This summer in Andorra, a new language school “Conversa” opened. The co-director of the school, experienced and professional teacher, Amy Topham, shared with all-andorra.com her thoughts about the methodology and the main advantages of learning English with “Conversa” in comparison with their competitors:
“My business partner, Alex Hadden, and I, have just opened Conversa after a lot of careful planning and brainstorming. We are already taking on students for the coming school year and are excited to begin!
Our methodology is very much based around the students’ needs. We are very adaptable and flexible and have many years of experience teaching different age groups and people from all walks of life – we work with lawyers, business people, bankers, as well as other teachers, hotel staff and people who want to learn English just as a hobby. Therefore we might be teaching technical vocabulary to do with tax one hour and then move on to training a receptionist to speak in formal English to clients the next. It’s extremely varied!
We also have a big range of students in terms of age. We are currently teaching kids as young as 3 to mature people up to 65+! We don’t tend to teach children below 3, but other than that we don’t have any limits on who can have classes.
I would say here in Andorra most people are interested in developing their speaking skills. Many people here have learnt English as a child or teenager and have a fairly good grasp of English grammar, but often struggle with making small talk, attending business meetings and answering the phone. As the classes are mainly 1-to-1, we really take advantage of this time to speak as it is the most valuable skill that employers look for as well.
For the moment there is a high demand for learning English. The majority of the people here know at least some words in English. Nearly all the school systems teach English so the children generally have an okay level, but they may lack proficient speaking skills as they don’t get a chance to practise in the classroom. As for the adults it depends on their background, employment and whether they travel a lot.
The general level of English in Andorra varies depending on the age, but in terms of adults I would say we have a lot of pre-intermediate (B1 level) students. And for children they are generally at the same level as their school curriculum, unless they’ve had private English classes of course.
At the same time, more and more companies especially are asking employees for at least some basic knowledge of English in order to be eligible for a position, and as most children here go on to university, they need at least a B2 level in English to be able to finish their degree. As well as that, the world is becoming more and more globalised every day, and so the need for English to travel, to conduct business and so on is still expanding.
In Andorra there are quite a few academies now – there must be at least 7 or 8. But we have two main advantages – one is that we come to you. We are not a fixed academy, we’re a moving one, meaning that if you want classes in your office at lunchtime we come to your office. If you prefer classes in your home in the afternoon then we’ll go there. We found that many people in Andorra have busy schedules and they don’t have a lot of time to be dropping their kids off at academies, picking them up again an hour later or trying to fit in an English class during their lunch break. Our system means that you don’t lose any time getting to and from the classes.
Secondly, as I mentioned before, our courses are 100% personalised. We have students who come to us with very specific requests – they need to prepare a presentation in English, they have some letters to write to English-speaking clients or they just want to be able to communicate with others whilst on holiday. It really varies. We don’t force our clients to follow a textbook – some people like that, in which case we find something that’s appropriate, others don’t, in which case we work with other materials – maybe videos, songs, games (especially for the littler ones), newspaper articles and other ‘real’ resources. We also don’t charge for any sign-up fees which is an added bonus.
At the moment there are three of us that make up the team, but I think we’ll have to start recruiting again soon as we’re almost fully booked! All of us have taught for over 5 years now and have worked in different academies as well as different countries. Other than that, all our teachers have a lot of experience in teaching alongside other careers – I myself have a degree in Law, others are experienced in the marketing and tourism sector, which I believe our students also appreciate. All of our teachers also have some knowledge of either Catalan, Spanish or French (so we’ve also been language students ourselves!), which helps with smooth communication and is also a relief for many non-English speaking parents and our beginners.
I am often asked what advice I would give to beginners to succeed in learning English. My answer is: don’t be afraid! We have had lots of people who are afraid, shy or embarrassed to speak in English but we help people to develop their confidence and find the best way to improve is to start using whatever knowledge you have and building on that.
People are always very surprised but how much they do know and how easily they can be understood when communicating in another language. Alongside that I would say a little bit every day is better than a lot in one! Trying to do something that’s part of your daily routine in English is a fantastic way to start – listen to an English radio station, watch 10 minutes of TV in English, read an article, go on an English language learning app, put a new post-it on your mirror with a new piece of vocabulary, whatever works for you!
The important thing is to find the easiest and most interesting way for you. Ploughing through exercise after exercise might be great if you like that kind of thing, but I’ve had students who’ve learnt a lot through song lyrics!”