Tales From the Chakface: Autumn Leaflets

At this time of year it’s impossible to walk along Karmelicka without having three or four flyers thrust upon you urging you to sign up for English lessons at one school or another. I’m not really in the market for these but, if I were, it would be very hard to choose just from reading leaflets. All of them look professional, sound enthusiastic and are just as good as each other. Do we believe the hype?

Someone must – schools spend good money producing this form of advertising. I’m not sure I would be swayed by glossy paper featuring Union Jacks.

Many schools promote themselves, reasonably enough, by extolling the virtues and competencies of their teachers, particularly the native speakers, but I can’t help wondering whether having native speakers is so important at elementary or even intermediate level (talking myself out of a job).

I once had the challenge of teaching an adult beginners’ group at a time when my Polish was at the same level as their English – whenever we needed to change the time of classes we had to run to the school secretary to be absolutely sure everyone had understood.

Factors that have a major bearing on choice of language school are price and location. It’s all very well telling yourself in September, when the sun is shining and the tram journey across town is no problem, that a longer trip is worth the saving on course fees, but on a dark night in January with snow all around, the extra may seem like money well spent.

Of course, everyone is interested in value for money, but that’s not so easy to work out from a leaflet that doesn’t even have prices. Perhaps a bit of footwork is the most important thing. When first visiting a school, look out for a friendly and efficient secretary and also make sure that a system is in place that offers a placement test and, preferably, some contact with a teacher who should assess you orally. While you’re there, look at what’s on the walls and ask if there are extra interest clubs – some schools run these as a free bonus once a month and they can be great fun.

Everyone appreciates small class sizes, but is it worth more to be sure you’ll be in a class of eight rather than ten? It’s hard to say. It depends on the teacher’s skill and the chemistry of the individuals in the class. The latter is always a gamble. The teacher’s sensitivity and management skills can help to ease a collection of strangers into a cheery group of learners who don’t mind making mistakes in front of each other but sometimes, no matter how skilled the teacher, one individual can dominate, leading to frustration as everyone’s time is eaten up by the extrovert. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often.

Human nature being what it is, most of us stick with what we know or opt for a school that has been personally recommended. Failing that, it’s a school we’ve heard of – and that’s where the leaflets come in. The schools that can afford to keep on handing out leaflets become familiar to us. Let’s just hope we read the right leaflets.

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