Language learning has changed significantly since Christian Chasset and his wife Dominique took the bold decision to establish the Hong Kong Institute of Languages in 1985, the same year that the French couple got married.
Thirty years ago, they decided to open a little language school to teach French. Their determination to provide quality language education quickly earned them a reputation for practical and useful courses. It also enabled them to expand as they were soon receiving requests from their students who were eager to learn other languages.
Today, the institute offers, in addition to French, courses teaching English, Italian, Spanish, German, Mandarin and even Japanese and Cantonese. It also tailors classes to different age groups to make sure everyone, from primary school kids to teens to adults are entertained and engaged in the language-learning journey.
Quality the utmost priority
From the outset, the Chassets have maintained that the quality of teachers is the most important thing in language education. “Our goal is to provide the best language courses with the most qualified teachers,” Dominique explained, adding that all their teachers are professionals who have been trained in second-language teaching and possess at least two years teaching experience.
Another feature of what makes their courses effective is the low student to teacher ratio. “We try to keep the number of students per class between four and six so that teachers can focus more on each student, while students can also participate more,” Christian said.
In Hong Kong, competition in the language teaching industry is intense, and the choices seem unlimited. “It is not easy for people to tell good from bad,” she says. “Some even question: ‘Why do I need to pay more, while that other course is cheaper?”’
The simple answer to that is: “When you are sick, you don’t want an under-qualified doctor treating you. The same goes with language learning. You want qualified teachers who know what they are doing,” Dominique stressed.
“Most of our students learn about us through friends’ recommendations. We have had students that turned into parents send their kids here to study, which is really nice.”
The fun of learning
Surely, the fact that parents want their children to study where they learned a language says volumes about the school. But as Christian points out, the experience is far more than just learning another language; they enjoy a cultural immersion.
“We organize social clubs and activities so that students can join activities while speaking the language,” he said. Cooking classes, science classes and drama sessions are among the wide range of activities that students can participate in. “Students like it so much that they integrate the language without even realizing they are learning,” he added.
Overseas summer camps are also very popular among teens. The institution organizes camps to destinations all around the globe such as France, Switzerland and Canada – and unlike many study tours, they design the summer camps to be effective.
“We try to have a healthy mix of students of different ethnicities in the tours,” Dominique says. “As a result, they have to speak their target language instead of their own language. We often tell parents that the 45 hours of learning during the summer camp is equivalent to a whole year of weekly after-school learning.”
Hong Kong people are extremely busy and it is difficult for them to attend class, so to tackle this problem Christian explained that the school has adopted technology to allow busy people to have one-on-one courses with their language teacher wherever they are via online video chats. They are also looking into developing their own mobile application, so that students can learn anywhere.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Christian and Dominique threw a birthday party at the Foreign Correspondents Club last month, for friends and former students, and even the French Consul General attended.
In recognition of Chassets’ contribution to promoting French and French culture, Christian was awarded the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (Knight in the Order of the Academic Palms), the French Government’s highest honour for academic achievement, for advancing the cause of French culture, education, and the fine arts” in 2007, while Dominique was awarded the Ordre National du Merite (Knight of the National Order of Merit).
Christian and Dominique are optimistic that with the global trend of globalization, the importance of language learning will only grow stronger. With demand for language courses at an all-time high, the couple plan to continue their mission of providing the finest language education to students in Hong Kong for another 30 years.
Company: Hong Kong Institute of Languages Ltd
HKGCC Membership No.: HKH0531
Telephone: (852) 28776160
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