How to Make Money as a Language School Owner: Pimping for Fun and Profit

December 15, 2013

What do an escort service and a language school have in common?

More than you might imagine.

For one thing, they both semi- or illegally employ a lot of unreliable young people with more substance abuse problems than real job skills. Also, they’re both considered “easy money” by unscrupulous or incompetent entrepreneurs with little to no startup capital.

Case in point: last spring after a less-than-amicable contract negotiation with my landlord, I was walking home with my flatmate.

We were speaking English, as usual, and outside one of the corner bars a 40-something fat guy in a green hunting jacket stopped dead when he heard us.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” he said, with a British accent. (English speakers are rare in the barrio.) “Where are you guys headed?”

He smelled of booze and was having trouble standing up. I knew immediately he was a Director of Studies or something – he didn’t look nearly broke enough to be a teacher.

Turns out he had just opened a school for kids up the street. And, drunkenly, he now wanted to give me the typical TEFL job interview, right there on the streetcorner.

I probably could have got the job offer on the spot, but instead I asked a key question…

“How many students do you have?”

“What? Students? Oh, no students.”

“Well, here’s  my card. Call me when you have some.”

I left him struggling to maintain his balance outside the Moroccan butcher’s shop.

Another alcoholic who figured he’d get away from the bad weather and go where the wine is cheap and the local women are (perhaps) charmed by foreign accents.

Anyway…

Language schools vs escort services: is there really a difference?

The other similarity between an English academy and an escort service – many of them are just a dingy office and a telephone. It really doesn’t matter where you (the owner) are because you send your prostitutes – er, teachers – out to make house or office calls.

The business model is simple – they do the work, while you take two thirds of the money. You are, after all, the one who has an actual desk in an actual office.

You deserve that money!

vito corleone as a language school owner
Of course I’d love to give you a contract… but… the Social Security… It’s so expensive. And the students… they don’t pay!

If your teachers someday realize they’re getting the shaft, you’ll probably lose the more intelligent ones.

They’ll figure out that if they just put an ad on the internet and answer their own phone calls for a while, they can keep 100% of the money for themselves. At which point you’ll just have to go out and find some new talent.

(Don’t worry, though, there’s always a new flock of backpackers coming to town.)

But you should start your own language school!

In any case, I’ve been freelance, more or less, for so long that people are constantly suggesting that I open my own school.

“You’ve obviously reached the end of your rope as a teacher,” they say. “Why don’t you start a school of your own? I mean, before you lose your mind…”

So, I imagine myself as one of those stodgy old TEFL lifers who nods off in the middle of a present perfect lesson and has to be nudged awake by a student.

Ugh.

Then I imagine myself as a language pimp.

Double ugh.

The thought makes my skin crawl. Not only would I still have to deal with English teachers every day, I would be constantly worried about the ability of a whole team of twenty-somethings with serious hangovers to get out of bed at 7 AM for their company classes.

I would have to explain to a bunch of 24-year olds who couldn’t keep it together back home that no, they shouldn’t wear flip-flops to give classes to the CEO.

I would have to explain to the CEO that, yes, their teacher is young, and admittedly inexperienced, but that the market is very difficult right now.

Are you getting language pimped?

Language school owners – unlike actual pimps – wear chunky, cheap shoes.

They do spend a few hours a week out on the streets, talking to HR people at the various offices. And they make a half-assed attempt to keep things legal – at least within the bounds of what’s realistic for “the industry.”

It helps that they hire foreigners fresh off the boat, who probably know nothing about the laws and won’t make a fuss.

In any case, the demand for English is, in many Spanish cities, seemingly infinite.

And the supply of young teachers is constantly renewing itself – every day, there’s some fresh-faced youngster stepping off a plane into a new world, with no idea of how things work beyond what you’re willing to tell him – or her.

Now, all you need to know is how to deal with the inevitable call from that CEO. “Mike’s a really nice guy,” he’ll say, “but he’s very young. Maybe we could try a girl teacher next time? A blonde? Like maybe Canadian…”

You can almost hear the drool dripping down his chin.

What does a good language pimp do?

He puts up a free online classified ad for jobs at his language school. A few CVs come in. He finds a blonde Estonian with an acceptable accent and level of English, and says “Listen, here’s the story. Your name is Katie, and you’re from Canada. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Katie from Canada!”

Grete, a buxom young lady from Tallin, looks up at you with innocent blue eyes, and flips her long blonde hair off her forehead. “Uh, OK. Katie from Canada it is!”

“Yes, you’ll be perfect for the job! He really just wants conversation. Just ask him about his weekend and take it from there…”

Don’t get pimped out there, kids.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I actually met “Katie from Canada” years ago. She was Swedish, and her name was… I forget. Something Swedish. She was pretty pissed off that she had to pretend to be Canadian to get a job. And her English was basically perfect. But, you know, everyone wants a native.

P.P.S. More recently, it’s come to my attention that advertising specifically for “native” teachers is frowned upon by the European Union. Everybody still does it, of course… ’cause you can’t really do anything to make money in Europe without breaking some law or other. Anyway, that’s another story.

P.P.P.S. For something less satirical and more informational, check out my new piece on Prostitution in Spain. It’s about actual prostitution, not the teaching industry.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. having been a language teacher in Madrid for 2 years and counting…..spot on! haha. you just gotta laugh and enjoy the advantages that come with a largely cash in hand cowboy industry…

    1. Yeah, I had all kinds of fun when I was teaching. But the problems of the industry don’t seem to have any real solution. Thanks for the comment!

  2. This is a great article. Loved it. However I don’t love how the page is formatted on my iPad. All of the social media links sit on the left side cutting out almost all of the left side of text. I’d love to continue reading your blog but you must change this please.

    1. Oh, thanks so much for the feedback. I don’t have any sort of tablet so I have no idea what it looks like on an iPad. I tried making the social buttons smaller, see if that works.

      Thanks again, and I’m glad you liked the article!

  3. Great article dude. Nevermind all the cowboy academies that spout out of nowhere with union jacks flashed across the building. Flashing the words ” Cambridge exams ” around like some kind of buzzword. All the work being done by the inexperienced teacher who thinks that this is just the way it is. Being paid a few euros into your bank account and the rest in an envelope. Looking at your contract (if you have one) and seeing the word “monitor” or “instructor” down as the profession which is probably another way to skim the taxes down.

    1. Thanks David. I got a comment the other day from a Brit saying “I wish you wouldn’t use the American flag in your logo!”

  4. I realise this article is a couple of years old but I can’t resist leaving a comment. Your article describes Spanish language schools but it is also an absolutely perfect description of Italian language schools. When I was working in Florence I was baffled by how unprofessional most language school owners were compared to directors of international schools in the UK. For real though, I hope you don’t mind me asking, if you did have to advise someone on opening their own school, someone who actually wanted to go about it in a professional manner, what advice would you give them?

    1. Hey Nikki, I’ve known a couple of people who are actual professional language school owners through the years. Maybe find someone in Italy and talk to them? My impression is that they mostly just pay well, offer good contracts, and they’re very selective with who they hire. Good luck!

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