By Joe Lopes
Here is part 3 of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read parts 1 and 2 click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Sizing Up the Competition
As I approach the bus stop, I glance across the street at a new branch of one of those English language schools that have just recently cropped up around my neighborhood. The school building must be three stories high, with at least a dozen or so classrooms on each floor, and a spacious parking lot serving as a drop-off and pick-up point for the busy parents of EFL students.

I shake my head and sigh wearily as I pass the school. Nowadays, private English teachers are faced with the harsh and terrible reality of going up against language schools that are heavily armed for the battle of attracting new students to their courses.

Just take a look at some of the advanced weaponry most of these schools hold over the average individual instructor:

The latest generation of computer hardware;
Sophisticated marketing techniques, including TV, radio and newspaper ad campaigns;
Up-to-date computer software and DVD-ROM packages;
Video and conversational language labs;
Internet chat groups, customized websites, and 24-hour customer service lines;
Cassette recorders, television monitors, VCRs, and DVD player-recorders in every classroom;
Erasable whiteboards, endless streams of school supplies, and other pertinent paraphernalia.

Indeed, most private teachers may get the uneasy feeling they are nothing more than puny Davids sent forth to face monolithic, multi-headed Goliaths. This is not really the case, but the perception of the deck being firmly stacked against them is obviously there.

Schools have the ability (and the luxury) to recycle the bulk of revenue received into their basic infrastructure. Because they consciously try to be on the cutting-edge of technology and sophistication, they can afford to pay teachers dirt-cheap salaries.

This is why the turnover rate for teachers at these institutions is so high, sometimes by as much as 50 percent-or more. This is also the reason they are constantly hiring new teachers at the end of each semester.

Meanwhile, they charge their students the highest possible fees for classes. It’s a workable and surprisingly successful strategy for the schools.

So how does a small, lowly, independent private instructor compete against such deep-pocketed giants? It’s difficult, to put it mildly, but the difference can be in how you set your sights.

If all you see is this monstrous foe striding towards you, then you’ll go down in defeat as quickly as the Biblical strongman did; however, if you are able to supply a missing ingredient to your teaching that all the high-tech hardware and software in the world cannot possibly fill, then you would have found the winning combination to your success.

What could that winning combination be? It’s up to you to find it. It can be an extra degree of individual attention, say, more innovative teaching methods, or more competitive rates. Let your students tell you, for they should know better what they’re looking for.

Don’t forget: as big and as rich as some of these language schools appear to be, they can be as lumbering as brachiosaurs in the fast-paced language-learning market. Change for them can come about more slowly than it can for you.

Your best bet is to try and stay one step ahead of them by offering a more personalized type of service, such as going to a student’s place of business at a more convenient hour, or throwing in the price of all classroom materials into your monthly fee, even offering discounts of one free class every six months to selected students. Use your imagination. The sky is the limit here. Teachers who think quickly on their feet and can bounce back from adversity do well in the big city.

Who will be your students? Start out with people who are the closest to you, i.e. friends, relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends, next-door neighbors, business associates, you name it. Get the word out you’re looking for students. Word of mouth spreads quickly in São Paulo, sometimes quicker than you realize. Network as much as you can. Teaching opportunities can appear from the unlikeliest of sources, from your local supply store to the shop where you make photocopies.

Try to put an advertisement in the neighborhood newspapers or trade journals. You may get more nibbles than bites, but if it’s good for at least one new student, then you’ve more than paid for the ad. It’s sometimes just a matter of marketing your services in a highly targeted and organized manner, and going for it with all your strength and conviction.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

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