How to Start a Language School

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There are many decisions ahead if you want to start a foreign language school.
There are many decisions ahead if you want to start a foreign language school. (Image: Image Source/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Whether they plan to travel abroad for work, school or leisure, most people want to have a basic grasp of the foreign language being spoken and assurance that they can communicate properly and in a polite manner. Language schools offer the interactive feedback -- through individual and group instruction -- that a book or a tape can't provide. If you have a teaching credential, are fluent in other languages and have a passion for cultural fluency, starting a language school might be a good business match.

Identify your clientele based on your educational qualifications. 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, is it within 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 factor significantly into the complexity of the courses you will offer at your school.

Research how other private schools in your region got started. Determine whether there is competition 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 some cases, charter schools for children have been launched as a grassroots campaign by parents who recognized that charter schools offer something that public schools cannot.

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 U.S. Department of Education. It's a lengthy process; but if you start the research while your language school is still in the fledgling stages of development, it can 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; therefore, it's crucial to contact your State Department of Education and advise them of your plans.

Design your business model -- a brick and mortar school or online instruction. Write your business plan. The U.S. Small Business Administration website provides guidance on how to construct a business plan; however, you'll likely need specific direction from resources targeted toward languages and global learning. 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 teachers you plan to employ and whether they will be independent contractors or employees. Consider the implications of hiring foreign nationals -- you may need to consult legal counsel about labor law related to immigration. Contemplate how many students you must enroll to become profitable. 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, get hands-on experience before you start a school of your own. 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, determine whether you can organize an after-school language program at an existing school or church facility to test the feasibility of your plans. 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.

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 tidbits 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 organizations 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.

Tips & Warnings

  • Whatever you initially budget for, always add at least a 30 percent cushion for unexpected expenses.
  • Take note of fake accreditation agencies.

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