Keeping it real
A publishing company sent me a book fairly recently that was written by a couple who had taken a year out to travel around Italy and find out about various ways to learn Italian.
One of the observations they made in their book was that the "feel" of a school and their perception of its quality language teaching rarely seemed to match up with the impression given by the institution's website. A "feel" of a school is something intangible, which can only be got by being there, which is why professional agents are so keen to visit their partner institutions in person before recommending them to their clients.
The atmosphere and surroundings of a school are best described by those who have been there. But to assure a client of the quality of a language teaching institution, there is one other important factor that agents can use; that of accreditation. A quality certification is essentially proof that someone else has taken the time to inspect a school and assess its provisions for student welfare and teaching. The largest scheme in the UK, now named Accreditation UK, has amended its payment structure so that schools of all sizes should find gaining accreditation equally accessible as well as beneficial (page 6).
An excellent language travel experience is always about more than the quality of teaching and accommodation, however, as I'm sure agents would testify. The perfect language travel experience encompasses these factors, but combines them with a student's successful integration into the local community. Therefore, for a school in Berlin to have as its aim to be a "student's first friend in a new city" is commendable (page 40). Helping students form friendships and an attachment to a new city/town is intrinsic to the overall experience and, as one school representative in the US Midwest testifies, this can mean that students extend their stay or return again to the same place (page 36).
The emphasis on having a "real" experience, meeting locals and possibly working in another country, is increasing. One agent in Brazil observes that cheaper language courses are becoming more popular as students combine them with real life experiences. She also notes an increasing interest in work experience programmes. With such a trend in evidence, we bring you a special supplement this month, Work Wise, designed to inform you about opportunities in this sector.