the tests (specifically train the teachers to help students pass testdaf or the other one)
[b1 integration may be a joke, but the other shit is not.. for me at least]
retention rate.. through b1, b2, c1, c2? (no one gives this, so I assume it would be abysmal, but hey..)
Qualitative:
Teachers: how many, how much experience, do they teach the same book/which? (or no books at all?), how does the place encourage a healthy environment for the faculty? do they fraternize with eachother? their backgrounds?
how much do they charge for coffee?
doppelgingered here, do they teach for tests, shamelessly
do they hold people back? (important because language school is a joke often, with teachers repeating the same shit. I should know because I’m one of the idiots who is sometimes grateful that the tests dont mean shit)
what makes them special / what are they trying to achieve?
sit in on a class perhaps.

Emily K
Emily K

How often will the instructor be listening to us speak? Small-group or partner-work is well and good, but if we’re students talking with students we can’t know how to correct each other! Best case scenario we don’t learn what’s right, worse case we pick up someone else’s bad grammar.

Jo
Jo

I totally agree with this – this has been my experience too. You kind of try to speak for a bit, then it fizzles out because you all run out of words.

Laura
Laura

What are the backgrounds of the students of a typical class? When I took some classes in Vienna each class was made up of students of many nationalities and while a good many did speak some English, some didn’t and so the teacher and us students had no choice but to use German, however basic, which really made the class all that much better.

ocgal

How much of the language’s popular culture is included in the lessons? Meaning, tidbits of information which greatly enhance one’s self confidence and hence the fun of traveling to the target country or countries which speak the language. Examples: Eiswein. Bierstube. Weisswurst. Usw.

Gökhan
Gökhan

I believe language learning is a full-time job …. so here is my question.
Do you have a plan or a vision or a brand new approach which can make the German language(for example) a part of the my life?

berlingrabers

Based on my (fairly long-ago) experience of language school, as well as that of colleagues more recently…

– What sort of students are your bread and butter? (Is there a German equivalent for that? I mean to ask what sorts of students are the ones the school relies on to pay the bills, what its “staple” students are.) How diverse is any given class likely to be? What are most students here to accomplish?
– How much flexibility do teachers have to set the pace or emphasis of class sessions? Are they required to cover certain material or work through a specific curriculum in clearly defined time spans?
– Basically, do you teach the tests or the language?
– Is the coffee any good? Or is there somewhere close where you can get good coffee?
– How much teacher turnover do you experience? (That is, how often do you have to replace teachers?)

I also like the questions about extracurricular stuff, excursions, etc. But I think I’d be most concerned to know what my chances are of (a) being in a class with students who are also trying to actually become functional adults in a German-speaking context, as opposed to hungover Swiss kids, (b) having the same teacher(s) for any length of time, and (c) getting instruction that is shaped primarily, for better or worse, by the quality of the teacher(s) more than by the policies of the school.

Mayer
Mayer

I’d be interested in knowing if the courses have a rigid time span and speed, how much emphasis is placed on grammar (for example if you first learn to speak and then later or in between learn the rules), how long it usually takes a good student to achieve proficiency.
I like the method used in many international schools (using things from imagery to music), since it’s extremely efficient (fluency in under a year).
Most importantly, I’d want to know if you speak and converse from the get-go.

Love your blog btw. Rock on!

Mayer
Mayer

Oops I didn’t mean to post it as a reply, but as a standalone comment :)

Ps.: I’m a huge fan of mango languages. I think their method is amazing and it works wonderfully for me.

Alan
Alan

“Do you teach the tests or the language?” – Best question I’ve read so far. A “grading orientation” and a “learning orientation” are not in fact related (one could be self taught), plus, the focus on grades only, creates an “addiction” for the easiest possible tasks, not that grades shouldn’t exist -don’t get me wrong- but it shouldn’t be the main focus when you’re teaching something… This blog for example gives me no grades (You have no power here Emanuel…lol, joking) but I learn a lot reading it. Anyway, I think that question summarize my point of view, but that’s just my opinion. I hope it is not a super hipster opinion though. Thanks berlingrabers, that was really deep…lol. Greetings!!

RaghuRam Krishnan
RaghuRam Krishnan

I learned Spanish for a while at a local school here in Chennai, India, and had to drop out because there wasn’t a quorum for them to continue to the next level. And when I tried to go to another school, they had a different set of levels and would not accept my certificate. So my questions would be:
a) What is the minimum number of students you require to conduct a class?
b) Is my certificate transferable to another school?

2. Do you have native German speakers as teachers?

compassionatelanguage

How much real-world material is used in class? (I’d much rather work using short news articles rather than stilted fake dialogues — that feel dated pretty much as soon as they’re printed — from textbooks.)
How committed are the teachers to using only German (or, for beginners, as much German as possible) as the language of instruction? (I really hate when teachers give in to those students who can’t be bothered to formulate their questions in German, even partly — I’ve had this even in a B2-level class!)
How much leeway do teachers have to incorporate suggestions from students into the syllabus? (If none of us want to learn German for business, but we have other suggestions for topics, can we skip the chapter on office German?)

Bill Kammermeier
Bill Kammermeier

I don’t know how to phrase these as questions, but here’s my take. I took multiple years of French in high school and college and the classes were always a huge breeze for me, because it was just memorizing words and phrases. What I’ve found difficult about learning German on my own is there is more to language learning that just memorizing literal word translations. The hardest part for me has been “thinking” in that language. Currently, while I’m doing well at reading and writing I’m struggling with speaking and listening, because there isn’t a time limit to a reading a book, but there when listening to someone talk. I currently hear words, translate them in my head to English, think of the response in English, translate it back to German and talk. This makes conversations very difficult and if they say more than one sentence at a time I can’t keep up, because I’m still working on translating the first spoken sentence.

I would ask what they do to help you actually SPEAK and UNDERSTAND the language as opposed to just memorize lists of translation and grammar rules. Specifically, so that you can understand real people speaking and real speeds. A lot of the audio books and software programs I have used only give you one slowed down sentence at a time. I haven’t found any software that really challenges you to understand multiple at once. The Goethe Institute has some ok stuff. I did like the Michaela in Deutschland series.

Somethings I found useful in language learning so far:
– One of my college French professors made us record us speaking on cassettes and turn them in and she graded how well we pronounced words. Proper pronunciation is very important when speaking a new language.
– Michel Thomas’s audio book courses do a great job of explaining how words are formed and the meaning inside of the parts of the word. This blog does a good job of that as well. To many courses just drill words into your mind with straight memorization. This is great for studying for a test, but like my French when you don’t use those words you quickly forget them. I aced all of my French classes, but I remember very little today. Some of these German words I learned by understanding their underlying meaning and how they came to be I will never forget.

One bad thing about sit down language classes is you have to learn at the pace of the slowest learner. What would a course offer to help you excel and move forward a rapid pace compared to other traditionally taught classes?

rubedog1

I’d want to know the motivation of most of the students in the class. I’ve been in language classes where most people are there for college credit vs. other classes where most people want to learn it because of family, cultural interest, etc. For me, I’ve found language classes more effective if I’m surrounded by others who are genuinely interested in the language and culture, not just taking a class for credit.

Johan O'Brien
Johan O'Brien

How seriously the school takes assigning students to different classes. Many language schools organise class groups based on what is convenient for the school rather than assigning the appropriate level, with negative consequences for students of all levels.

Will new students be admitted to the group midway through the course – this can be pretty disruptive.

The policy on homework – if the school takes homework seriously and actively discourages students from failing to hand in assignments. Many schools have a lackadaisical approach to this, at best, and the result can be that no-one bothers to do homework. A clear policy on homework benefits everyone (in my experience)

Jo
Jo

I’d want to know what topics and registers/situations (informal, formal, academic, etc) they’re covering, because language isn’t one-size-fits-all. Do you want to get around as a tourist? Or read German philosophy? Or for work? These would be very different things. OK so reading philosophy is not a beginner course, but a course which is at least pointing you roughly in the direction you want to go helps.

Also, with an interest in linguistics, I love lots of grammar stuff, but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. (And to be honest I don’t think it has done as much to help me actually speak as would just practising conversation with someone who is fluent.) So that’s something I’d ask about – but which answer you want depends on who you are.

I hate all the testing-for-the-sake-of-testing, which seems unavoidable at formal institutions with bureaucratic requirements. I’d rather have things like: regular Hausaufgabe of writing a few paragraphs, a quick short answer test which is marked in class, a 5 min conversation with the teacher. So I guess I’d want to know what kind of testing they do, and whether it’s aimed specifically at helping the learner by giving them feedback on what they know, or is it more about ticking a box to satisfy bureaucracy.

Eva
Eva

I am attending a B1 course at VHS. This is the first time I ever sit in a classroom to learn German, but I started to learn on my own 2 years ago, using internet resources like DW, Slow german, LingQ and of course my favorite blog German is easy. My classmates at VHS have been together since A1. I am ahead of them in comprehension, reading speed and pronunciation, but I have gained a whole lot of confidence to speak. Fortunately I have a native speaker teacher.

When I was looking for a school, I was interested in – Mündlichen Deutschkurs – Einstufungstest – Muttlersprachler Lehrer(in)- Spät einsteingen möglichkeit- Zertifikat B1.

This is the reply I got from a private school:
Liebe Eva,
danke für Deine Anfrage. Leider haben wir kein mehr mündliche Deutschkurs. Wir bieten nur Intensivkurs Deutsch. Ja er kann einfach am 3. September einsteigen. Sie wird diesen Einstufungstest schreiben wenn sie kommen wird.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen,