How to start a language school

Whether they plan to travel abroad for work, school or leisure, most people want to not only have a basic grasp of the foreign language being spoken but also have the assurance that they're pronouncing phrases both correctly and politely. To get the interactive feedback that a book or a tape can't provide, they often turn to language schools for individual and group instruction. If you have a teaching credential, are fluent in other tongues, and have a passion for bringing the world closer together through communication, starting a language school might be a good business match.

Identify your clientele based on your educational/experiential qualifications to teach. For instance, will your curriculum be targeted to young children? If so, will it be a charter facility where they are enrolled full-time or will it be an after-school program? If you plan to teach adults, will this be in the context of accelerated learning for individuals engaged in foreign business travel or a more leisurely pace for learners who want to practice conversational skills with their classmates? In addition to the requisite educational degrees, your knowledge of culture, customs, and history will factor into the complexity of the courses you plan to offer at your school.

Research how other private schools in your region got started. Determine whether there are any competitive institutions in the area; if so, what will your own language school offer that is either unique or complementary to their existing curriculum? Solicit suggestions from prospective students (or parents of prospective students). In many instances, charter schools for children have been launched as a grassroots campaign by parents who recognised that something special could be achieved that public schools were unable to offer and were willing to help fund it.

Research the licensing requirements in your particular state to operate a business. Likewise, you will need to research whether your proposed model qualifies for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3), if you want your school to be a non-profit entity. You will need to research the steps necessary for accreditation by the US Department of Education (see Resources). This is a lengthy process but if you start the research while your language school is still in the fledgling stages of development, it will help ensure that you don't have any missteps along the way. Regulations relating to the operation of K-12 schools vary from state to state and so it's crucial to contact your State Department of Education and advise them of what you're planning to do.

Write your business plan. The website of the Small Business Administration will walk you through the steps to do this. The elements you need to address in your business plan are what kind of operating budget you will need for the first three years (including insurance costs), equipment and school supplies, how many faculty you plan to employ (including their salaries and benefits), how many students you'll enrol, what type of brick and mortar facility you'll need to build, buy or lease, and what levels of language classes you'll be offering. The more detailed and realistic your business plan, the better chances of getting the funding from a bank or from individual donors and educational or corporate foundations to get it off the ground.

Test the waters by starting small. If you're not already doing tutoring or teaching language arts in someone else's classroom, you need to get some hands-on experience before you rush off and start up a school. If your primary clientele will be adults, a great way to do this is to teach a 6-8 week community service class (i.e., "Beginning Italian") and discover what it's like to develop lesson plans, accommodate diverse learning styles, and survey whether there's a sufficient interest level to make a language school sustainable in your community. If you plan to work with young children, ask around and see if you can organise an after-school language program at an existing school or church facility. The strategy to this is that if the kids are excited about learning a foreign language, their parents are likely to get on board when you announce you're thinking of opening a school of your own.

Organise a committee and start assigning tasks to turn your vision of a language school into a reality. (If you're eligible for non-profit status, this committee will be your board of directors and will be comprised of community leaders, fellow educators, and other interested parties.) The tasks of your committee members will relate to fundraising, marketing, facilities management, human resources, and student recruitment.

Reinforce your status as an expert linguist by writing articles, giving talks to community groups, and teaching introductory workshops to bring attention to your school's curriculum. Recruit exceptional teachers who are as passionate about teaching foreign languages as you are.

Design a professional website that includes the mission statement of the school, biographies of your faculty, and tuition fees. Include blogs, travel photos, and titbits about foreign foods, history, and curious customs to whet the appetites of your adult globetrekkers.

Acquaint yourself with the local media and offer to do an interview and/or give a tour of the school. Be sure to invite the media to your school's open house as well as any holiday gatherings that would make for great photo ops.

Network with state and national private school organisations such as National Independent Private Schools Association and National Association of Independent Schools and attend conferences that will allow you to hype what your own school is accomplishing in the field of language studies. Join your local Chamber of Commerce and talk about what you're doing.

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