The Internet is a great way to learn and practice English. However, for many people, going to an English school can still be a valuable part of improving their skills.
Some people learn English to quite a high level without ever having a formal lesson. They may learn from the Internet, or books, but their speaking ability is likely to be limited. Or they may simply make friends with English speakers, but their mistakes may not be corrected and they may not get a chance to practice all the necessary skills.
Language is a means of communication; it allows you to exchange ideas with other people. By joining a school and taking formal lessons you will get the opportunity to benefit from the advice of a native speaker and to communicate in English with others. You will have the opportunity to practice different skills and receive valuable feedback on your performance.
There are now more English schools than ever before. This article gives some advice on finding the right one for YOU.
Types of English
It is important to know why you want to study English before choosing a school. Do you want to practice conversation, study for an exam (such as TOEFL or TOEIC), or learn English for a specific purpose (eg business or academic purposes)? Be sure that the school you choose will give you the right kind of lessons.
If a friend or colleague has been satisfied with a school then that school is worth considering. But remember, people learn in different ways, and a school that suits your friend may not be the best one for you.
Most schools or private teachers will be happy to give you a free trial lesson. It is a good idea to have trial lessons with a few different schools (or teachers) before deciding. When you visit a school for a trial lesson try to ask some of the other students what they think about the school. There are no rules on what makes a good lesson; the best lesson for you is the one you feel most comfortable with.
When you are considering different schools be sure to ask about the experience and qualifications of the teachers. Avoid schools that employ teachers with no experience or qualifications in teaching English.
Some schools have systems in which every lesson follows the same pattern. Systems can sometimes be a good way to learn, but no system works for every learner all the time. Avoid schools where the system seems to replace proper preparation by the teachers.
Group or private lessons
Private lessons cost more than group lessons, but you will benefit from the complete attention of the teacher. Small groups give you the chance to communicate with other students. If you are thinking of joining a school with larger classes be sure that lessons give you lots of chances to practice your English in smaller groups. Avoid schools where the teacher spends most of their time lecturing the class.
Some schools have been accredited by an outside organization such as the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) or ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training) in the United States or the British Council in the UK. This means that the schools have been inspected by the accreditation body and found to be of good quality. It is a good sign if a school has been accredited, but there are many good schools without accreditation, especially smaller, privately owned schools.
There is a saying in English that “you get what you pay for”. This means that if you do not pay very much you will not receive much in return. Qualified and experienced teachers get higher salaries than “backpackers”, so it is not a good idea to choose a school simply because it is cheap. It is also good to avoid schools which insist on charging you a lot of money at the start and which do not offer refunds if you find the school is not good for you.
Often you can learn more from a good private teacher than by joining a school. A private teacher will get to know your particular needs and can concentrate on meeting them without being restricted by school rules and regulations. Often you can build a greater rapport with a private teacher than at a school.
If you are interested in studying with a private teacher, take trial lessons with two or three to find one you are happy with. Avoid private teachers who never seem to do any preparation for lessons (unless of course you just want to practice “free conversation”.
Many schools run a program of social events such as parties or outings. These are good for two reasons. Firstly, they will give you the opportunity to communicate in English in informal circumstances. Secondly, as you become more familiar with teachers and classmates so you will gain in confidence and learn more in class, eg by being less afraid of making mistakes.
The best way to learn English is to spend some time immersed in the language and culture of an English speaking country.