Choosing an English Language School or Learning Centre

There are many factors to consider when choosing an English language school and different things are important to different people.

  • Looking for a course in a country that you are unfamiliar with is challenging and some people use agents to help them arrange an overseas English course.
  • Agents can be useful, but check they are accredited or endorsed by a professional body. Some countries will have an accreditation scheme for study abroad businesses and membership of the English UK Partner Agency Scheme is also a good sign.
  • Some agents charge a fee while others earn commission from schools – always ask up front how they are paid.
  • Agents may also help you arrange accommodation and transport.

Whether you get help choosing a school or not, there are some useful questions you should ask of any English language course you are thinking about enrolling in. These include:

What is the class size?

  • The more students in a class the less personalised attention you’re likely to get, so it is a good idea to find out both the average and the maximum for your school.

Are there a range of classes running at the same time and will you be easily able to move up or down a level?

  • Sometimes students start out in a class and quickly discover they are either above or below the average class ability and may wish to switch into a class where others are at a more similar level.

What sort of feedback can you expect to receive?

  • It can be useful to find out if you will regularly be given homework that will be graded and whether you’ll be subjected to reviews.

What does the price include?

  • It is important to find out if the price includes materials, exams and any accommodation or excursions that are provided.

Does the school offer accommodation or assistance with accommodation? And if so, how is this accommodation monitored and inspected?

  • Many students find staying with a local family one of the best ways to supplement their class learning so ask about the possibility of homestay accommodation.
  • If you’re going into shared accommodation, find out how many people you’ll be sharing with and what facilities the accommodation offers. You should also check its location in relation to public transport.

Does the course adopt a specific methodology?

  • Many English schools use what’s called the Callan Method, a form of direct learning that relies heavily on speaking and can be quite repetitive.
  • Although it is very successful for some students, others prefer to take a course with more emphasis on reading and writing, so do some research before choosing a method.
  • Some schools will allow you to attend taster courses, which can be very useful if you’re able to get along to one.

What type of accreditation do the school have?

  • Find out if your school is accredited by the British Council or another body and if it is approved by the UK Border Agency.
  • This will be important if you require a visa, and it also indicates that the courses run by a school reach a minimum standard.

What qualifications do the teachers have?

  • In the UK, Cambridge ESOL’s Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) and Trinity College London’s Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) are generally seen as minimum requirements for those teaching English as a foreign language.
  • This is especially worth questioning if you are going during a peak period such as over the summer as schools sometimes hire temporary teachers that may have less experience than full-time members of staff.

What facilities does the school have?

  • A computer room you can access out-of-hours might be handy if you don’t have internet access at home, and a library with ELT materials might be similarly useful.
  • Some schools also have cafés and TV rooms.

What are the transport links like to the school?

  • You’re unlikely to want to buy a car during your stay in the UK so research your journey to and from the school to ensure the commute isn’t too long.

Are any social events or activities organised?

  • If you don’t know anyone, it might be useful to have access to events where you can meet other students.
  • Some schools also arrange excursions to other areas of the UK to allow students to combine sightseeing with their learning.

Of course, students who require a basic standard of English for their visa will normally take an English language test in their home country. Many will already be receiving English language tuition in parallel with their school or college studies.

  • The British Council runs IELTS preparatory courses, workshops, seminars and mock tests. Check the British Council website to find your nearest centre and information about the courses in your area.
  • Native English speakers will be required to take the test for their visa application.
  • The test can be taken through the British Council at centres in more than 130 countries worldwide. IELTS tests are provided up to four times a month.