'I taught English to Mexican businessmen for 3 weeks'

Language academies, language schools, language institutes - whatever the name , schools that teach foreign languages in Mexico City can certainly be called successful.

There are two types of private, commercial schools that teach foreign languages: One teaches only foreign languages, such as Lanser de Mexico SA, Interlengua, Institute Whitman SA, Berlitz Escuela de Idiomas.

The second is the business school that in addition to teaching business courses such as stenography, typing, and bookkeeping also teaches foreign language. For example: Escuela del Valle de Mexico, Escuela Bancaria y Comercial , Instituto Speed Center.

To find out firsthand just what the schools that only teach foreign languages were doing, I taught English to businessmen at Lanser de Mexico SA for three weeks. Situated in Colonia Roma, Durango No. 247, the school takes up half a floor of a large building. The quarters are carpeted and air-conditioned, with 10 glass-enclosed classrooms.

The school offers English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian classes of 40 minutes. About 85 percent are English classes. For this reason the school has as many native English-speaking teachers as it can get. While the classrooms can accommodate up to five students, the classes are usually on a one-to-one basis.

The methods and techniques used at many of the language schools, which is true at Lanser de Mexico, is a conversational, direct method in which no translation is used. Grammar is taught in conversation only.

The owner and director was surprised to learn that the method used at Lanser with adults is exactly the one that's used to teach children in many United States schools.

As a teacher of foreign languages for more than 25 years, I found it an enigma that it was possible for the Mexican students to progress as rapidly as they do in the oral-aural method without learning to read and write. The secret is, as I found out by questioning teachers who attended the Thirtieth Annual Seminar for Teachers of English, that all students are required to study English for two years in junior or senior high school.

Because the classes are so large at the public schools - 50 or more students - the general teaching style in a 50-minute period is the translation, fill-in-the-blanks method. For this reason students who wish to speak English after graduation have a basis on which to build and the oral-aural method works.

These private institutes are business enterprises, however, and must be run as such to survive. Language learning is not cheap in any sense of the word; it takes effort, time, and money. The Lanser Centro de Idiomas sells its curriculum in packages of 40, 60, and 80 lessons. The cost per lesson depends on the package purchased. For the 40-lesson package, each class costs about 350 pesos, plus 10 percent tax, or about $15 per 40-minute class.

The school is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and everything possible is done to meet the needs of the student, but a price, of course. If the student is an executive who is too busy to go to school, the teacher will go to his office. Special all-day or half-day intensive courses can be organized. Special courses are also devised for tourists.

Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales AC and Instituto Ango Mexicano de Cultura AC purport to be the two most prestigious language centers in the capital. Both are nonprofit, and in addition to language teaching - mostly English - strive to build a better understanding between the peoples of their respective countries and Mexico through the teaching of the culture and the language of each country.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.