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!!

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Karolina
5 years ago

Hi, I’ve just read all the comments and I find it really inspiring. Only one year ago I started my own English language school and we’re changing the way English is taught here. I see the same teaching/learning problems in Poland. I’m very curious about your research and feel disappointed that there was no outcome.

krzeczkowska88
krzeczkowska88
5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Thanks for such a quick response and the question! We play board and card games on a regular basis like 2-3 times a month, focus on speaking during the classes (no reading, listening – it can be done individually, before the class, not on the lesson; see -> flipped classroom idea) and introduce fun activities with self-created flashcards (we use an app called “cram” to make learning words more fun and easier). We don’t teach to pass any certificates nor tests, we give opportunities to communicate naturally in English. What is your opinion? I’m constantly working on improving our methods, hence I found your blog :)

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

I would ask, Have you heard of dyslexia? I have, I’m dyslexic. Do you have a key to unlock the dyslexic language learning door? PLLLLLEEEEEEEEAAAAAASSSSSEEEEE say yes??!!

Fred
Fred
6 years ago

If you find a school in Berlin teaching German the way you do…just let us know ;-)

dani
dani
6 years ago

Hallo,
From my experience, I will share the following:
After starting learning German, I wanted to enroll in another school so I could continue learning it. I made the entrance test at this new school but it was extremely difficult. I almost could not answer most of the question and of course, I failed it. They proposed me to join them from the beginning but obviously I didn’t. In my opinion, they should offer different entrance test depending on the level you want to join. If I want to learn A2, I see it pretty difficult to test my knowledge with a C1-level exam. Don’t you think?
So the question would be something like this: Are there different entrance tests according to the levels?
Danke! :)

Gila Halleli
Gila Halleli
6 years ago

Hi Emanuel, If it’s not too late…. I’ve learned Hebrew in an “ulpan” (intensive Hebrew-language course) and German at Goethe Institut, and my questions are based on my experience. 1) What do they do to help with German comprehension. I’m with the other posters–real-world examples are much more useful than scripts, even if you understand zilch for a while. For example, my ulpan teacher used to simply tape the 7AM news broadcast every day, bring it class, have us listen and write down what we understood. At first, the answer was “Good Morning” and then blahblahblah. But over time we acclimated and now I can get just as depressed from the news as any native-born Israeli. :( On the other hand, I’ve been studying German for a year, and listen to the Goethe Institut CD’s in my car and everything…and I still have problems understanding even a single segment of Die Heute Show. :( And I need it, after listening to our depressing news. Listening to music (after reading the lyrics) is also really great way to pick up vocab and improve comprehension. Add to this; watching movies/ news broadcasts/ etc. 2) What sort of real-world integration/ speaking opportunities do they offer. I would pay more for a school that paired you up with speaking or even tandem partners and arranged for you to meet periodically after class. For English speakers, it can be really hard to get anyone to speak to you in German (or Hebrew) because so many people hear the accent and say “oh, I speak English, let’s use that”. I STILL get that here, and I’m fluent in Hebrew (and my Hebrew is usually better than the other person’s English). For German, I have a tandem partner I speak with on Skype and it really helps Corollary to that–what is the mix in the classroom? My class is all Israeli, so we speak Hebrew to each other at break etc. In ulpan, there was some mix–I spoke Hebrew with the Frogs, the South Americans and the Russians as I speak neither French nor Russian and my Spanish is atrocious. :) 3) I’m going to second/third/ zillionth the suggestion that reading of actual newspapers or magazines be incorporated. I do that on my own and it really helps. But we used to do that in my ulpan class as well (I remember reading about 9-11 in class). 4) What sort of real-world language modules do they include? My ulpan included classes where we covered “how to complain” and “how to argue”. I swear I’m not making this up. These are critical life skills here. I’m pretty sure we also went over CV’s and stuff like that. 5) As others mentioned–how serious is the class? How seriously do they take homework? Do they condition moving up to passing tests? I studied MUCH more for my Hebrew class than I ever have for my German one. Part of the difference is that German is my hobby/ official mid-life crisis… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

That’s a hard one because it is ALL about the teacher for me. Every teacher has an approach that just might not work for one particular person because it doesn’t match their learning style. One question to the teachers:
What’s the most effective way, or your way to learn/teach vocabulary?

L.M.
L.M.
6 years ago

I’ve read almost all the comments, but my current situation (problem) is not addressed. I wanted a one-on-one class since I plan on learning German quickly (I’m unemployed, very motivated, and love languages) and I thought with a private teacher I could tailor the class to suit my needs. My teacher seems to have little experience teaching beginners, but apart from that, she spends the class time talking about herself and going off on tangents – all in English. She gives me handouts of grammar info, for which I’m grateful, and then she reads what’s on the handouts (in English…), but the REAL deal breaker is that she fails to engage me in practice. I could deal with her tangents and time-wasting story-telling if she would at least create oral exercises in which I have to express myself using the grammar we go over. I’ve been with her for a month (6 hours a week…) and I haven’t spoken a word of German! She’s a lovely person, but she’s clearly more interested in having a nice chat than preparing a foreigner to speak German.

If I tell my academy that I want another teacher, I’m sure it’ll get back to her, and I’ll feel bad. My question for the academy is: what steps can be taken in the event that a private one-on-one teacher isn’t the right “fit” for a student? Can teachers be changed at any time if the student wants?

Jo
Jo
6 years ago
Reply to  L.M.

I totally agree with Emanuel. I also understand how hard it is when you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings – I have a lot of trouble in these situations. But this person has taken your money and a month of your life and not given you what you paid for.

If it helps, think about if it was your job: wouldn’t you rather be told if you were making a big mistake? Wouldn’t you want to become a better teacher, because someone corrected you, rather than a lousy one – who may eventually get fired – because you didn’t know, and people didn’t want to hurt your feelings? And remember, she presumably has other students, who may also be too shy to say something, so other people will benefit from you speaking up, too.

I definitely think that whatever your level, the teacher should be using a little more German than you can fully understand, rather than not enough – it’s great practice to push yourself like this. Especially in a one-on-one lesson, they can do it all at your pace, without worrying you’re taking up other students’ time by asking lots of questions. And right from the start, you can practise asking “Was bedeutet …?” – “What does … mean?” – and “Wie sagt man … (auf Deutsch)” – “How do you say … (in German)”.

Saria
Saria
6 years ago

Hallo :)
I think one important part when you are adult and want to learn a language is the material that they use. Example which book they follow or do they have their own material. If it is a book maybe take a peek to it before when thinking getting to the lessons. In my city there is two “Volkshochschule” I don’t know what they are called in English. But the level on them is totally different than what it is in schools or universities. Because the adult level varies a lot, because here they are not restricted to your German level like B1 or so. I don’t think in my city is any private language schools. Oh yeah one important thing also, how many hours in week they offer the lessons. Is there courses that would be like two times a week. Example other more grammar and reading and then other day more group work and talking. I am still afraid of German texts, my vocabulary is so small, even i have been learning German for almost 3 years in the University and I think I am B1 level now. It is really difficult to find some “forum” to search someone speaking German with me. I think language schools should also support ho you could bring your skills further like teach places that you could speak the language that you are learning or form some groups or something. Just my thoughts :) Maybe if my follow German learners would give me tips where to find “buddy” to speak German with I would be happy :)

Jo
Jo
6 years ago
Reply to  Saria

I’ve got an account on Mixxer, which is free. Unfortunately I haven’t made use of it as I haven’t managed to actually set up a meeting with anyone. This is mostly my fault for not putting in enough effort, also it’s hard having about 10-14 hours time difference from the German speakers.
Here’s the link:
http://www.language-exchanges.org/

grace ann
grace ann
6 years ago

Students making videos of themselves, introducing themselves, making dialogues out of a recent topic, memorizing German songs,. I also think that having a common book, which they can read in advanced, so they will be prepapred for the topic the next day.

squeezeboxgoddess
6 years ago

How big is their video + transcript library? I couldn’t say anything in German until I used that method of watching videos with subtitles (and pause function) for a few months. Do they have an audio + transcript library? How many titles of beginner-intermediate reading material do they have? Do they have a comics library? Do they have short-length courses for people who can only do a few weeks of intensive study at a time? Do they provide online courses?

Phoebe
Phoebe
6 years ago

Definitely watch a few lessons at different levels!

My question is, how do they differentiate between students of different abilities/work speeds? I did a course once at the Goethe Institut once which was incredibly boring and frustrating because the teacher set lots of reading/writing activities, which I would finish quickly and there would be nothing else to do. In other courses there have been extension activities.

Also, how do they make it fun? And how do they encourage students to communicate with each other in German? This makes so much difference.

Olga
Olga
6 years ago

I’ve read all the comments. The questions in them are interesting and live. I would also ask or better visit a lesson and see how much time of the lesson a teacher vs students speaks. What methods are used to put a student into position as a subject of the lesson and by that motivate for active initiatively using the language. How is organized the class space? Do students move during the lesson? How many students per teacher are there in class? Does the school have possibility to have more than one teacher at a lesson? Do the teachers take into consideration the individual level of every student and work in the zone of their maximum development?
I hope I’ve managed to express my ideas clearly. It would be interesting to read your school review in German.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

My first language was Spanish. I now know very little Spanish, and that’s even after studying it again for four years in high school. I am currently studying German and haven’t learned much beyond my first year. The reason for this loss of language is a lot of settings, both social and academic, don’t require you to use the foreign language studied. Even in class, lectures will rush through a topic so fast there is no time to practice, then a year later they are surprised why you have forgotten everything they “taught” you. So, after that long explanation, my question would be, “how do you plan on having students use what they know, both inside and outside of class.?” After all, at least within the context of learning a language, practicing is learning.

Eva
Eva
6 years ago

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,

Eva
Eva
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yes, I copy-pasted the message… :/ even I could pick those mistakes!
Obviously I didn’t attend that school.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

hi, so I’ve been reading comments here and I read the letter, and did my best to make sense of it, but you guys say it has serious mistakes and I didn’t notice anything, so that shows how much of a beginner I am haha. can you explain what is wrong? I don’t want learn these mistakes thinking it is proper german :)

btw this is what i think the letter says, i didn’t cheat
Liebe Eva,
Dear Eva
danke für Deine Anfrage. Leider haben wir kein mehr mündliche Deutschkurs. Wir bieten nur
thank you for your question. Sorry, we don’t have (?) German (course) anymore. We offer only
Intensivkurs Deutsch. Ja er kann einfach am 3. September einsteigen. Sie wird diesen Einstufungstest schreiben
intensive-german (course). It starts September 3 . You will take a placement test
wenn sie kommen wird.
if you come.
Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
Cheers,

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

cool, I did notice the he -> she and since it didn’t make sense, I just figured er and sie must’ve meant it. thanks for helping me :)

Jo
Jo
6 years ago

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.

Johan O'Brien
Johan O'Brien
6 years ago

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)

rubedog1
6 years ago

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.

Bill Kammermeier
Bill Kammermeier
6 years ago

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?

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?)

RaghuRam Krishnan
RaghuRam Krishnan
6 years ago

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?