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In Discussion with John Barbour on English Language Schools

English is the most studied language in the world with roughly 7. 8 billion speakers. The list of countries which legally use English as an official language - or one of the official languages, ranges from Burundi and Rwanda to Trinidad and Tobago. With such a high demand for English tuition, many people seek to set up their own English language school abroad. However, successfully running a business can be a challenge. Establishing one’s own English language school abroad is not for the faint hearted.

Legally setting up one’s own language school requires several steps that must be followed. Firstly, one must pick the type of language school they want to set up. Secondly one must pick a location for the school. Thirdly one needs to hire staff and finally one must do all the marketing for the company. Creating a formal business plan is important as one needs goals to focus on and then reach. It is also important to bear in mind the type of learners one wants to attract.

Currently, there are 398 English language schools in Spain. Many Spanish people want to learn English so they can have better job opportunities or expand their cultural horizons. All teachers before setting up their own language school in Spain need to have a NIE number. This is the “foreigner’s identification number”. These can be obtained at local police stations or at a Spanish consulate abroad. Then one needs to register the name of the company at the Commercial Registry online. The company is governed by bylaws known as “Articles of Association” which must match with Spanish regulations. Then, one needs to sign the establishment deed before a Public Notary. At the Notary one submits a form known as the D-1A. This form records foreign investments conducted in Spain for statistical reasons. Finally the deed along with the bylaws are submitted to the commercial registry of the province in which the company has its residential address. Appointments at Public Notaries can be obtained without much difficulty. The fees for the entire process amount to roughly 650 Euro and can take up to 15 business days.

John Barbour

Born in Dumfries, John Barbour graduated with a degree in English from the University of Glasgow in 1988 and went on to obtain a PhD from Durham University. He worked as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher for a year and fell in love with Spain, returning there definitively in 1997. He opened the Notting Hill School of English in Oviedo in 2003

John shares his experiences of setting up his own language school in Spain called Notting Hill School of English in Asturias Oviedo in September 2003.

So, What Made You Want to Set Up a Language School?

Well, I had been working for three years for a franchised school but that went bust and after a year of enjoying unemployment benefits, I used some of my redundancy money to start Notting Hill. Thanks to a friend, I discovered that setting up a company in Spain is quite easy.

Did You Face Any Linguistic Challenges When Setting Up Your Business?

Not really as I’d been there for three years already.

What did the Process Involve?

The most important thing is to go to a “gestoría” - a “fixer” if you will, to manage all the administration. I initially tried to do it for free by going to the government offices. However, Spanish civil servants do not always have the information one needs and the bureaucracy can be an endless and arduous process at times. Also, Spain’s legal system is very different from Britain. Government officials have the most say in the matter. They have the forces of law and order at their beck and call.

Coming from Britain, we assume that things should work and be based on principles of our own experiences and our socio-cultural structures. As one is living in another culture things will work differently to one’s homeland. Getting premises, and making sure they comply with the rather arbitrary regulations, can be a challenge for many foreigners.

For example, recent building regulations ensure disabled access (totally unfeasible in most buildings) which mean it is now virtually impossible to open a new language school in Spain, at least not without a substantial fee or contacts in the industry.

What is Your Favourite Part of Your Job?

My favourite part is when a group class is going well; when you have got the measure of one’s students and it inspires you and you inspire them and the energy circulates. It is most exhilarating, if exhausting. It is no coincidence that so many teachers end up as performers. Each class is a performance, the chance to be ringmaster (or at times clown) of one’s own circus. It is entertainment but with a more serious underlying purpose.

What Do You Like the Most About Living in Spain?

Here people focus on birth, death, friendship, good food and wine. And there is an element of Carpe Diem about the Spanish, the sense that mañana (tomorrow) may never come. It can initially be a culture shock but it exerts a certain fascination at the same time.

Is There Anything That You Dislike About Living in Spain?

From a conceptual perspective, fair play, decency, and honour are different in Spain in relation to growing up in Britain. For example, there are different social cues and norms, especially when walking about in the street.

What is a Typical Day at the Language School Like?

Well, it starts at 11:00. Two hours of one-to-one classes, some class prep, answering correspondence and catching up on missed calls. You go home between 13:30 and 14:00, have lunch and back to school at 16:00/16:30 for 4 or 5 hours of classes. The last two hours are usually group classes and I finish at 21:30.

What Aspects of the English Language Do You Think are the Hardest for Native Spanish Speakers?

That’s easy; since Spanish is basically a phonetic language whereas English is not, this can pose challenges for the native Spanish speaker when reading and pronouncing some words in English with silent letters. The idea that the same letter or combination of letters can be pronounced umpteen different ways can be confusing to some native Spanish speakers.

In conclusion, as John has demonstrated, setting up one’s own language school abroad can seem daunting, but it is a very rewarding life achievement. Speaking English as a skill is a significant goal for many people all over the world that can help them improve their CV and provide new cultural experiences and opportunities.


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