How Not to Run a Language Course

I recently pulled my finger out and, after four years of living in Korea, signed up for Korean classes at a local academy. So far I have had five classes totaling 10 hours of tuition, and I can honestly say I have learnt nothing in that time. It’s certainly been an interesting experience for me, unfortunately it hasn’t been interesting as a language learner but as a language teacher. So now I am going to share what I have learnt about how not to  run a language course in the chronological order in which I learnt them.

Note: this turned out a bit more ranty than I planned, oh well, I guess I’m pretty annoyed about my Korean class!

1) Don’t locate your school down a dark, non-signposted and poorly lit alley where dogs ferociously bark and growl at your students, in a building where, due to lack of lighting, if you turn left after entering the front door you will fall down a flight of concrete stairs (that you can’t see due to there being no light).

In this case one of the students (who quit after her first lesson) was extremely scared trying to find the academy. It’s not a good first impression.

2) Don’t give a student a level test, establish what level they are, and then put the student in a class with a vastly lower level student, so that after 10 hours of paid tuition the higher level student has not learnt anything. In this case I can read Korean fluently, the other student did not know a single letter.

If you have to do this, you should probably let the student know in advance of the situation and organise lessons so that at least half the time is spent covering new materials for all the students.

3) If you hire a new teacher to teach the students, employ at least some kind of quality control other than a reference. Also, provide a new teacher with support and guidance. Ensure they have adequate and suitable lesson plans.

In this case, the teacher turned up for the first lesson with no plan, no materials and proceeded to write the entire Korean alphabet on the board in no particular order, make us repeat it over and over and then wonder why the other student didn’t instantly remember every letter. She then asked me to teach the letters because the other student was so confused. The other student was extremely stressed throughout the lesson.

4) If a student emails you offering you feedback as to why the original teacher (who quit) was so bad and how the lesson could be improved then accept the feedback and use it to improve the service your school provides and to prevent the next teacher making the same mistakes.

In this case I offered feedback and was not taken up on the offer.

5) Don’t expect your students to memorize 50 new words in one class just by you telling them what the word means. Also, while we are talking about vocabulary, don’t make your students memorize 16 completely useless words as homework just for the sake of it. If am wanting to learn basic conversation, ‘forehead’ is probably not the most useful word for me to learn after the first class.

6) Students need to be engaged, they need to do things. Do not just make your students sit and repeat things over and over. Asking a student for the CD from the book, playing it and having students repeat the sentences does not constitute teaching. Think to yourself ‘would I be engaged in this lesson’ when you are planning it. I can not believe any human being would think another human being would be engaged by sitting in a seat for 10 hours repeating Korean letters you simply write on the board.

7) Don’t take regular 15 minute and 20 minute breaks with paying students who want to learn a language (even if you do provide snacks).

8) Do the needs analysis at the beginning of the course, not a third of the way through the fourth class. Also, find a more professional way of doing it than saying ‘what do you guys want me to teach you?’ You are the teacher, you know we signed up for a basic conversation class, you should know that. Asking us if there are any special requests we have is fine, or do a professional needs analysis at the beginning of the course.

9) Please, for the love of God, do not ask your student how they think you should be teaching conversation. I am a paying customer, the following statement/question is not appropriate ‘I really think just having you guys listen to the CD and repeat it isn’t a good way of teaching you conversation, Alex how do you think I should teach this?’

10) Do not finish class 10 minutes early because you have decided that the activity you are doing is no good. Instead, have a number of filler activities ready to go. I am paying for those ten minutes, I don’t want to finish early.

/rant over/


2 thoughts on “How Not to Run a Language Course”

  1. Ugh, too many of these schools are run like this! This is one of the main reasons I haven’t properly tried to learn Vietnamese in my three years in the country. Good luck on your next try.

    1. Hi Aimee, tell me about it. I think there is some good money to be made running well organised and professional language schools for expats. I return the good luck sentiments to you with learning Vietnamese!

      Thanks for the read and the comment 🙂

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