Speak softly and carry a big Schtick

Are you a commercial provider of language instruction? Perhaps you run a school or have a software program. I bet that you have something unique, something revolutionary.

You have a schtick!

The first English school I worked at had a schtick. The owners had an almost religious devotion to their theory that the key to English language success was:

  1. Telephone conversations and
  2. Directions

They had developed their own textbook (always a sign of a schtick) and that was what we taught. Even now, there is probably a corner of France where the locals will tell you, “Hello, go straight on.”

My second employer was part of an international language school franchise. Their schtick (as seen in their books) was that all instruction was in the target language. This is not a bad schtick, but it coincidentally meant that their text books could be produced far more simply. You publish one English book, regardless of what languages the students speak.

Software? It’s all built around schtick. Just listen, no writing, no analysis, no thinking. Or, “as used by the world’s finest spy agencies.”

More recently, I ran across an interesting schtick while getting up to speed for the Babel Project. I was struggling to find a teacher to deliver individual classes, so I checked out a school for business languages.

Their schtick? pay by the class, and use their software on-site. Each class would include an hour of teacher time, and as much software as needed. The cost? A lot. If you go to a classic course, you pay for the teaching and you buy a text-book. The book may last six months or a year of classes. They said, each class you will buy a book. Every hour? a new book.

That is not a schtick that will fly anywhere except the business world. If you really need full-on instruction and can get a tax deduction? Go for it.

The dirty little secret of languages and schticks? The biggest factor in language success is the student. Not the quality but the enthusiasm and the willingness to work. The second biggest factor? The teacher – enthusiasm and willingness to prepare.

So, when you are looking at software and schools, look for the schtick. A schtick by itself is not necessarily a bad thing – but the owner of the schtick will always oversell.

Don’t believe the hype – a schtick is a schtick.

This entry was posted in Rules of the Game, Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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