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Berlitz

Berlitz LogoBerlitz is the brand name of a well-known chain of English language schools.

From its humble beginnings in Rhode Island in 1878, the company has become a global corporation with both company-owned and franchised locations in more than 70 countries, and revenues of hundreds of millions of US dollars.

What It’s All About

All Berlitz language schools use the “The Berlitz Method”. This teaching method is a natural approach to language learning through communication rather than the study of grammar. Language is a tool for communication and teaching is done in the target language only. In other words, the direct method is preferred to the traditional grammar translation method.

In 1964 they also introduced a Total Immersion program which was conceived to cater for the growing demand of language classes which were coming from businesses and industry. Professionals, technicians, major corporations all needed to learn a new language and learn it fast if they were to do business outside their own country. Berlitz did not miss this opportunity.

How It All Started

It was Maximilian Berlitz himself who first commercialized what is now known as the direct method.

The son of a family of teachers and mathematicians from Germany, he immigrated to the United States when he was 18 and settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where in 1877 he found work as a language instructor of French and German at the local Polytechnic. He soon found himself having to manage the school single handedly when the owner of the institution disappeared with all the cash.

At some point during the academic year he felt ill and needed a replacement for his French class. He appointed Nicholas Joly, a Frenchman with whom he had corresponded entirely in French during the hiring process. Little did he know that the teacher he had hired spoke hardly any English. Considering that back then the teaching of a foreign language was usually done through the use of the student’s MT and the traditional translation method, the fact that the French teacher did not speak any English could potentially be a big problem. However Monsieur Joly’s lessons were a success. He used gestures, pointing to objects, as well as the tone of his voice and facial expressions to convey meaning to his students, who hardly spoke a word of French when he arrived.

When Mr Berlitz returned to school six weeks later he was astonished at how remarkably well his students had done. Their pronunciation and grammar had greatly improve and their fluency had increased dramatically.

Based on what he observed, Berlitz quickly developed his own method and in July 1878 he opened the first Berlitz language school in Providence. In his innovative school students were taught in the target language from day one and communicative techniques were adopted to help them understand meaning and learn grammar and vocabulary.

Berlitz Schools & TEFL Teachers

With over 450 schools in over 60 countries, many TEFL teachers end up working in a Berlitz school at one time or another. The general approach is to put potential teachers through a 40 hour training program (at no cost) which, if they pass, will normally lead to a job offer. This means that Berlitz often hire teachers who do not have any formal teaching qualifications as they prefer them to use their own methods.

However, there have been some criticisms levelled at Berlitz from the teachers’ point of view. Note that not all these points apply to all Berlitz schools.

  1. Some Berlitz schools will not allow their teachers to work elsewhere while they are working for Berlitz even if they are only on a part-time contract.
  2. Teaching is fairly regimented; often teachers are asked to provide daily progress reports on their classes.
  3. Pay is not always great and job stability is sometimes an issue.

On this final point, Not all of teachers have a happy experience. In Japan between 2007-2008 industrial action between teachers and Berlitz grew into the longest and largest teachers strike ever in the country. Berlitz tried to sue the unions for damages but this was dismissed by the courts. Eventually Berlitz raised wages and bonuses and improved conditions for their teachers.

Useful Links

Direct Method‏‎ in TEFL – learn the nuts and bolts of it.

TEFL Methodologies – an overview of the main TEFL teaching methods

Full Immersion‏‎ in TEFL – all about learning English through total immersion

Berlitz Union – teachers problems with Berlitz

Berlitz Strike – the story of the Japanese strike against Berlitz

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