How good are you at welcoming your language learners?
The 5th Annual International Student Survey was answered by more than 62,000 students. It was meant for students who want to study abroad to find out what is important for them, but I think that there are many parallels that can be drawn with language students.
Quality and price are obviously important criteria, but it could be argued that it would be the same in the use of any product or service around the world. Who wants to buy something that is expensive and crap?
So the most interesting thing you can see in the Venn Diagram below (never thought I’d use that in a blog) is welcoming and safety.
Students want to be made to feel welcome, and they want to feel safe.
Any language school that brings students to their premises should work on these two things.
In fact, they should be massive priorities and reviewed regularly. You should constantly be asking yourselves how you can improve them.
Furthermore, by having students express their satisfaction on Facebook and in video and written testimonials, you can be sure that you will be hitting the sensitive spots in other prospective students.
So how can you improve your welcoming skills? Here are a few tips.
Make your testing process as friendly as possible
Tests are frightening. Who of us have not had nightmares about turning up at an exam and not knowing anything? They link directly to our innate fear of failure.
So when you ask your students to test their level, you need to make sure that they feel comfortable.
You need to sell your test as well as you sell your training. Your test is the first moment that a student comes into contact with a concrete training element of your course, so it needs to live up to expectations.
Make sure it is aesthetically pleasing to look at, that the instructions are intuitively easy to understand (could you make the interface in their native language?), that they know what you’re going to do with the results, that they know what the next steps are.
Think about your testing process from an angle of welcoming the student to your school, and I’m sure you’ll find things you need to improve.
Similarly, the speaking and listening part with a human evaluator (if you do it) can also set you apart.
Welcoming skills here are vital. A warm and articulate voice is essential, the evaluator has to work as hard on making the student feel relaxed as he does on testing the skills.
Make sure your brand is everywhere
Your brand is an ever-present welcome signal to use with your students as a consistent anchor point to feel good.
Every time they see it, they have to feel reassured that you know what you are doing.
Think about all the paperwork that the student has to see throughout the course with you. Is your logo on each one?
If you use photocopies in your coursework, how can you make sure your logo is visible?
Whenever your student is in contact with you online, is your brand helping them feel secure and welcome? In emails, in online coursework, even in your wifi signal?
Improving the training environment increases learning impact
I like to refer to this study carried out by Salford University that classroom design really does matter.
It was carried out for younger learners, but once again, the rules apply for language learners.
You can welcome your students better by spending time and money on improving the classrooms in which they learn.
First impressions count too. What does your student think the first time he walks into a classroom? “Wow, this is nice” or “Jeez, what a dump?”
Understand that to improve your classroom, there are so many variables that must be taken into account:
- Chair comfort
- Eye-line to the teacher
- Room temperature
- Desk height and space
By working a little at a time to improve these variables will go a long way to making students learn better.
Improve the rest of your school’s premises
Downtime is important as study-time. I’ve lost count of the number of schools I visited where students have no space to relax in.
Worse, the design of some schools are so bad that students can congregate in the terrible places and make so much noise that it disturbs both staff and other learners.
Think of your students like rivulets in a stream. Observe them as they walk about – where are they naturally drawn to and why?
What can you do to help them relax and get motivated again for study-time?
Make sure your students feel welcome when they’re not in class
When you walk into a restaurant, and you’re made to wait, or you’re not treated as well as you hoped, how do you feel?
Could the lack of service impact upon your appreciation of the rest of the meal?
It’s exactly the same in language training. If your reception is badly designed with no good waiting area for your students, then you’re starting the learning experience in exactly the wrong way.
If you make your students wait because no one is attending reception, then you’re projecting the wrong image about your school.
But it’s not just about the reception and greeting them before lessons – think about the whole learner experience in your school.
Welcoming students is not just face-to-face
You welcome a student whether you’re talking to him or not.
If he’s visiting your website for the first time, what kind of impression is he getting?
When he’s chatting in a live-chat box on your website, are you welcoming him properly?
What about the emails he receiving?
And on the telephone?
And what about if he’s doing homestay? Or when he’s on social visits? Have you asked your partners to be as focussed on welcome skills as you are?
Will he get the same impression when he speaks to you? When he sees you for the first time?
This is not a hit-and-hope process – you can draw up a list of all the times, places and people with whom a student is in contact and work out where and how to improve the welcome. A little bit of attention goes a long way.
Welcoming also happens after the course has finished
Contact with former learners is obviously a real weakness for most schools and teachers who have neither the time nor the expertise to do proper follow-up.
It’s a shame because welcoming skills can be improved here too.
When you think back on a hotel stay, how important was the contact with the hotel staff in your decision to go back and recommend it to your friends and family?
Keeping in contact and using those welcome skills with past learners and clients can make a difference.
By being “present” from time to time (usually by email) with past learners, linked to the welcome they felt when they were with you, gives you much more chance that you will be recommended for further studies.
Ask your students where you can improve
Finally, if you’re stuck as to where you can improve on your welcome skills, then ask your learners. Draw up questionnaires just for that.
Think of yourself as a luxury hotel that wants to provide the best possible experience for your guest.
I attended a lecture by the learning and development managers at Disney University in Florida and they said that they drill into all the staff of their resorts the importance of treating their guests as clients.
Every member of staff, from the executive directors to the window cleaners are trained to treat all guests as clients and deal with them in the exact same way, no matter how annoying or tedious the problem.
By simply changing that one word, it makes all their staff understand how a guest really should be treated at all times, even if they’re having a bad day.
Summary of Welcoming Language Learners
Improving how welcome (and safe) your learners feel when they’re with you is a serious and important part of your language training activity.
I encourage you to focus on it as quickly as possible and work at the logistics of all of a student’s time with you in terms of how they might feel, and how this can be improved.
The quality of your language teaching is as important as the price you charge for it, but we can see that the real difference in whether your student remembers you can be as simple as the smile on your face when he meets you for the first time.
Please leave a comment below with your thoughts as well as your ideas to help welcoming students for other readers!