Globalization aids language school growth

November 21, 2011

The Baltic Times: Aug 31, 2011
By Karoliina Raudsepp 

TARTU – Estonians are traveling the world for both leisure and business like never before. This has put more demand on language schools to provide a wide array of languages, as well as teaching methods. Learning languages is a long and hard process, meaning that language schools are very dependent on their long-time clients. All language schools attempt to find their own place in the market.

Some language schools have long teaching traditions and are very experienced in the field. One of those is Tallinn Language School – an NGO that has taught foreign languages near the Tallinn city center for 55 years. The company has had to adapt from being the only school to offer adult language teaching during Soviet times, to a much more competitive market today. After this amount of time, the NGO has cemented the best teaching methods. According to Anne Tomingas, the director of the language school, it takes three years of studies twice a week for an adult to reach an intermediate level in a foreign language, and a further two to reach proficiency.

As an NGO, they do not speak about business and clients, but focus solely on teaching. They are hoping for 1,300 learners this academic year. “Our target group is people who have the will, time and monetary means to learn in a language group for 1-6 years at a certain time.” Tallinn Language School leaves short courses and individual teaching to other language schools. 

Compared to the more traditional approach of the Tallinn Language School, Emajoe Language School in Tartu tries to offer more flexibility. With around 40 students at the moment, the company has found its niche in offering individual lessons and private study for 2-3 people. They also offer private lessons seven days a week. According to Signe Laigu, the director, weekend learning is becoming increasingly popular. She agrees that a loyal client base is crucial to the business. In order to attract more clients, the company has rented rooms in an old shopping center right in the city center.

In order to stand apart, the company, which was only founded in 2010, is also adding a cultural element to language teaching. According to Laigu, they are adding national culture nights “to demonstrate how learning a language also means widening one’s horizons and world view, in addition to turning language learning enjoyable and enthralling.” Incorporating foreigners living in Tartu, the nights have the potential to be very authentic. They are also hoping to employ more contemporary technological options and new methods.

Sugesto Language School has found their niche in a different teaching method, using suggestive teaching, which speeds up the acquisition of a conversational language. In their 20 years of business, they have taught more than 10,000 people in Estonia and abroad. According to Monika Veisson, the director of Sugesto, the main obstacle to language learning is money. “The service sector should be more active in learning languages and employers should support the studies of their workers. Often a successful business depends on correct and polite interactions in a language understood by the client or partner.” Their innovative learning methods are suitable for all, including older people who are often wary of learning new languages. Sugesto is as old as the current Estonain Republic. Veisson says that 20 years ago, people only wished to learn English, German and Finnish, but today people’s wishes are far more versatile with increased interest in exotic languages like Chinese and Hebrew.

Multilingua Language Center offers 15 languages, from “traditional” languages like English and Russian, to more exotic ones like Chinese or Portuguese. According to Saskia Undusk, the marketing director at the Center, they have done research into what motivates people to learn languages. “The learners almost always have a concrete need, ranging from a wish to understand the mother tongue of people close to them, or traveling for business or pleasure to other countries. There are a few ‘hobby-learners,’ but not many.”

She does not believe that it is easy for new companies to get started, as Multilingua has long-term cooperative relations with the clients and it is very unlikely that a person changes their language teacher. In the Estonian language school market, there are a few big players and many smaller ones. “The ones that have found their niche and have specialized in a certain field are definitely more successful.” Undusk believes in language schools learning all the new teaching methods and materials, as well as incorporating technology in language learning, which aids in making the learning process more flexible and personal. “Individualized, customizable and learner-centered approaches are emerging trends in the field, so that the center of the learning process is no longer the teacher, but the learners themselves,” she says.

According to Undusk, the economic crisis did not damage the language school business. Although there were less commercial clients buying courses for their employees, the company still had a lot of students in their classes. “Maybe this shows the priorities of the students, whereby learning something new was understood to enhance each person’s competitiveness. And maybe people also had more free time that they wished to fill constructively.”

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