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Language tutoring franchises: What does the investment landscape look like?

Language tutoring franchises: What does the investment landscape look like?

Modern foreign language tutoring franchises have found a gap in the UK education system. And they’re monetising it

You’ve got the best chance of picking up a foreign language to a near-native level if you start studying before the age of 10, according to scientists.

Meanwhile learning as a mother tongue requires an even younger age bracket. “We know that you only really learn a language as a mother tongue with the right grammar until the age of seven,” says Helen Doron, linguist and founder of Helen Doron Educational Group.

“After that your brain loses ability and total flexibility there. It’s natural for children to be polyglots, to learn any number of languages from an early age.”

However, in the UK school system, modern foreign language teaching is often sporadic and sometimes reserved until secondary school.

“Having taught high school children for nearly a decade, [students] finds language learning difficult, having been exposed to languages too late,” confirms Andrea Baker, founder and franchisor of Les Petit Pois Fun French.

“Pressure heats up in high school. It’s too much, too late, and they feel embarrassed and become opposed to language learning.”

However, outside the walls of the classroom, there’s an established demand for services and products that supplement the in-school learning experience. For instance, the BBC’s language tutoring programme for children, Muzzy, has been running for the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, second-language day-care facilities have been cropping up around UK cities; The German Kindergarten now has four locations in London.

Elsewhere, usage of language apps such as Duolingo have grown tenfold, igniting a passion for linguistics in parents.

Now, we’re seeing multiple brands capitalise on this interest by franchising, in hopes of scaling their tuition services across the country. But will demand really translate into a lucrative investment opportunity for franchisees?

The reality of demand

In 2023, the UK had the second largest percentage of language learners who were learning three or more languages on Duolingo, according to the app. It means some interest in foreign languages, at the very least from parents, is there.

English, Spanish, and French are the top three most studied languages on the app, and we’re certainly seeing these catered for by child-focused franchise brands.

However, German, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Hindi, Chinese and Portuguese also comprise the top ten most popular languages, and it’s here that we’re currently seeing a potential lack in offering.

For Andrea Baker, it was French that seemed to be the right choice for her business, Les Petit Pois Fun French. She could speak the language and as a mother herself she quickly realised there was little on offer in St Helens and Warrington for those hoping to raise French-speaking children.

In response, Andrea established Les Petit Pois Fun French which runs French sessions incorporating play aimed at children aged 0-8 years. This includes parent and baby, toddler, and after-school classes, as well as private sessions for schools, nurseries, child minders, and birthday parties. It’s a niche that’s proven popular within the community and customers have accumulated via word of mouth.

“I’m usually sold out,” she says. “People can sometimes be a little unsure about what to expect but once they’ve seen what we do and how we do it, and how much the children love it, they’re hooked and tell all their friends.”

In fact, it was this parent network that provided Andrea with her first franchisee, Beth, who is also a French speaker. Demand became so high that it was unrealistic to continue the business solo, and in 2021 Les Petit Pois Fun French became a franchise brand.

“I was approached by a parent who used to attend my classes telling me she was being made redundant and asking if I had any opportunities,” says Andrea. “Fast forward six months and Beth became my first franchisee and is now in her third year.”

Beth now runs 11 classes per week at her location in South Warrington. She runs these alongside an after-school club every night of the week and has several local schools on her waiting lists as she’s now at maximum capacity.

For franchisees, Andrea says, they can look to earn around £450 if they choose to work a full day once they’ve established their business.

Spanish is another language that seems to be increasingly remunerative. In fact, it’s overtaken French as the most popular A-Level in England and is also set to become the most popular GCSE language by 2026, according to the British Council’s Language Trends 2022 report.

It’s a growth that former teacher, Maria Torres Giron has noticed, having set up her business Olé Spanish in 2002, and franchising in 2019.

“Now I’m seeing that there are more and more companies that are coming to join the trend, which is amazing because I believe language acquisition has to happen as early as possible,” she says.

Additional competition in the Spanish learning sector comes with challenges for franchisees such as capturing the market in what could become a congested space.

However, Maria says choosing the right brand is intrinsic to being successful, regardless of the noise. “Like with most things quantity does not always translate to quality,” she warns.

It’s consistency in quality that Olé Spanish has capitalised on over the past two decades, with Maria creating textbooks that are rolled out across the brand’s six locations. The business also has multiple revenue streams which cater to babies all the way through to adults, ensuring that the customer’s lifespan is maximised for franchisees.

“I’ve had a student who joined us at the age of five and left at the age of 18,” says Maria. “One student has taken lessons for 15 years with us and she’s now fluent. We also have our youthful 85-year-old student. She’s been coming for about seven years and she was 83 when she came to our first immersion camp in Salamanca. She’s now planning to travel with us again this year.”

Olé Spanish is currently in a recruitment drive, and franchisees who have recently invested are doing well, despite the cost-of-living crisis.


Do I need to speak languages to own a franchise?

Some franchises will require investors to speak the language that’s being taught by the brand, as often franchisees will be on the ground teaching classes.

For example, Les Petit Pois Fun French requires franchisees to speak French in order to invest.

Meanwhile, other brands enable franchisees who don’t speak the language to invest but this will usually require some understanding of the culture, as well as the recruitment of skilled language teachers, which is an additional cost. Olé Spanish, Language for Fun, and Helen Doron Educational Group have management franchise opportunities available.


A variety of teaching styles and price tags

Reliance on textbooks while teaching languages to children is a common criticism of linguistic education within the UK.

In response, several franchise brands appear to have focused on moving away from such a huge emphasis on grammatical rules, and instead are centring their unique selling points around play and language exposure, which encourages young students to absorb information in a much more natural way.

For Milena Jurasz-Cruz, franchisor at El Recreo Spanish, classes aimed at the youngest children are delivered through nursery rhymes, which has provided an opportunity for inclusivity – something that often goes amiss in classic Spanish textbooks.

“We understand that in Spain they speak Spanish, but we money into this, therefore will do have 21 Spanish speaking countries,” says Milena. “We want to bring culture and traditions from these countries as well as have traditional songs from these countries.”

As result, children are exposed to vocabulary from a broader range of countries such as Venezuela, Puerto Rica, and Columbia (Milena’s homeland). It’s this sense of inclusivity which has curated a community of attendees, some of whom have Spanish-speaking family members and others who simply want to learn.

“We try to get all the family involved and we have different resources to help all the family as well,” says Milena. She recognised the importance of offering a tutoring services that extended across multiple age ranges, including adults, after she began teaching her daughter Spanish, while also supporting her Polish husband who wanted to learn.

The incorporation of multiple family members within language learning not only opens greater revenue opportunity but creates a better possibility of immersion – a technique that both El Recreo and Olé Spanish have supported by offering summer camps and trips.

These events mean franchisees can sell big ticket trips and teaching sessions, while offering children and adults a cultural experience that will massively greaten their language proficiency in the process.

Megan Haycock, franchisee at Language for Fun, similarly offers these Spanish language excursions and has also seen first-hand how language learning techniques vary between different age brackets. She initially worked as a Spanish language tutor after moving back from Spain where she’d previously taught English.

In this time, she has taught both children and adults, but when she decided to finally open her own business under a franchise brand she opted to focus on teaching students 18+, although she still teaches child classes for another franchisee in the area.

“Looking at it financially, it was going to pay off more to teach adults because I could charge them more,” she explains. “I think there’s people who are willing to pay a bit more as well to learn a language.”

Megan’s Language for Fun franchise in Sandbach and Holmes Chapel runs classes from various venues across the local area, including coffee shops and a Cuban restaurant.

“You’ve got adults who are putting their own Spain they speak Spanish, but we money into this, therefore will do work outside of classes, will pay attention, will do as much as they can to try and learn this thing that you’re teaching them about,” she says. “I have a group on a Friday morning where we sit in a café and have coffee and I just teach them about this thing [Spanish] that I love.”

Students vary significantly but most have disposable income, which highlights the importance of choosing the right location to open a language learning franchise.

“We get interest because these are people that may have holiday homes in Spain and travel a lot. So, they are people that generally have spare income to be able to travel or have a second home,” says Megan.

Although there are also students who attend as a hobby, travel has been a big motivation for consumers to spend money on learning languages, so much so that changes in holiday plans have affected the attendance of some students.

“You’ve got people who were learning before, then Brexit happened, so they decided to sell their place in Spain, Italy, or France, so we lost them,” says Megan.

However, she also says this has been balanced by the uptake of language classes during the pandemic, which added a revenue stream to the business by extending services to online classes. “This year we’ve hit our pre-COVID numbers, we’re above our pre-Covid numbers now.”

Megan plans to continue leaning into the travel lifestyle that drives many of her students to her classes by offering Italian – a language that’s not currently offered by many franchises.

The UK as a hot destination

There are countries that typically have language learning engrained within their culture, much more so than the UK.

However, as demand continues to propel the franchising efforts of brands on our shores, it has also begun attracting much bigger players in the market, including Helen Doron Educational Group.

The business, which has been in operation for 40 years, has 1200 franchised units around the world in 40 countries, with a network of national and master franchisees.

Now, the franchise plans to roll out it’s services across the UK, setting up a dedicated environment for students, with a pending headquarters based in London. “I think the UK needs
something like this,” says founder Helen Doron.

“We’ve got a curriculum. We don’t just sit down and sing a few songs with kids. They start at X and they end at Y. We know what the learning outcome is and next year they’re going to start from somewhere else.”

The business has similarly chosen to focus on the dominance of Spanish, offering several age-appropriate classes which incorporate fun and specially developed songs. Alongside this, students can also access English as a Second Language, mathematics, and music in what Helen terms ‘a one-stop shop’. But why now? And why the UK?

“I think parents are understanding it’s important to be culturally diverse, which you can’t be when you only know one language. But also, I think there’s a really big interest in early child development and their child’s brain will literally and physically grow in order to accommodate this extra language.”

The franchise is aiming to appeal to the UK market via its established methodology, which Helen began developing more than 40 years ago and continues to innovate.

“Forty years ago, [tutors] were starting with reading and writing. That’s not language, which is understanding and speaking,” says Helen. “We started with the pedagogy. We learned the marketing as we went along because we think this is an essential.”

Now, the next challenge will be finding franchisees willing to invest as the brand makes its UK debut. These investors don’t necessarily need to be language speakers, but they do need to feel the brand has an important part to play in UK education.

“I think people should be emotionally involved in this business. It’s an educational business. It has a soul,” says Helen.

The most popular languages to learn

(According to The 2023 Duolingo Language Report)
1. English
2. Spanish
3. French
4. German
5. Japanese
6. Korean
7. Italian
8. Hindi
9. Chinese
10. Portuguese

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