Business of Foreign Language Schools

 With a number of students, working professionals and business executives keen on learning foreign languages, the demand for training institutes is on the rise

Different states in India have different languages. But English has precedence because of its international appeal and its use as the language of business. However, globalization has also opened doors for new languages. Due to historic and cultural reasons, we have always been exposed to English, French, Spanish, Persian, Turkish and Arabic. Indians had particular interest in German due to its linguistic closeness to Sanskrit. During the 1930s, the golden period of modern physics, the Indian scientific community was attracted to German because most discoveries were being compiled in that language.

A number of languages are now driving the interest in foreign languages. Apart from government universities, embassy schools and institutes promoted by individual countries, there is a growing demand of language schools that can impart quality training and proficiency. In this article, we try to focus our discussion on the needs, market and system of foreign language schools.

The need for foreign languages
According to Purnima Garg, Director of The Chinese Language Institute, Delhi, the economies of the world are integrating, which has increased leisure and business travel. This increased need demands the learning of foreign languages. Rachna Aggarwal, a Japanese interpreter, says tour operators have a specific demand for professionals who can cater to the needs of visitors coming from non-English countries, especially from Japan, China, and other East Asian countries.

 Pushpa Sharma, Director-PR of Instituto Hispania, mentions that learning foreign language increases chances of getting admission to foreign universities, helps in making travel more feasible, in gaining a broad outlook of international culture and music, and sharpens cognitive skills.

Translation, interpretation, teaching opportunities, and demand in BPO/KPO and IT industry are some areas where the need of foreign languages is tremendous.

Vaishali Karmarkar, head of marketing, intercultural and corporate courses trainer in Goethe Institute Mumbai, says that companies approach her from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein to provide them professionals who are apt in German. The academic background is not considered because these companies are open to provide training and fit these professionals in some jobs.

Compiling the inputs from these people, it is clear that the demand of foreign languages is growing and setting up a foreign language school could be a good idea.

Market for language schools
European languages like Spanish, French and German top the list with the Indian crowd. At the same time, East Asian languages like Mandarin-Chinese, Japanese and Korean are also picking up fast. Talking about Middle East and its importance to the business world, Arabic language finds a good number of prospective students and professionals.

Students, professionals, corporate houses, and professional degree-colleges seek services of foreign language schools on a regular and project basis. Pushpa Sharma says that their institute has worked with Infosys, Wipro and professional colleges like IMT, Ghaziabad.

Purnima Garg says that the market for foreign languages is huge with ever-increasing trade and a boom in the travel industry. Young aspiring job seekers, hotel & tourism industry employees and executives involved in foreign businesses are direct market points.

Setting up a foreign language school
The process involved in setting up a foreign language school is based on the scale an entrepreneur wants to achieve. On a very small scale, teaching one foreign language can be started with one-two rented rooms involving a cost of around Rs 1 lakh. However, if somebody wants to do it on a larger scale and impart multiple languages, more infrastructure, equipments, human resources, marketing methods, and certifications would be needed.

Popular foreign languages

1. Spanish

2. German

3. French

4. Arabic

5. Chinese

6. Japanese

7. Korean

8. Italian

Apart from rooms and seating arrangement, IT tools, audio-visual equipments, the need of a good trainer/teacher is important. Interestingly, when talking to people involved in this business, two different views came out. One that native Indian teachers who have achieved foreign language proficiency connect better with the students; and another that students prefer teaching faculty to be native speakers of the taught language. The analysis results in a way out—it is better to have native Indian teachers for basic learning courses in foreign languages because students feel comfortable to ask questions in their native languages. As the level of understanding and proficiency progresses, it is better to have native teachers of the taught language.

Language schools offer regular and customized courses. However, the industry players mentioned that they prefer a course to last for eight weeks per level. To achieve employability, six such levels should be gone through.


On a general basis, courses are divided into beginner, elementary, intermediate and advance categories. To impart these courses various types of activities are involved. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking drills; role plays; karoake singing; festival celebrations to give a more cultural feel; word games and dialogue writing etc. are involved. For beginners, self-learning CDs for correcting the pronunciation are also used.

For Chinese, Purnima Garg says that there are two ways to impart training—the English alphabet and pictorial. She mentioned that the pictorial method is a bit difficult for students to pick up, and they prefer to learn through the English alphabet.

To ensure employability and to cater to professional needs, stress on pronunciation, inter-cultural knowledge, listening comprehension, and grammar is given.

As such, there are no huge challenges faced in starting a foreign language scale. Because the demand is increasing, there is a good chance of making good business.

However, there are small issues that one should take care of. Vaishali Karmarkar explains that Indian students have a different learning biology. Students are often trained in passing an examination and not thinking on their own while learning a subject. So, an institute should make sure that they evolve activities that open up the minds of students; otherwise, the proficiency of language is not achieved and the employability appeal of students does not come out, which actually mars the popularity of a language school.

At the same time, getting native teachers of taught language can become difficult sometimes because they usually come to India for shorter periods of time. Retaining Indian teachers is also a challenge because they find bigger perks as translators/interpreters or in the tourism industry.

Marketing issues and awareness among the masses are some other areas where a school will need to work on.

Scope of expansion and collaboration
The trend of expansion in the form of franchisees and opening branches in smaller towns is not popular yet with the foreign language schools. The main reason for this is the scale that a school wants to achieve. However, there are many foreign language schools supported by cultural wings of different countries and embassies that have branches in major cities of India.

Some individuals running foreign language schools believe that the quality of the training could suffer if they go for expansion. So, keeping it small but high quality is their motto. Getting good quality teachers is another major issue that hinders the expansion of language schools.

At the same time, collaborating with a certified body or foreign institute is believed to be a good option because it increases the credibility of the school and also open more opportunities for the students getting that certificate.