Setting Up A Language School In France

by Helen
(London, UK)

Hi, I've found the information on this website very useful and inspiring. I'm in the throes of planning to move my family to southwest France (my husband is French and we have 2 very young children). TEFL has been my passion for the last 20 years but I am only now finding the courage to quit my well paid job in media and follow my dream.

I taught as an assistante as part of my gap year many years ago and then in Mexico (Cancun) for a couple of years during and after university and, more recently, in London as part of my TEFL course. I have a TEFL certificate, a degree (modern languages - French and Spanish (fluent in both) + some rusty Portuguese), 4 years' experience of TEFL (plus 10 years' in media). I am at the very beginning of this journey and I am looking for a mentor....

Or, on a lesser scale, anyone who might provide me with top tips for setting up a school and perhaps act as a sounding board?

Many thanks, Helen


Setting up a language school involves a knowledge of TEFL, a knowledge of business, and a knowledge of the local situation. You will need to do a lot of research yourself. Being fluent in French will be a great help here. One of the first places to go will be your local Chambre de Commerce. They provide free advice on setting up a business, employing people etc.

You should also network as much as you can with anyone doing business in France. The more information you have the better, but beware of just asking opinions from people without any actual business experience. Also network with other teachers in France.

TEFL Experience

To run a successful language school you will need, among other things, to understand how to teach English, how to put together a curriculum, and how to write your own tests. Although, many teacher's books provide these. If you expand your school in the future, you will need to provide initial and ongoing training for new teachers. Finding experienced and qualified teachers can be a big challenge at times.

Or you would need to hire someone else who could manage the school for you - which would be very expensive, and, I think, risky. I highly recommend that you are the school manager and the main, or only teacher at the beginning.

I think it's a good idea to gain more teaching experience, before you set up a language school. Apart from improving your own teaching, his would also allow you more time to research the local situation, before you commit yourself, and a lot of your money into setting up a language school.

Setting Up A Language School - Location, Location, Location

One of the most important things is location. This is true of all physical businesses. I know from hard experience - I ran my own chain of language schools in Taiwan - how this can affect a language school. My first language school was set up opposite an elementary school, and next to another one. There were no other similar sized properties nearby - making it difficult for competitors to set up close to us.

The local competition was very weak. A lot of students and parents of students were unhappy with the other language schools - only two of them - in the immediate vicinity. The school began with one teacher, and was an immediate success. However, it took a few years to begin making a profit.

The student numbers grew, and the school gained a good reputation locally. Some students even travelled from several kilometers away, which is very unusual. So with confidence we opened another school in a different area. Here we made the classic mistake of not considering the location clearly enough.

The school was not right next to an elementary school. In fact it wasn't particularly visible from the main street. In Taiwan being close to a public school is significant. You need to research the particular needs of French language schools. The second problem was the competition. There were around 14 other language schools nearby. Some of them were very well established. Even though I know we offered a very good service, this was not enough. Our third school also suffered from being in an area with too much competition.

The second school lasted a few years before we were forced to close it. I learnt about the importance of location the hard way. The other two schools are still in business.

Wherever you set up your language school, you need it to be accessible to your future students. Of course, you also need a good supply of students, which means you will need to choose a city or large town. Setting up a language school in a picturesque village probably wouldn't work.

Practical Considerations

You will need, at least, a reception area, toilet facilities and a classroom. Having a teachers' room is a good idea if you are going to expand in the future, and of course more classrooms.

You will need to design your courses, and plan which books you will use. I recommend you do use coursebooks, as they will save you a lot of time in preparation. They will also be a great help to any new teachers you hire. You will also need to prepare tests, although this can be done as you go along; especially if you are the only teacher.

The school will need furniture for the reception and classrooms, a photocopier and a computer. A resource center isn't necessary right at the beginning, but it's a good idea to begin a collection of teaching resources and materials.

You will need to promote your school and make it stand out from other language schools. This is easiest if there are few other language schools in the area. Back to location again :)

Think about how much you will charge compared to other language schools. I charged slightly more than other schools, and it worked well. I could actually have charged more than I did, as we were offering a quality service. Although many parents chose us because of our convenient location only.

Setting Up A Language School In France

Every country has its own specific business environment. And I'm sorry to say that setting up a business in France is difficult - to put it politely. The red tape is terrible, and the costs are considerable - apart from the usual costs of deposits, rent, furniture, alterations to the premises, promotion, living costs until you are earning money - you will also have to face social charges and relatively high taxes.

I've set up a few businesses, but never in France, so what I have to say in this section comes from my online research, and many conversations which I've had with people who have set up language schools, and other businesses there.

My father has lived in France for decades, and he has had two small businesses (non-TEFL) there. Yes, it can work, but you will need perseverance, patience and money. Many requirements for setting up a business do not appear to be logical. I have also spoken to a very successful businessman who set up a language school in Paris. Most of his language schools are in the Far East. After struggling for many years he closed the Paris school, complaining of red tape.

All I've heard from business owners in France, confirms the online research I've done. I know that there are politicians in France who recognize the problems, and are trying to do something to correct them, but I think change will be slow coming. There are too many people with vested interests in keeping things as they are.

If making money is a prime consideration, I'd recommend setting up a business in the UK instead.

Freelance Teaching in France

Another possibility is teaching freelance. Again, I'd recommend that you get a little more experience teaching English at a local language school in France before you do this. You will need to build up your local contacts.

Remember, too, that most of France is inactive - TEFL wise - during June, July, August and September. Relatively few people wish to study at this time of year. A useful resource if you want to teach freelance in France is The Freelance Teacher in France Use the search box to find related articles.

To answer your question fully would require me to write a book, which I don't have time to do tonight. I hope I've given you some ideas, and not completely put you off. Many people do run successful businesses in France, so it is possible. Get more experience, keep your school small to start with - or perhaps always.

Please use the comments section below to let us know your decision, and how you do in France. Good luck!

Related article Teaching English in France

Comments for Setting Up A Language School In France

Click here to add your own comments

Dec 29, 2013
Thank you
by: Anonymous

Thank you vary much for sharing your opinion and giving advice!

Mar 30, 2015
very good advice and food for thought
by: Nicola

very good advice and food for thought

Nov 08, 2015
by: John

It is superb to read this post and i get many useful point through this post. Please keep posting such kind of post.

May 14, 2017
May 2017 - update?
by: Anonymous

Any chance of an update on this post? I will be starting my own school later on in the year and am looking for all the help I can find.

May 16, 2017

by: Mark

Whereabouts will the school be?

May 18, 2017
Answer to Mark
by: Anonymous

It will be in a town in south-west France. It certainly has enough work to support a business.

I'm currently employed - hence the vague answer and anonymity. Sorry!

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to TESOL Answers .