April 2009 issue

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Personalised learning

One-to-one courses, where students are given individual language tuition either in a classroom environment or in a teacher’s own home, are increasing in popularity and the range of courses available is on the rise, with combination courses and family learning on offer, for example. Being in control of their own learning is a particular attraction for some students, while the impressive results often experienced by students in a short space of time are also an incentive. Bethan Norris reports.

Whether a student has a particular focus for their language tuition vacation, such as an important job interview, work presentation or academic exam, or simply wants to get the best results in the shortest available time period, one-to-one language courses might be what they are looking for. Demand for such courses is definitely increasing. Most language schools now offer some kind of one-to-one training for students; ranging from an add-on to general language classes for students who are struggling to keep up, to specific one-to-one intensive courses for business people with a tight agenda, or programmes catering for a whole family staying in a teacher’s home.

Jackie Verrall from English Language Homestays in Shoreham-by-Sea, UK, relates that she has seen demand for one-to-one training grow over the last five years. ”More particularly over the last two years and definitely with regard to children,” she notes. “I think the reason is that [these programmes] offer excellent value for money and after, say one or two weeks, more progress can be achieved on this type of course than a general English group course.”

Demand for one-to-one language programmes is not confined to the English teaching market either. Chiara Fragomeni from Lingua Si in Orvieto, Italy, says, “I think the popularity [of these courses] has grown because the programmes are more flexible.”
Changing trends
There was a time when one-to-one was perceived to be the preserve of business clients who were keen to make as much progress as possible in a short space of time, had the financial backing of their companies to pay the fees involved, and required sufficiently specialist vocabulary and practice in certain areas of speaking, such as giving presentations, to make individual tuition worth the time and money.

However, nowadays, the typical one-to-one client is as likely to be a 15-year-old child wanting to boost their language skills for future school exams at home as a 50-plus executive who needs to brush up on presentation and phone skills. And the flexible nature of one-to-one courses means that everything is possible.

At Living Learning English in Bristol in the UK, one-to-one options include English for business, Academic English, English for exams, Young learners course, English for teachers and a whole range of English plus courses, including sightseeing, walking, cookery, flower arranging, gardening, creative writing, aromatherapy and surfing. Kate Hargreaves at the school says, “One-to-one courses tend to be very attractive to students who are serious learners; they tend to be 30-plus or under-18s where parents require very close supervision.”

Hargreaves notes that demand for family language programmes, where families stay together in a homestay or teacher’s home and are taught together or in a one-to-one situation, are also increasing in popularity and this is a trend noted elsewhere. Santiago Endara from Tamwood International in Vancouver, BC, Canada, says, “Family trips to study English have grown in popularity during the past years. In Tamwood, family programmes are becoming popular during the summer when families come for their holidays to Canada. The whole family usually stays at a homestay or in a hotel and the parents frequently select one-to-one lessons in order to have more available time for tourism while their children attend our summer camps during the day and spend the evenings with their parents.”

In the UK, Verrall says that individual home tuition programmes lend themselves to meeting the needs of families. “We allow the whole family to come and stay with their teacher,” she says. “Programmes/lessons are then worked out specifically [according to] the families’ requirements or their abilities and if necessary we work on a two-tier system for part of the lessons – i.e, beginners and intermediates.”

However, Martin Wall from Dominion English Schools in Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand, does sound a word of warning. He suggets that teaching members of the same family together could create problems. “Are they the same level?” he says, “and if not, could tensions arise as one is being held back or the other finding it hard to follow and keep up?”
Combination courses
Nevertheless, family courses are becoming a more usual concept. Another course trend to have developed strongly over the last few years is combination courses, whereby students participate in a general group language course and then have a few hours a day of individual tuition in order to concentrate on their own particular weaknesses. Jane Diesel from inlingua Language Training Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, says, “Most language centres offer group and private tuition options.” She continues, “I think the combination is ideal. It gives clients exposure to a group of people from many different countries and backgrounds – where they have real-life struggles with different accents, varying opinions and the need to negotiate and compromise. Then in their one-to-one sessions they have the opportunity to have their specific needs met.”

At Eurocentres, which offers one-to-one tuition at its schools in the UK, France, Japan, Switzerland and Italy, Gaby Billing says that combined tuition is a new venture for them. “In 2008, we introduced our Premium course, a combination of small group teaching in the morning – a maximum of eight students – and paired learning in the afternoon,” she explains. “Paired learning in our experience is a very effective and dynamic way of learning. This course was well received by the markets, mainly in Switzerland, Brazil, Germany and France.”

The obvious advantages of a more personalised teaching strategy have led some schools to embracing this concept for all of their clients and promoting it as a selling point. Alicja Skop at the Campbell Institute in Wellington, New Zealand, says, “All our programmes include one-to-one tuition. For example, our full-time students have 30 minutes one-to-one tuition included. One-to-one tuition is handled as a workshop. Students sign in and get their one-to-one after class.”

And Sarah Lightfoot from ACL in Sydney, NSW, Australia, part of the Navitas Group, says that it is common for students in group classes to request one-to-one training as an add-on after they arrive at the school. “Sometimes, the student supplements their group classes with one-to-one tuition simultaneously. In other cases, the one-to-one tuition occurs after the English course is completed so that the students can build up their confidence prior to commencing their next course of study,” she says.

Sharon Giles from Bournemouth One to One in the UK claims that combination courses have disadvantages as well as advantages over pure one-to-one courses, and are less popular with their students. “The advantage of a combination course as opposed to a classroom-based course is that students can sort out their own individual learning problems with the teacher in the one-to-one sessions,” she explains.

“The disadvantage is that the group lessons allow the quieter or more reserved students to ‘hide’ among the other students. In addition, the more advanced students often have to mark time waiting for the other students to catch up with an aspect of English that they are already familiar with and in many cases don’t need to know.”

Nonetheless, for many students and schools, combination courses are often the way forward, with cheaper costs and fewer space constraints on schools among the reasons for their popularity. Different combinations of one-to-one and group learning can also appeal to students depending on their budget, as Uwe Stranger from International House Berlin – Prolog in Germany explains. “In our case, the demand for such programmes is growing as our offers serve a variety of budgets and students can choose from a range that varies from pure group tuition to different mixtures and finally to just one-to-one tuition,” he reports. “Our experience has shown that most students have less and less time to improve the effect of language programmes, so concentrating on one-to-one is a logical result.”
Student nationalities
When it comes to targeting student markets, schools report that one-to-one courses and combination courses attract a wide variety of nationalities. At Bell International Institute in London, UK, which accounts for over 60 per cent of the company’s one-to-one bookings in the UK, an important nationality for these types of courses is Italian. Maria Pieroni at the school explains, “Quite often, [Italians] choose to visit for a short period of time and want to maximise their student experience by focusing on specific areas of language development.” She adds that in the last year, demand has also increased from Japan and parts of the Middle East, such as Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “Middle Eastern students often use one-to-one classes to develop their academic English skills to prepare for the Ielts exam,” she says.

In non-English speaking destinations, nationalities most likely to request high end personalised learning will vary, depending on the business interests of various countries. In Spain, Sophie L’Enfant from Colegio de España in Salamanca says that most students on their one-to-one programmes are business clients. “We see it as a fairly popular course for German students, probably because their companies need them to have a certain level of Spanish.”

Bernhard Freidl from Horizonte in Regensburg, Germany, points out that many one-to-one students at his school are sent by companies from the former Eastern countries of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Ensuring a balance of nationalities can also hinge on good agent marketing and partners’ appreciation of the value of one-to-one learning. Effective agent promotion can be problematic in itself for some schools (see page 28). But at least the imperative of having a good nationality mix is not so high in the one-to-one sector. And with the current range and flexibility of courses on offer for clients who like to cherry pick their study plan, the sector has a strong basis from which to grow and develop.

Getting agents on board
The extra costs involved in one-to-one courses mean that agents need to be fully aware of the benefits associated with such intensive learning in order to assure their clients that the extra investment is worthwhile. Some schools find that agents may promote their one-to-one courses less to students due to the fact that they do not know enough about the course and the benefits associated with the extra costs.

Rob King from The English Studio in London, UK, says, “Very few agents have ever been involved in recruiting private students for our school – they tend to arrive directly through our door. This is in comparison to the group courses, where a large percentage of students come through agents.”

Sharon Giles from Bournemouth One to One in the UK says that the extra work involved in promoting one-to-one courses can be daunting for agents, but the extra commission available should make it worthwhile. “Agents may have difficulty persuading students of the quality nature of a one-to-one course as opposed to the cheaper classroom-based course. They may have to spend more time and arrange more appointments than when recommending what students see as the norm, ie. being taught a fixed course in a large classroom situation,” she says. The time spent, though, with students would be more than compensated for by the higher commission on one-to-one courses, she notes. “I feel there is a real gap in the market, an opportunity waiting for the right agent or agents to exploit.”

For schools, this can mean that they need to work harder to ensure their agents are able to promote all their course range effectively and ensure that each student studies on a course that is most suited to them. In Canada, Santiago Endara from Tamwood International in Vancouver, BC, says, “Agents often do not promote private tuition unless the student asks for it. It is a challenge for marketing staff in schools to remind agents of this option and to let them know which customers can benefit from a period of private lessons.” he continues, “Some agents are discouraged to offer private lessons because they are more expensive, so it’s another challenge for the school marketers to let them know that for certain students, private tuition can be more productive and appropriate.”

However, some schools report no problems in working with agents in this sector and highlight the value of effective communication. Ronda Dove from Language Studies International in Brisbane, QLD, Australia, says, “Many agents contact us before they make a booking to make sure that we are able to offer what their client wants, especially if it’s more specialised than general English. Almost 100 per cent of our business in both individual tuition and group classes comes from agents.”

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student

English Australia  
Feltom Malta  
MEI-Relsa Ireland  
Perth Education City
Quality English  

LTM Star Awards  

Internet Advantage
Your World On
In Touch  

Malta Tourism

English Australia  
MEI-Relsa Ireland  
Quality English  

English Australia  
Gold Coast Institute
      of TAFE  
Perth Education City

CERAN Lingua
      (Belgium, France,
      Spain, UK) 

Canadian &
      Student Services
National School
      of Languages  
Richmond School
      District #38  
Vancouver English
      (Canada, Mexico)

Bell International 
      (Malta, UK)
Berlitz UK Ltd  
Bournemouth One
       to One English
      Language School  
English Studio  
InTuition Languages
      (Australia, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, South America,
      Spain, UK, USA)
IP International
      Projects GmbH  
      (England, France,
      Germany, Spain)
Kaplan Aspect 
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
Living Learning
Oxford Brookes
Oxford International
      Study Centre  
Queen Ethelburga's
RLI Language
St Clare's Oxford  
St Giles Colleges 
      (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group  
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa,Spain, USA)
Twin Group 
      (Ireland, UK)
University of Essex -
University of Sussex
Wimbledon School
      of English  

Alliance Française
      Paris Ile de France
Home Language
      (Australia, Brazil,
      Canada, China,
      Czech Republic,
      Denmark, England,
      Egypt, Finland,
      France, Greece,
      the Netherlands,
      Hungary, Ireland,
      Italy, Japan,
      Scotland, South
      Africa, Spain, Malta,
      New Zealand,
      Norway, Poland,
      Arab Emirates,
      USA, Wales)
IH Nice  
Universite de Paris

Carl Duisberg
      Medien GmbH  
      (England, Germany)
International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

Active English  
Alpha College of
English in Dublin  
Galway Language
Irish College of
Swan Training
MEI-Relsa Ireland  

Kai Japanese
      Language School  

      Language School  
Feltom Malta  
IELS - Institute of
      English Language
Malta Tourism


Colegio Maravillas  
ESADE - Executive
Español ¡Si!
Malaca Instituto -
      Club Hispanico SL

EAC Language
      Centres and
      Activity Camps.  
University of
      (England, Ireland,
      Scotland, Wales)
EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Ecuador,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Russia,
      Scotland, Spain,

ELS Language
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)