Do you often think about the future of your language school?
Because our activities depend on what the language school market looks like both locally and globally, we at LangLion often ponder on the future of the language-teaching industry. How about you? Do you wonder what your language school is going to look like in the future? If yes, how far into the future do you think? September this year? 3, 5, 10 years ahead? We often encounter a situation where the furthest time perspective owners think of is a maximum of 2 years. But if we do not want to be taken by surprise by the market, it is worthwhile to think about the future in a further time perspective.
We have been present on the market with the LangLion Platform for 7 years, and the system is used by over 400 schools from 20 countries on a daily basis. We have watched already many great successes and a few sad failures. Those years of experiences have provided us with unique knowledge and at the same time allow us to forecast how the market is going to evolve further on.
Similarities and differences of markets all over the world
In the beginning, as an introduction, we want to focus on comparisons of markets worldwide and to share our observations about those elements that are characteristic and unique for some countries, and also those that make markets very much alike.
- leading target groups in various countries – in many developing countries the dominant target group is comprised by children and youth; e.g. in Germany, Spain those are mainly courses for adults; in the USA – courses for immigrants. This is influenced by geographic, political and social determinants.
- professionalization – in many countries, e.g. in Poland, whose market we know bestowing to out location, owners of language schools are experts in almost anything – they are trained in management, marketing, sales, customer service, they make their own advertising campaigns, the landing page, and besides they certainly develop their methodological skills, they start to teach ever younger children, etc. This has been greatly influenced by the development of the market of training targeted at language schools. Initially, the market only offered methodological training, but presently the offer of profiled managerial and marketing training is extremely extensive. What is interesting, in other countries the training market is not so saturated – we watch it carefully but such events as those in Poland are very few worldwide – the offer is rather limited to methodological training, and even those are not too numerous. If on your local market there are big events for language school managers, please let us know!
- who are the people establishing schools – in most countries a decisive majority of schools have been established by teachers, methodologists, who wanted to “go out on their own”, but e.g. in Russia schools are established by business people, who treat a language school like any other business with a profit and loss account. It is also interesting to note that in many countries language schools are established by expats (not necessarily those whose native language is the one the school wants to teach), who emigrated, usually to warm and beautiful places and came up with such a concept for a way of life.
- fluctuations – professionalization of teachers and future managers results in the fact that – encouraged by numerous available training – they increasingly and more easily decide to establish their own language schools. From year to year, we have been watching a rash of new schools, but statistically, like with any other new business, schools are prone to swift failures. It is estimated that 60% of businesses are closed before 2 years of operations elapse. Nevertheless, many highly professionalized schools successfully grab their own slice of the market pie. However, some „old” schools are unable to keep up with the pace of market development and drop out of the market because they fail to adjust the standards of work and school to current realities.
- consolidation and polarization of the market – we observe both on the Polish market and also globally on local markets, taking over of increasing market portions by large franchising chains on the one hand, but also a significant market fragmentation owing to the presence of small local district schools and freelancers on the other.
- level of public education and training market – there is a widespread view that the worse language education in public schools is, the better off private language schools are. This is only half of the truth – indeed, an improvement in the quality of language education in public schools will most likely have an adverse impact on the segment of courses for children and youth. Nevertheless, as demonstrated by examples of markets from countries with a high level of public school education, this does not work that way 🙂 For example, proportionally the number of language schools in Germany or Switzerland is the same as in Poland, but they have quite a different target customer – usually those are adults (frequently as part of a company course) at the C1, C2 levels, who want to polish their command of language constantly, or want to learn a new language.
Global and local problems and risks
- hiring teachers – The situation is quite similar all over the world and there are shortages of teachers everywhere. People being teachers (and frequently also those who used to be teachers) move on to work for corporations, to be freelancers, or establish their own schools. Unfortunately, we do not have any good news: there is no solution to that situation and the problem is only likely to become aggravated.
- private tutoring, online schools – When we were launching our LangLion operations, the problem of private tutoring was a highly pressing one. As the year’s pass, we can see the problem is losing its impetus. Consumers become mature and increasingly wealthy and so they are better equipped to verify the offered products, they more and more often put quality before price, not even mentioning the fact that grey economy is completely unaccepted socially in developed countries. Even if customers look for a private tutor on the Internet, this follows more from their ignorance and conviction that such a tutor offers greater flexibility than language schools than from the price. A much greater threat is comprised of schools completely transferred to the online world and they are going to develop faster and faster so it is extremely important not to underestimate that segment.
- an application for self-guided learning – they may be a threat but a motivated student is a good student! At a certain moment, an application for self-guided learning is not enough and such a student needs a teacher to move onto a higher level, so sooner or later they will become customers of a language school.
- innovative ideas – He who doesn’t risk never gets to drink champagne! – quite certainly, but each risk taken may cost dearly. We have seen quite a few of such stories and in a way they go to show why the standard model of work in language schools is the same everywhere:)
- Such a bitter lesson was learned by one of our clients, namely Talkersi English language school. The owners took a risk and launched a completely new project named English Gym. In a nutshell, students had an option to purchase a pass – much like a gym pass (including open passes) and stay at classes for as long as they wished. The location was OK (an office inside an office building in Tri-City’s corporate hub), the idea was interesting, and the price was attractive – theoretically the bull’s eye, but it was a failure and Talkersi lost 47 thousand zlotys. Nevertheless, Maja and Wiktor managed to channel the bitter and costly attempt into a huge PR asset and all-Poland online media wrote about them, which eventually translated into a growth of the number of their students under the existing business line.
On the basis of our observations, we have prepared for you 7 development proposals for your schools:
- Reaching out to new customers through brand building and professionalization -> The scope for improvement and building of a more powerful school brand never ends, and there is still a lot to reclaim on the market. It is particularly worthwhile to focus on the website, visual identification and to run social channels with passion.
- A change of the target groups, education of small children, the teaching of adults -> Presently, a huge global trend is comprised by the teaching of children even under the age of 2 years old and the segment of teaching adults at a high language level, or those wishing to learn some other language than English. If presently in your country one of those two groups dominates, try to think whether with time the order of those groups’ popularity is likely to be switched. If your students, whom you educate since childhood, become adults, it may be worthwhile to accompany them on their path through language learning further on. Introduction of courses at C1 and C2 levels may prove to be the only chance to keep an adult student you have educated so far.
- New locations -> A moment comes in the development of many schools when it is no shortage of teachers or students but lack of a place where you may provide education that becomes an obstacle to further development. Schools also become increasingly mobile and they rarely invest in own buildings anymore (which used to be common) exactly to be able to react swiftly to changes on the local market. We know schools that changed their location owing to aging of the districts they operated in and opened new locations in new living quarters because that was the only way to scale up their business. And this is what we recommend to you: be vigilant and search for new profitable locations.
- Online teaching -> Several years ago when we were saying online teaching is a big trend, some looked at us with suspicion, to say the least. But today it is clearly visible that those days are not far in the future and the online language courses market grows year on year. When in 2015 we implemented the online teaching option and made it available to our clients, every day our clients held a few to ten-odd parallel lessons. Certainly, now we have many more clients, but also the number of lessons conducted in LangLion has grown quite disproportionately – those are several hundred meetings daily! Those schools that started off a few years ago, already have the experience, a well-developed online teaching method and marketing capital, and so they are a few years ahead of others. But it is still not too late to start 🙂
- Language camps and day camps -> Language schools do not want to lose revenues during summer holidays so they organize language camps and day camps. Besides attracting completely new students, we accustom the existing students and their parents with the fact that children can learn with us all year long. It is easier for such a parent to trust in good care provided by the language school attended by the child all year long than to look for someone completely new and unproven. If for formal reasons you are afraid to organized language camps, you may use the offer of proven language tour operators, but act as an intermediary in the entire process. Additionally, travels, learning the cultures and languages are such involving and attractive topics that you may build the entire marketing story of your school on them.
- Community centers -> When we attended extra-curricular classes, it was only natural to look for them in community centers. There is a growing market presence of facilities that – besides language – offer classes in robotics, programming, drawing, and others. This is very convenient for parents who again have just a single place where their children stay, which they make settlements with and whom they have to trust.
- Building a franchising chain -> Once all development opportunities are exhausted, only one way remains – but very few are going to reach that stage. The building of a franchising chain is very complicated not only in organizational but also in formal terms, so it is impossible to leapfrog e.g. the stage of opening own new locations. Besides own teaching methods, it is central to develop own procedures so that a failed new facility and franchisee do not cause the collapse of a powerful independent brand.
The future begins today!
The most important lesson we want you to learn from today’s article is to have the courage to try new things. If you try to introduce new solutions already today, in a few years’ time you will be the first ones and have the greatest experience. If you always want to be number one, you must not look back at what competitors do and imitate them. To be successful it is central to create your future and not merely respond to what the time brings by.
The article was developed on the basis of the speech by Anna Ćwiklińska and Patryk Chmielewski during the 5th Language Congress PASE titled: „21st century skills in foreign language education”.