September 2013 issue

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Home tuition up close and personal

Delivered in the home of the host teacher, home tuition courses differ in a number of significant ways from traditional language school programmes and, for certain clients, can sometimes offer a better way to meet their needs. Jane Vernon Smith finds out how.

Home tuition courses are provided both by individual tutors working independently, and via organisations that recruit a network of host teachers to whom they allocate students, based on the best match of demand to skills and services. Some providers in the latter category offer this service in addition to language school-based classes. And, at some, like Atlantic Language Galway in Ireland, there is the opportunity to combine tuition in the teacher’s home with classroom-based lessons, for the best of both worlds.

“Home tuition programmes, by their very nature, are bespoke,” highlights Norman Renshaw, Managing Director of UK-based IH InTuition Languages. His company has a large database of tutors specialising in different areas, and is able to provide teachers with a variety of specialist expertise. As he explains, “We do a lot of professional courses, like air traffic controllers, who need to focus on productive skills, and technical professionals, like engineers, who need more academic English for technical specifications.” Other specialist courses, such as business English and exam preparation are also catered for, and Renshaw notes that the company is becoming more versatile in its course offerings, both in terms of content and also locations.

Many other providers are also able to offer a full range of course options. The Elizabeth Johnson Organisation, based in Hampshire, UK, for example, offers British Council-accredited courses in general, business, special interest and young-learner English, as well as specialised professional courses that are tailored to the specific needs of both businesses and individuals, says company spokesman, Andrew Pritchard.

Meanwhile, at the Eurolingua Institute’s One-to-One Language Holiday Homestays, flexibility is the watchword, with courses usually of between one and four weeks’ duration that can be adapted at the student’s request to cover any aspect of language learning in the target language, says CEO, Barry Haywood.

The flexibility of home tuition is also highlighted by Lorenzo Capanni of Accademia del Giglio in Florence, Italy. Freedom to choose course length and dates is an important aspect of this, but more so, in his view is “the flexibility to choose a teacher with the right experience and a friendly environment, with shared interests”. Not only, he says, do students benefit from personal, one-to-one teaching with a qualified teacher, but the lessons and materials are chosen exactly for the student’s needs and level, and have been devised to allow them to develop their skills in a short period of time.

As Capanni observes, students opt for home tuition for two main reasons apart from this. First, is because they have little time to dedicate to their study and wish to make the most of it. Second is a desire for complete immersion in the lifestyle of the country – “They wish to learn how Italian people do their cooking, they are eager to get to know Italian people and interact with them in Italian.”

With home tuition, “Students get plenty of opportunities to practise the language, with support and encouragement from inside and outside the home,” he elaborates. “They are immersed in Italian and are learning naturally all the time...They study intensively, but in a relaxed and friendly environment. They learn while they have delicious Italian meals or while they go out for shopping or a walk with their teacher.” In other words, as Haywood comments, home tuition students benefit from “a valuable and in-depth linguistic and cultural experience”.

Kelvin Fowler of UK-based Homelingua, is also keen to underline this point, noting, “Non-classroom based language and cultural experience is one of the most important elements of home tuition outside of great language teaching,” and he adds that students choose to use some of their tuition time as activity or excursion-based lessons.

With home tuition, the activities programme is often very much a part of the learning experience. As Renshaw explains, “The advantage of an immersion programme is that a host tutor can combine an activity or excursion that is relevant to the needs of a student.” For example, IH InTuition recently had a curator from the Orsay Museum in Paris. So the host tutor combined the lessons with trips to the Tate and National Portrait Gallery, and blended the lessons.”

Students can use their free time however they choose though, as Capanni underlines. “Teachers will always give...plenty of advice, and, in many cases, will accompany them out on some afternoons or evenings,” he comments.
With some providers, on the other hand, the activities programme is more formally arranged. With home tuition at International House in Nice, France, for example, William Rubinstein explains that one social activity per week with the trainer is included in the cost of the package, and this typically takes the form of a visit to another city or to a restaurant, depending on the student’s choice. Churchill House Home Tuition, meanwhile, offer a range of packages with different activities included. Options include English for juniors plus local activities and excursions, English with local excursions for adults and English with activities, in which students can opt from among a range of choices as part of an inclusive package.

According to Haywood, home tuition is ideal for students and clients of all ages, 16-to-75 years, who wish to make the most progress in the shortest time. Fowler at Homelingua, a British Council-accredited home tuition specialist with more than 300 teachers across the UK, meanwhile, notes that it is particularly attractive to adult students aged 24-plus – who often do not want to attend a language school, where the average class age may be considerably younger. However, at the same time, he observes that Homelingua’s young learner courses are very popular with parents and children who are more ambitious about their language learning objectives.

“Younger students like the comfort and security of being with a family and experiencing the culture of the chosen region,” as John Hall of Churchill House English Home Tuition based in Ramsgate, UK, observes.

“Parents often opt for this type of programme if they have concerns about their child, in terms of immaturity/shyness,” says Maeve Egan of Atlantic Language Galway. “They tend to favour the additional layer of attention – academic and otherwise – that the home tuition programme favours.”
Aoife Mulvihill at Home Tuition Ireland (HTI) concurs, adding that parents appreciate the fact that their child is accompanied by their private tutor on two cultural activities each week. They also enjoy a full-day excursion every weekend with the family.
Whatever the client’s age or situation, one advantage that Fowler highlights is that home tuition represents great value for money – being, “on average, about 40 per cent cheaper than a one-to-one course in a language school”, he claims.

He also points out that home tuition teachers tend to be aged 40-plus, “and have a great wealth of life experience outside of teaching. Many of our business English teachers, for example, have qualified to teach English after successful careers in business of their own. This is quite different to learning in a language school, where the teacher is more likely to be a career teacher,” he observes.

Reports from course providers suggest that home tuition programmes are at least holding their own in the market against traditional classroom-based programmes.

At the Eurolingua Institute, which has language schools in more than 40 countries worldwide, as well as providing from its base in Italy home-taught courses by native speakers of 13 languages across European countries where they are spoken nationally, Haywood comments that an increased emphasis on the marketing of these courses had led to demand for home tuition programmes in all its main country destinations having outpaced that for its group courses.

Meanwhile, in the UK, both Pritchard and Renshaw report growth in demand from young learners. At the Elizabeth Johnson Organisation, Pritchard comments on “a strong trend for parents of young learners to opt for these types of courses so as to maximise their children’s exposure to the language, and certainly to avoid speakers of their own language”. Meanwhile at IH InTuition, the increase in young learners has been at the expense of the executive market, but, notes Renshaw, “that is more a reflection on the economy than home tuition losing its popularity with this sector”.

In 2012, HTI experienced a noticeable increase in junior clients (average age 14) combining general English with exam preparation, notes Mulvihill. She adds, “This summer, HTI has seen a new younger client emerge with lots of 11 and 12 year olds coming to Ireland combining a general English programme with a hobby such as horse riding, tennis, handball or golf.”

In addition, HTI welcomes two distinct older groupings comprising young adults aged between 18 and 30 and business clientele aged between 32 and 65. While the former wish to focus on developing general English skills, the latter have more targeted needs. “Business customers do like to focus on specialised areas such as English for Aviation amongst others,” she says.

Overall, growth in the sector is being fuelled by the realisation that “the primary benefit of our courses is that they are one-to-one, very intensive and usually [of] one or two weeks’ duration. The fact that it is in the teacher’s home is secondary,” Renshaw underlines, despite the fact that, as he points out, the selling of these courses has traditionally been focused primarily on the latter feature.

Alongside an increase in young learners has come a greater demand for exam preparation, according to both Hall and Egan, who links the trend to a widespread demand for more value for money. “For some parents, it is no longer enough to send their children on an English language summer course...they want to see tangible results.”

Exam courses are also popular at IH InTuition, where Renshaw has a different perspective on the reason, observing that it may in part reflect the fact that the provider does not pre-screen candidates, so that it attracts those that may not be sufficiently proficient to qualify for a standard Cambridge Advanced English (CAE) exam preparation course at a language school.

For many providers, the development of the Russian market has also been an influential factor in increased enrolments. For UK-based Churchill House, Hall comments that the biggest increase has come from Russia, and, he says, “This is now our biggest single market, and includes both junior students and mature business clients.” Atlantic Language Galway is another provider that has witnessed, and capitalised upon, the same trend, with Egan commenting that it has increased its own promotional activities in that market – in the form of fam trips and agent visits – with positive results.

While the number of Russians, in particular, and also Ukrainians has risen, students from traditional Western European markets still tend to make up the majority of enrolments among the providers canvassed. As Renshaw explains, this is because, “Many have been on a language course overseas before, and are reasonably sophisticated in what they want&...This is why home tuition courses are not too popular with emerging markets like China and Vietnam, but very popular with mature markets like France and Japan.”

At HTI, France and Spain are the main two student source markets seeking home tuition programmes. “HTI has found a significant rise in the French market and believes this is through the strong partnerships made at workshops such as Alphe UK and ICEF Berlin, twinned with the high expectations of French customers for top-quality tuition, accommodation, activities and service.” However, she earmarks Switzerland, Italy, Russia and Japan as emergent sources.

As certain markets begin to mature, indications are that home tuition providers will start to benefit.

Providing reassurance

“At the heart of a successful home tuition organisation is a great teacher recruitment and selection process,” says Kelvin Fowler of UK-based home tuition provider Homelingua. Here, all teacher applicants are rigorously screened, with only around five per cent of those who apply actually being allocated a student, he reports.

For students seeking a course in the UK, he advises, “Make sure your home tuition provider has British Council accreditation. Accreditation is especially rigorous over the qualifications that a teacher must have in order to teach English as a foreign language, which is a very different skill set to teaching other subjects,” he observes. “British Council accreditation, we believe, adds about a 10 per cent cost onto our programmes, but, hopefully, provides our agents and students with a level of confidence.”

At fellow UK home tuition specialist the Elizabeth Johnson Organisation spokesman Andrew Pritchard agrees. “We opted to put our English Home lessons in to the [British Council] scheme when it first became available some years ago, and I think parents especially are reassured by this. They want to know that teachers are properly qualified and accommodation inspected,” he says.

Similarly in Ireland, home tuition programmes are eligible for accreditation by the Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services (Acels), which is also responsible for standards in language schools, and Maeve Egan at Atlantic Language Galway reports that all its home tuition programmes are Acels approved. “It is an important factor in how we market ourselves and our programmes,” she underlines.

Elsewhere, however, there is often no formal accreditation in place for home tuition providers to give this reassurance. From Italy, Lorenzo Capanni of Florence-based Accademia del Giglio observes, “There is no regulation at all for home tuition [in our country].” However, he underlines, “Our institute is committed to establishing an internal monitoring [system] and regulation of our home tuition courses, so that all our home tuition teachers respect our quality standard of teaching (qualification and experience) as well as of hospitality.”

Similarly, Barry Haywood of the Eurolingua Institute confirms that there are no real accreditation schemes, as seen in the UK, in most of its destination countries. However, its tutors are all professionally qualified in their own country, while, in France, many have police clearance (casier judiciaire) for under-18s. He adds, “Overall quality control is really assured by the Eurolingua brand.”

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