Diego G. is Venezuelan and works in sales for a company which has just been taken over by an American multinational. Diego knows that his intermediate level grasp of the language is inadequate for the international meetings he will now have to attend, but he has no time to attend a regular course. He’s out of the office three days in every five, and when he is at his home base frequently works until late. And anyway, he did a course at the local language school once before, and didn’t seem to learn much.
Marija K. is from Latvia. She’s 17 and studies English at school. She’s hoping to go to university in Britain and needs to take the IELTS exam. Her general level of English is good, but she needs to practise specifically for the exam. There are no language schools in her town which run courses for IELTS, and she can’t afford private lessons.
Yoshi I. is the training manager of a medium-sized Japanese company. The company has a large number of employees who need language training, but profits are down and Yoshi’s budget has been cut. He no longer has the funds to provide the number of English classes that he needs.
Time, money and the non-availability of quality courses targeted at the learner’s specific needs – these are probably the major obstacles to successfully finding and following a language training course. But the increase over the last few years of companies providing on-line English training is starting to solve those problems. Why are so many learners now starting to turn to on-line courses?
- Price : with a potential market of the entire world and vastly reduced overheads, training organisations can offer on-line courses far more cheaply than traditional classroom training. Companies or other organisations buying a large number of courses may also be offered a discount on the standard price, making it an even cheaper option.
- Flexibility : with an on-line course it’s no longer necessary to commit yourself to a 90′ lesson twice a week with the risk of falling behind if you miss classes. You can study when and where you like. Fifteen minutes left before the end of your lunch break? Log in and do an exercise. Away from home on a business trip? Switch on your laptop and spend the evening on the course. Sunday afternoon the only time you’re free? No problem.
- Quality : with on-line courses you are no longer limited to a choice between the training organisations which happen to be based in your town. If the organisation which has the course which is right for you is based in Paris, it doesn’t matter if you are in Buenos Aires or in Kuala Lumpur – the course materials are on-line and your teacher is there for you via Skype or some other VOIP software.
Before you decide to do an on-line course, however, think about your motivation and self-discipline. The best course in the world can only work if you do it! On-line courses offer flexibility in terms of when you study, but you still need to dedicate a certain amount of time to them. At beginner level we recommend at least three hours total study per week, and no less than three sessions – more or less one every two days. 30 minutes per day would be even better. Less total time or less regular sessions and you’ll simply forget everything you learn. As your level gets higher, you can cut down to two hours per week if necessary, though obviously your progress will slow down. And at advanced level, even an hour a week will allow you to maintain your current proficiency.
But once you’ve decided on on-line study, how do you evaluate the different courses which are on offer?
First of all, check the credentials of the course providers. It should be possible to find out from the website who produced the course and their background in English Language Teaching. Have a look too at how well-produced the site is technically. If pages take hours to download, or if the exercises are always in the same format, it’s going to get boring.
Secondly, look at the study units and see if they look valid and interesting. You should be able to do a free level test, and then try a sample unit from the materials at the level which is right for you. Look carefully at the materials. What’s the syllabus for the course which you need to do? Is it clear what grammar and vocabulary are taught in each unit? Are the topics of the dialogues and the reading passages interesting? The materials should also be systematic – it should be easy to see where the new language is taught for the first time, and then find a series of exercises to practise it. And it should be easy to find explanations of grammar and vocabulary if you don’t understand.
Next, see how much is offered for the price. How many units are there and how many hours study are they estimated to take? (Keep in mind that this will only be a rough estimate – some people work through the materials much faster than others.) And for how long will you be able to access the materials? Three months? Six? Longer?
Finally, look at what is offered other than the basic course materials. In particular, is it possible to contact a teacher? Even if the course is excellent, there may still be something you don’t understand and need to ask about. If you want to improve your conversation or your writing, you should also choose a course which builds in conversation lessons via telephone or VOIP software, and which lets you send written work via E-mail for correction by a teacher. Check who those teachers are. Again the website should tell you about their background and qualifications in the field of teaching English as a Foreign Language.
So, if you’re looking for a cost-effective, flexible way to improve your own English or that of your employees, consider an on-line course. It might just be the solution to your problems!