How to choose the right French Language School for you.
Avoid the pitfalls!
Choosing a French Language School is not an easy thing to do. Destinations, rates, types of lessons and accommodation, teaching methods, number of trainees per class, teachers' qualifications, appropriate teaching material, etc.
All French schools ensure you that they are the best at teaching the French language... how can you really know which one to choose? How do you know how to choose the right French Language School for you? Here is a selection of tips to help you...
1. Quality controls
Many French schools are part of a professional group ensuring a minimum of guarantees and quality control. Better still, some schools "double” this quality approach by being certified with French or international labels. Know how to identify these signs of distinction and don’t hesitate to visit the websites of the control bodies … ensure that there are not purely commercial links without any guarantee.
Sometimes, it is highly tempting for schools to state that they are recognised when in fact they have only made a simple declaration that does not commit them to any control. You should draw a definite line under centres that attempt to deceive you regarding this essential point. For example, a French school (except universities) cannot be "recognised" by a rectorat, a prefecture or the national ministry of education, it can only simply be “declared”, words have a meaning…
Moreover, a “small” centre does not necessarily have the means to subject itself to quality controls that often have to be paid for and that are sometimes expensive! In this case, other ways to be sure of its reliability exist... Ask to be able to contact 2 or 3 former trainees, ask questions about their teaching methods, how long the centre has existed, how do they form their groups? Finally, even if it is not listed in a professional French group such as the FLE group, ask if they know the school that you have selected.
2. How to choose the right French class for you?
- Pay attention to the duration of the lessons. A standard lesson is between 45 and 60 mins. For 45-minute lessons, for example, a course of 20 lessons is equal to 15 hours.
- Take care with the real number of students per class. Take the time to read the small print… Bear in mind that the more of you in the class, the less time you have to talk and the less time your teacher has for you, so maybe you will make less progress. A centre, for example, that mentions 6-9 people per class with a maximum of 12, means that there could well be 12 of you! Eight students per class maximum is ideal, but the lesson price may be a lot higher. Actually, if there are less students per class to pay for the teacher and pay for the equipment, the price of the lessons may be higher.
- Find out whether the school runs classes that, due to lack of rooms or space, alternate between the morning and the afternoon. In other words, will you only have lessons in the morning or in the afternoon? This is not important for some people, but for others it can cause problems in their "leisure" programme.
- The teaching in the centres should normally follow the directives of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERFL). This is an additional guarantee, but the key to a good French training course depends, of course, on the teaching staff. Nothing can replace this. The centre has to have experienced French teachers with degrees who have participated in continual professional training programmes, who are paid correctly and have an employment contract, of course!
- Are your lessons that fall on public holidays lost, recuperated or compensated for?
- Is the teaching material free, is the equipment and premises of good quality? etc...
3. Choosing your accommodation.
Host family, student or hotel residences, hotels, flats, flat-sharing … there are many different types of accommodation in France that can meet the wishes of everyone.
A European norm “EN 14804“ was written in 2005 in order to define the hosting criteria for language trips. (1) see excerpt
Here again, the quality criteria in terms of accommodation, in particular for those in a host family and in residences, have been described. Demand that they are respected!
4. Cultural activities.
These are an important part of your stay in France. They are the extension of your training in French as a Foreign Language (FFL) during which you are going to be able to put into practice and increase your knowledge of French.
Some centres offer many very varied activities, others offer more classical ones. The aim is to enjoy them. Nonetheless, don’t let yourself be pushed into activities that mainly make use of your wallet.
They have to be supervised by a sufficient number of competent French native speakers. As they generally benefit from a group rate, the centre should be able to let you benefit from attractive rates, whilst keeping in mind that the school has to (correctly) pay its staff.
5. General points
Why is one French school cheaper that another one?
- The number of trainees per class has an influence on the price and the quality of the lessons.
- The quality and the range of equipment.
- The level of related services and/or the possible extra cost of them locally.
- The region where the school is located… Some towns are more expensive than others in terms of the purchase or rental of business premises.
- The centre’s pay policy. Poorly paid staff, for example. Although a centre can have high prices while poorly paying their teachers!
- The recent creation (or buy out) of a centre that wishes to win market share by offering prices that are lower than competitors.
- A centre that is coming to the end of its life and that offers promotion after promotion practically all year long.
- The centre that has quite simply found a financial balance.
- The “small” centre where everyone does a bit of everything… but not necessarily badly.
- Reasonable prices without a margin on the accommodation offered.