Parents, as well as children, feel that foreign languages are a factor of increasing importance in their children’s education,” observes Alisha Fields of F+U Academy in Heidelberg, Germany. Hence, says Lennart Guethling at fellow German language school Humboldt-Institut, despite the difficult financial situation in Europe, parents will cut back on holidays and luxury equipment rather than on language programmes for their children.
A growth market
This view is substantiated by the experience of language schools across a variety of markets. In France, at International House Nice, William Rubinstein comments that more dynamic marketing led to an increase in the number of teens on their language courses. Meanwhile, in Germany, Guethling reports an “incredible” rise of almost 30 per cent each year over the past three years. He attributes this, in part, to the opening of a new year-round residential centre in Bad Schussenried for juniors/teens, which, he believes is “probably the best-equipped residential school in Germany”.
Furthermore, three out of four contributors from language schools in Malta reported an increase in junior student numbers during summer 2012, and were optimistic regarding 2013. At IELS, in Sliema, Liga Berzina noted that numbers were up “considerably”. IELS’s performance was assisted by an increase in Central and Eastern European students, which, she notes, is mainly the result of new air connections to countries such as Poland, the Baltic states, Serbia and Ukraine. For fellow Maltese school, English Language Academy (ELA), Russians, Italians and Germans all increased in numbers, as Louiseanne
The UK experience was mixed. At Colchester English Study Centre (CESC), Sarah Greatorex comments that the recession in Europe resulted in cancellations. However, this did not prevent an increase in numbers from Spain, as well as from Italy and Germany. In addition, Simon Hayward at Anglo-European School of English, UK, reports that understaffing at embassies led to visa delays. The London Olympics also had a negative impact, he points out, with the cost of airfares soaring, and some potential students put off by fear of terrorism attack and/or overcrowding.
Visa problems also arose from recent changes regarding junior stays of more than 28 days, which now need to be registered with social services, according to Saoni Beresford of Churchill House Summer Centres in the UK. This did not, however, prevent Weymouth English Centre in Tunbridge Wells from increasing junior bookings by “well over 50 per cent” in 2012, as Christopher Hills highlights. Here, junior enrolments from Russia, Turkey and South America all increased. Furthermore, says Hills, “We expected the numbers from Spain to go down this year, but, in fact, they went up!”
Meanwhile, schools in both Australia and Canada also turned out good performances. A 20 per cent year-on-year increase at Australia’s Lexis English was assisted by the fact that “there is no doubt that Australia is appearing as an attractive ‘alternative’ destination for European teens, particularly among those who may previously have studied within Europe and are now looking for a more adventurous destination”, as Kiyo Ono, the school Director, notes. This has led the school to expand its junior programmes from the east coast over to its new Perth campus. At Lexis, Japanese and French are the most prevalent nationalities, while, comments Ono, Germany and Switzerland have increased “very significantly” and students from China, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan have started to join the programme. “The largest change for us,” she observes, “is the increased awareness of the attractions of the beach resort locations for juniors for Asian students.”
In Canada, junior enrolments at Ilac have grown steadily over the past few years, according to school spokesperson Bogie Lapinski, which reflects the growing popularity of Canada as a study destination. Study Montreal, meanwhile, saw the number of junior enrolments from its major market of Korea fall in 2012, “which, in my opinion, is related to the economy over there, and the distance between Montreal and Korea”, says Marketing Director Daniela Barakat Monteiro. However, Latin America is also a fertile source market for the school, which, she adds, also receives significant numbers from Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
Keeping up to speed with the changing demand from a variety of different source markets is undoubtedly crucial to maintaining a buoyant business, and Hakan Gokce, Director of UK consultancy Oxford Vision, highlights that new markets are emerging. “For example,” he says, “Turkey and central Asian countries are sending more students.”
On the other hand, from the agent’s perspective, what clients expect from a junior language programme has changed little in content over the years. The main concern, according to Eteri Goguadze from Prestige Salon in Russia, is the quality of the language programmes and the comfort of the accommodation.
According to Gokce, meanwhile, a variety of accommodation types is a key expectation, and clients are also concerned about the food, as well as activities and excursions. “Most centres now provide halal food, which is important,” he says, “for the advisors, like us, recruiting from Muslim countries.”
He adds, “The organisation of the centre is important, especially if facilities are shared by more than one operator.” Furthermore, he notes, “The activities should not be overcrowded or a waste of time. The main purpose of any activity should be encouraging the practise of language. It can be fun,” he says, “but should have a learning target at the same time. Discos on almost every night is not what parents expect.” As for excursions, he stresses that these should be well-planned and guided.
When it comes to format, the traditional language plus activity programmes are still dominant, although a few new trends have appeared within the junior market.
Demand for specific options
Goguadze observes that the introduction of specialised options, such as art and design, film and photography and different sports, has proved popular with clients, especially among 14-to-17 year olds.
This is reflected in the experience of a number of language schools. Hence Weymouth English Centre’s introduction of a new course, English and theatre studies for summer 2012, alongside its existing English and sailing course, both of which are for students aged 13 to 17 years. Also in the UK, Anglo-European School of English is running more “summer plus” programmes, which offer extra optional activities for an additional charge. These include tennis coaching, dance and sailing, comments Hayward. Similarly, IELS in Malta is introducing two new optional courses for 2013: an electronic DJ course and electronic music production.
Hayward notes that higher standards of English among many European students at his school is leading towards less demand for general language and more specialist, advanced level courses. Exam courses are also appearing. Toefl launched its junior test in 2011, and Sol Schools International in Canada and the USA is considering introducing preparation courses in its teen camps, according to Junior Programmes Director, Elvis Mrizi. Meanwhile, in the UK, Beresford reports that Churchill House will be introducing preparation courses for the Trinity GESE exams at some of its centres from 2013. This, she says, “will add variety to our existing product and give the students a recognised qualification”.
Parent and child programmes have also recently found favour alongside the traditional language plus activity programmes, as Dana Garrison at the US-based Institute of Spanish Language Studies (ISLS) highlights. One language school that has also moved into this sector is Canada’s Sol Schools, where children as young as four years old can take part, says Mrizi.
Another school to have tapped into the family market is Spanish language school Centro de Idiomas El Mar. Spokesman Samuel Oziel comments that the school has increased its focus on junior and teen courses over the past two years to capitalise on its location in a small village, offering a safe environment close to the sea and mountains. In addition to receiving groups and individuals, he says, “We are also... offering flexible packages with accommodation, sport and cultural activities for the whole family so that juniors still come to our school, even though not all of their family follow lessons.”
There is a similar growth in demand for courses catering specifically for younger children. IELS, Malta, runs a summer camp for children aged eight to 12 years, and although it is smaller than the 13-to-17s programme, Berzina notes it is increasing in popularity. UK schools Churchill and Anglo-European have also recently started targeting the under-12’s market. Beresford comments that Churchill’s course offers an activity programme that is “specifically designed to get [students] interacting with each other”. And at Anglo-European, the belief is that the specific needs of different age groups should be met. For example, levels of supervision can be adjusted according to different age groups, and older children may be offered more freedom.
Social media marketing
The use of social media is strongly associated with the young, and language schools are increasingly using tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Xing to engage with the junior market.
At Lexis English schools in Australia, usage is focussed on current students and their parents. “Social media is a critical component of our junior programmes,” says Kiyo Ono at the school. “All students are invited to join a closed Facebook page, which is also accessible to their parents. This is updated daily with news and photos. We also have a juniors blog, which has daily updates showing classes and activities.” As she points out, this makes it “very easy for parents to keep an eye on what is happening in our programmes, despite the distances involved”.
As well as focussing on current students, the Canadian language school Ilac also uses social media to engage agents, “often connecting potential students/parents/agents with current students by posting photos and testimonials”, says Bogie Lapinski. “Parents and friends also interact with Ilac students via Facebook, and follow their activities and accomplishments.” She adds, “Social media makes it easier for students to connect with us directly. The Ilac Facebook page has daily news and stories, and currently has 48,254 likes. Social media is also used to inform current students about upcoming events, activities and announcements.”
“It is quite difficult to decide if you want to reach the students themselves or the parents who will book the programme for the kids,” observes Petra Heintze at Carl Duisberg Centren, Germany. However, she adds, “When you imagine that almost every child... from the age of 11 already has a Facebook account, why [not] use social media?” She highlights adding, “Our company promotes leisure programmes, weekly updates, field reports, special offers, and so on, with Facebook. There are so many people you can reach with only one click. Furthermore, we promote our homepage and with our marketing department in our headquarters which sends out press releases and newsletters.”
“Facebook seems to be the trend of the day,” agrees Elvis Mrizi at Sol Schools International in Canada and the USA. “Every child who comes to the programmes has another 500-plus friends, and [those] friends have another 500-plus, and so on. It is about being there,” he underlines, “and people knowing who you are and what you do.”
Meanwhile, Stephanie Camilleri at Magister Academy in Malta, reports that social media is used for keeping followers and past students up-to-date with the school’s activities. For Samuel Oziel at the Spanish language school Centro de Idiomas El Mar, social media is great for targeting repeat students although less so for reaching new junior business.
However, Lennart Guethling at Germany’s Humboldt-Institut, underlines his school’s success in recruiting new students through Facebook. “This year,” he says, “we...placed more emphasis on [Facebook] as a marketing tool, and are somewhat surprised by how well it works for some regions to recruit juniors and teenagers.” Although he notes there are some regions which seem to ignore Facebook, there are others, like South America, where, he says, “students seem to wait for our adverts”, and, “as you can really target the group of people you would like to reach the output is great”.
He explains that, with Google Analytics, the school is able to track students who first saw its adverts on Facebook and then booked one of its courses. “Hence,” he says, “a well-managed Facebook campaign can really push up your student numbers. Of course,” he adds, “your Facebook profile needs to be interesting and updated on a daily basis, with pictures and news from the course centres.” He adds that the school blog allows staff to keep in touch with the former students, who are excellent facilitators of the more traditional word-of-mouth marketing method.
A summer-only business?
The peak time for junior programmes is during the summer months, when schools are closed and children are on holiday. Not only does this make sense in terms of capitalising on long holidays and better weather, but it also suits language schools that do not have their own residential accommodation and are able to rent from mainstream schools and colleges that are closed for the holidays.
Despite this, there are opportunities to attract junior business at other times. For UK-based Churchill House Summer Centres, the season is extended by taking junior groups from South American countries during their own summer holidays, which, as spokesperson Saoni Beresford explains, fall in January and February, during the European winter.
Meanwhile, at Centro de Idiomas El Mar in Spain, Spokesman Samuel Oziel notes that, “Due to the area we are located in, we could provide these courses almost year-round, with a couple of changes depending on the season.” However, “Unfortunately,” he adds, “most of these courses are spring and summer, although we’re getting some interest for early fall [autumn].”
However, year-round business is a reality for some operators. At AM Language Studio in Sliema, Malta, Sales and Operations Manager Marisa Grixti reports,“During school term-time, [junior] business normally [comes through] school groups.” Individuals, on the other hand, attend during Easter, summer and autumn.
School groups also fill places at Italian language school Italian in Tuscany during the school year, when, says spokeswoman Brunella Belluomini, “We organise itineraries in Tuscany and Umbria for closed... groups coming via their own bus or by plane.”