This series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. They share their inspirational tips and stories. In this article I’m pleased to showcase the work of Felix Wöhler, owner and manager of an English as a Second Language (ESL) school in Ontario, Canada.
What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?
The school name is English Encounters (formerly Bronte Language Centre) and we have been in business since 1986. We are fully accredited by Languages Canada for our ESL Program.
In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of managing a language school?
The most important thing is to provide students with an enjoyable and useful language learning experience.
There are very few people who have bought a pre-existing language school. That makes you a pioneer of sorts. I think readers would be very interested to hear about your experience. What were the best and worst aspects of this experience for you?
The best part was not having to build everything from scratch. I “inherited” an existing database of agents, students, and staff as well as an existing online and physical location. This made the takeover relatively seamless in the sense that, in contrast to starting a school from zero, I was fully operational from day one. On the other hand, the fact that all these aspects had already been established meant that there was a long period of adjustment – for both myself and staff, and to a lesser extent, for students – to each others’ way of doing things.
It took me a long time to truly “identify” with the school. At the beginning, it always felt like I was managing someone else’s business. However, over the past year, I have worked closely together with my team and helped recreate and improve the school in a way I really feel I can identify with and am, in fact, very proud of. This includes renaming the school, relocating to a brand new facility in a neighbouring city – a location we feel is far better-suited for student needs, decorating the new premises, redoing the website, getting accredited by Languages Canada, and creating new and improved programs and curricula.
What is it that you like best about owning your own language school?
The most rewarding aspect of owning my own language school is meeting students from all over the world and seeing their English improve as they enjoy their time in Canada with us. Many of our students have become very close and it is wonderful to see how they keep in touch and refer their friends and family members.
What do you see for the future of language learning?
Language learning in the future will become increasing important as the world continues to globalize. To that end, more and more people will need a second language, particularly English, which seems well-placed to become a global lingua franca. For language schools, the challenge is to provide language training that is both attainable and enjoyable. At the same time, the high demand for English training means that large amounts of students can become concentrated in popular areas or language schools. The problem with that, is the strong tendency for these students to break off into ethnic groups and revert to their 1st language in all out-of-class activities. The strategy at English Encounters, therefore, is to provide a small, student-centred learning environment in a smaller city where the likelihood of finding many speakers of languages other than English is much lower. This makes our school the ideal place for true immersion and language training.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.