GoAbroad Interview

Chris Westergaard - Founder & Director

Chris Westergaard - Founder & Director

As one of the oldest TEFL training centers in Prague, The Language House TEFL is known for its successful TEFL certification courses that are internationally accredited and externally monitored. To date, the school has graduated about two thousand students, with whom the organization has maintained close contact with. Chris Westergaard founded The Language House TEFL a few years after he began teaching English as a foreign language in Vienna and Prague, and he now serves as the company’s director.

About three years after you began teaching EFL, you founded The Language House TEFL. What inspired you to found the training center?

A really bad experience with another course provider inspired me to create The Language House TEFL. Back in 2002, courses weren’t nearly as organized as they are now. At that time, courses were training centers and that was it. My course didn’t help with getting legal, finding housing, finding jobs, or anything like that. My overall impression was that the course trainers and organizers didn’t really enjoy their jobs or respect us as students.

The staff of The Language House TEFL

The staff of The Language House TEFL - We're kind of like a family.

From that experience, I knew that I could create a better course than what was currently on the market. Courses need to train their students well, but they need to more than just that. They also have to take care of their students and help them adjust to their new life abroad. Many people who attend TEFL certification courses have never lived abroad before. There are so many factors involved in moving to a foreign country, and TEFL courses should help their students navigate what can be a difficult or unfamiliar process.

More and more TEFL certification schools and training centers are operating in the Czech Republic, particularly in Prague. How does The Language House TEFL stay at the top with the growing number of competitors?

The number has actually declined over the years. Back in 2006, there were about 12+ teacher training centers. Now there are really only a handful that run consistent courses. What keeps us on top is our dedicated staff and our connection with our past graduates. The staff of The Language House TEFL work tremendously hard. They all really care about what they do, the school, and our students.

When you have a group of dedicated people with a similar vision, it’s easy to create something really special, and that’s what we are.

Our flexibility and innovation is another important factor. We are constantly finding new ways to make the experience even better for our students and graduates. For example, last year we created Language House TEFL Discount Cards for all of our students and graduates. The card saves them money on multiple services and businesses in the city, like gyms, doctors, restaurants, bars, and more. A few years ago, the teaching market started demanding teachers with experience with children and teens. To help our graduates become more marketable, we created a really inexpensive add-on training course that specifically gives them training in working with young learners.

What makes Prague the ideal location for a TEFL certification program?

Prague is a beautiful, fun, interesting, and historic city in the center of Europe. It is also accessible to non-EU teachers because they can get legal and find work here. In many European countries, it’s a lot harder for Americans, Australians, South African, etc. to get a visa. A large amount of people get their TEFL in other European countries, only to find out that it’s nearly impossible for them to stay and work there. Our graduates get the opportunity to stay and teach in Prague, the city they’ve gotten to know during the course, or explore another country if they wish.

Another great thing about Prague is the cost of living is lower than most European cities, saving people a lot of money on startup costs and daily living expenses. Additionally, Prague is bursting with festivals, concerts, museums, restaurants, pubs, and events all for reasonable prices, which makes the quality of living very high.

Man and woman in Europe

A perk about the job is being able to travel to all of these cute European cities.

You taught English as a foreign language in both Prague and Vienna. How has this experience helped you make The Language House TEFL one of the best TEFL certification providers in Prague?

Even though I’m relatively young at 37, I probably have more experience training new teachers than most. I started teaching when I was 20, and then began training teachers when I was 24. By 25, I had created The Language House TEFL and we’ve been running successfully ever since. So now, even though I’m older and more experienced, I still remember what it was like to move abroad without much training, experience, or direction, so I can empathize easily with all of our new students. I want them to be successful and I feel it’s my responsibility, my duty, to make sure that happens.

With a decade of experience in helping individuals obtain TEFL certification, The Language House TEFL is no doubt an expert in the field. What is the training center's secret to success?

Our extra teaching practice, course community, and post-course assistance are what really makes us stand out. The staff and I know everyone who takes the course and we all remain friendly afterward. The graduate community is a huge plus at The Language House TEFL, because there are always people to connect with, make friends with, and find jobs from. The school helps by throwing large parties and low-key get-togethers, and helping to create other outlets outside of teaching like dance classes, theatre groups, sport clubs, the list goes on. After the course is done, we remain available to all of our graduates.

Our doors are literally always open for our graduates to come by and get help, use our resources, or just hang out. A supportive community makes a huge difference when moving abroad.

Our other secret to success is that everyone who works on the course is a teacher; we’ve all been certified. Even our receptionists are TEFL-certified teachers. Many courses have a lot of administrators who don’t actually know much about teaching or have any experience in the education field. These people are the ones calling the shots. With The Language House TEFL, we have all taught English as a second language and we are still teachers. That gives the course a much different feel than the majority of other courses out there. Everyone who works on the course was at one time in the same shoes as our current or prospective students. That helps us emphasize with our students and make the best decisions possible for their growth.

Lastly, all of the staff like each other. It may sound corny, but we really are like a big family. Our students feed off of this contagious positive energy, making a collaborative and fun learning environment on the course.

Friends on a trip in Europe

Winter trips with The Language House Community

What has been The Language House TEFL's greatest challenge over the years?

The biggest challenge for any course abroad is making sure our graduates have five things:

  1. They have to be trained well.
  2. They have to find work.
  3. They have to get legal.
  4. They have to find housing.
  5. They have to feel comfortable in their new home.

The training is the easy part because we have total control over that. As mentioned, we have the largest staff of teachers of probably any course worldwide and they are all highly trained teachers. The other elements can be trickier to ensure. Visas are one example. Most of our trainees come from the U.S., and the laws regarding immigration are constantly changing. If our graduates can’t get legal, they can’t stay in Prague and work. To deal with this, we decided to have a great visa company, Visa Guru, operate inside our school. This gives all of our trainees access to visa specialists any time they want.

As mentioned, we also offer assistance with jobs and housing, and foster a supportive community environment that makes all new teachers feel at home. The challenge is to stay flexible and to keep up with the times. If we fail in any of the above five points, our students fail and that’s unacceptable for us.

How many program participants does The Language House TEFL typically accommodate in a year?

We have grown tremendously in the last few years. We now train an average of about 200 to 250 new teachers per year.

Although Prague is not known as a dangerous city by any means, safety remains a concern of most people traveling abroad. How does The Language House TEFL ensure its participants are always safe?

Prague is way safer than most cities I’ve lived in and travelled to. Czechs are peaceful people by nature and violent crime is not really a problem in the city. We also offer an orientation program that covers a lot of information about Prague and gets students comfortable navigating their way around the city. New trainees are also given my personal cell phone number and can call me with whatever problems they may run into.

The Language House TEFL is proud of its sense of community. What are the advantages of staying in touch with course graduates for both the training center and the graduates?

Our graduates and the relationships we build with our students is what makes this whole thing meaningful. People often ask me, “Do you ever get bored?”. My answer is always a resounding no! Each month we get to meet a whole new group of people with diverse personalities and backgrounds. We are constantly building relationships and learning new things, which makes it all worthwhile.

The Language House TEFL graduation party, November 2015

November 2015 Graduation Party

Our community provides advantages many times over. For example, many of our graduates now work in hiring positions at language schools around the city. This makes it really easy for our new graduates to get work because they are interviewing with another Language House TEFL alum. For example, one of our graduates is the hiring manager for the four largest summer camps in the Czech Republic. He helps ensure that our graduates find work during the summer season.

When you create a big family of graduates, everyone wants each other to succeed and we all help each other. It really is such a powerful community. I’m grateful every day to be a part of it.

What can we expect from The Language House TEFL and Chris Westergaard in the next few years?

Who knows?! I’m thinking about creating a hybrid course that combines an online methodology course portion and with onsite teaching in Prague. The trick would be to make the course feel the same. If we can maintain our high standards of quality with an online portion, I’d create it. There’s also always the possibility of setting up a new location in another country. We have the popularity to do so and it’s something I have been considering for some time. For now, though, I can’t ask for anything more than I already have.