Doing GPA at a non-GPA language school

This post is all about the initial process of arranging to do GPA and communicating with your language school to get the appropriate kind of schedule setup.

Once you actually start GPA classes, you’ll still need to guide your language teachers in doing GPA with you. I’ll do some other posts about this for each different GPA Phase.

Important factors for a good GPA experience

  1. Class scheduling
    I suggest trying to schedule in 2-3hr blocks. Whilst all of the GPA activities can be split across multiple days, it’s a lot more efficient to do them in larger chunks of time. This is especially true for Phase 1 – doing P1 in a language school where you’ll need to quickly setup & backup everything each time means that you need to manage time quite carefully.
  2. Consistent teachers
    One of the advantages of textbook in a language school is that all the lesson content is in the book, and any teacher can pickup a class. But GPA doesn’t work like this. Most of the GPA activities span a number of hours, and are quite tricky to pickup with a random teacher. So, for your class schedule, it’s important to have the same teacher for each 2-3hr block. Having a schedule where you switch teachers every hour is possible for a textbook classes, but very unhelpful for GPA.
  3. Flexible teachers
    Who makes a good GPA teacher? Someone who is willing to be flexible and follow your requests, someone who is willing to change their teaching style for your classes, and not get too hung up on doing things the ‘traditional’ way. (Also someone with a sense of humour and fun helps a lot!) Young people would be an easy fit, but experienced teachers can be just as good. In my case, my teacher has 25+ years experience, but is very happy to do what students request and try new things. However, I’ve met some older teachers who have their own very strong preference for the way they do things. Since they are much older, in most cultures it is very hard for young students to ask them to do things differently. So, bear this in mind.

1. Find out if the language school offers flexible, non-textbook classes

Unless business is really booming for your language school and they can afford to turn away paying customers, they should be flexible. My school already had the option for booking ‘conversation practice’ classes. From a language school perspective, this is the easiest way to explain what GPA is — conversation without any textbook, and the student providing the topics (it’s a bit more special than that of course!). All the teachers need to do is turn up and talk. Stress that they don’t need any special training, and that the techniques you’ll be using are very relaxed.

2. Request FLEXIBLE teachers

Hopefully your language school will have a supervisor or manager who manages the scheduling. Explain to them that you’ll be something a bit special, and that you will be giving the teacher instructions on how to do the activities. Try to be as explicit and clear as possible with the supervisor. You should also explain that these activities don’t necessarily require an experienced teacher – young teachers are fine. They should have a rough idea of different teachers strengths and weaknesses, and can allocate teachers who are likely to be a good fit. If needed, you can also show some of the GPA P1 activity video demos from the GPA website.

I suggest requesting at least two different teachers for your first semester of classes. Yes, the same teacher the whole time is more efficient. However, finding a teacher you work well with is really important. GPA is about genuine relationship, not just teaching content. So, starting with two teachers gives you flexibility. You might find that you click really well with one of the teachers, but struggle with the other. So, after the first semester, you can then request the one you work well with.

3. Request CONSISTENT teachers

You should also explain that GPA activities are designed to spread across many hours. What this means is that for each 2-3 hr block in your schedule, you would like the same teacher. Different days can have different teachers – that’s fine – but switching teachers every hour is very unhelpful. Usually scheduling involves a bit of back and forth. You request your rough hours, the language school attempts to arrange this with their teachers available hours, and possible comes back with some alternative suggestions, etc. Find out what their process is – for your first semester, doing GPA Phase 1, having a chance to preview the schedule & suggest changes before it’s finalised is important.

4. Request a BIG class room, if possible

This is not essential, but helps a lot for Phase 1. Most language schools with be design with lots of tiny 1 on 1 classrooms, and a few bigger group teaching rooms. Even if you’re only doing 1-to-1 GPA classes, it’s worth asking nicely for a larger room for Phase 1 (Phase 2 onwards is fine in a small room). Trying to do Phase 1 with a single small table in a tiny 1-on-1- room will be quite awkward. The reason is that Phase 1 involves heaps of different activities every hour, with lots of stuff spread out across the table. There’s also physical activities, like standing up and moving around etc. So, ask nicely for a large room.

Why not just use local people?

If you can, that’s great. One of the unique things about GPA is that any local person can be your language helper. This is particularly helpful if you’re trying to learn in a situation where there is no language school. However, doing your first year of GPA at a language school has a number of benefits. Firstly, it will probably be a lot easier to request and schedule hours in a way that suits your situation. Secondly, you can get started immediately, without first spending time searching the community for a language helper. Thirdly, they will probably have someone with a decent amount of English to help manage the relationship. Fourthly, they should provide a dedicated space for you to learn in, especially helpful if you have kids and your home environment is not exactly quiet.

Note: The way GPA is designed, once you hit Phase 4 – by the end of your first year or earlier – you will need to be searching out many different people in your community anyway. However, by that time, you should have enough language ability to be building friendships, and have the ability to find your own language helpers.