Choosing The Right Training Center

Knowing what to look for in a training center can prove difficult, especially when you’re a busy parent. With so many choices in Dongguan, how do you make the right one?

My first iPhone was the second model and my last one was an iPhone 6. I know this might sound bizarre but one of the reasons why I used to like the iPhone was the lack of options. Year after year, they would launch a new phone and it was that one single model which everyone ran out to get. It did all the things you would expect from it and more; it was simple despite you knowing it to be imperfect. With Android phones, on the other hand, not only did they join the market later on, but you also had several brands to consider, different versions of different models under different platforms. Trying to choose the perfect phone was all too confusing. Fast-forward to today, and I wouldn’t go back to an iPhone from my Huawei Mate10. Something similar occurred to language training centers in Dongguan.

I would be hard-pressed trying to remember the name of a training center in Dongguan, other than the Municipal Translation Service Center back in 2001. Today, there are so many training centers in the city to choose from, that it may feel like choosing a phone back in the day, only with higher repercussions connected to that choice. So, what I intend to do in this month’s column is to give you some guidelines to help you choose the best option for you.

Frequency trumps length. When choosing a program, it’s better to choose lessons that take place several times a week rather than a single longer weekly session. This is particularly true for kids due to their short attention span. Time and financial constraints may prevent you from choosing a daily lesson but rest assured that having lessons twice a week is better than once a week, and if they are spread apart during that week, even better.

Location matters as it relates to frequency. Choosing a center that you can access without much of a journey facilitates better attendance. But location also matters in terms of the legality of a business. As good and professional as a training center may be, if it is located in a residential garden, the chances are it operates under an incorrect business license and that may become a problem one day for the continuity of your learning process. Seemingly different but surprisingly related, being located in an extremely expensive commercial location as a startup may pose the same continuity questions but from a different vantage point. Will you be able to afford the higher costs for the necessary duration of your course?

This leads to perhaps the two most relevant aspects of choosing a training center: path and method. When you decide to learn a skill, it is important to determine your starting level and your objective, so as to determine the length of the course based on the frequency you can afford. Centers which do not conduct performance leveling assessments cannot measure performance in any quantifiable way, and that matters to you as a student or parent, since you may not be wasting your valuable financial resource, but perhaps the non-renewable one: time. A center should be able to tell you what your level is at any given moment, as well as give you a map of the steps you will take together to reach your goal.

A center should be able to tell you what your level is at any given moment, as well as give you a map of the steps you will take together to reach your goal.

Furthermore, consider this: How will you teach me what I have yet to learn? What method does your center use to obtain the results you claim? Was it imported from America or the U.K. or was it written by locals or a team of locals and foreign experts? Do the method and materials account for the vast differences between ESL and EFL? For your information, Chinese students should look for EFL courses. But the method does not stop there, you should ask how teachers are trained in this method, also known as “standardization.” When a method is properly standardized and teachers are trained in it, you should see little to no difference in how lessons are delivered by different teachers. A common mistake many centers and parents make is anchoring the teaching/learning to a single successful teacher—what happens when that teacher leaves the center?

Of course, there are other considerations like class size, regular feedback, regular award ceremonies, decoration of the center, access to digital means for additional practice, etc. And they all have some significance but they are, in my personal opinion, simply good to have, not necessary. Your main focus should be enquiring about the center’s learning path, the teaching method, and the lesson standards.