You might think the world economic situation and increasing Green awareness might be potentially damaging to the business prospects of language schools in the UK, a plane trip away from most of their customers.
But you would be wrong.
Not only have many English UK members reported positive bookings for the first quarter of 2009, but several are developing a new niche opportunity: online lessons.
"We've found a big increase in requests for online training for both economic and ecological reasons," says Mark Waistell, senior partner of Accent International in Devon.
"It's selling quite nicely now because people are strapped for cash and want to save on staff travel and accommodation. It looks quite good."
Accent has geared up its offer to companies and individuals alike. It is applying for validation to do new teacher training and hopes to be able to offer that online.
It is also using the technology to assess some students before they arrive, and to answer questions they have. For companies, there can be sessions where different members of a department who may be based in different countries can come together online, or seminars where senior executives will discuss an agreed topic and get feedback from the teacher.
And there are individuals who want lessons at a time of their own choosing. "Hotel rooms, offices, living rooms, gardens - all become perfect training environments for you to complete your online language course," says Mr Waistell. So far, interest on ecological grounds is coming from countries such as Germany and Sweden, where firms may have carbon targets, with long-distance lessons also popular in India and countries from the former Soviet Union.
Sometimes, people are just too busy at work to enrol on language courses, says Mark Jones, marketing manager of Language upon Thames, in London, which is one school offering this service.
"People who are working a lot of hours, who don't have time to go out or travel here, and don't want to take a local class tend to like it," says Mr Jones.
He says the service has so far been most popular with Japanese students who want to learn British English, and with an eight-hour time difference it works well. "It started by chance. One student was going home, and asked if she could have some lessons using the internet. We've been doing it for about two years now."
Tools used for remote lessons include Skype, email and MSN. A webcam can also be useful but is not essential.
Anne-Marie Alderton, who tutors a long-distance Japanese student at Language upon Thames, says: "At first I thought it would be really strange. You don't know the student and perhaps you can't see them. But then you get to know them well and it is almost as if they are in the same room.
"I have a Japanese lady who wants to learn British English. We will focus on vocabulary, grammar and speaking. We use email for written work and MSN messenger as she speaks, and to correct pronunciation."
Mr Jones concludes: "It's never going to be one of our biggest courses, but it is popular with quite a few students in Japan."
Other schools offering long-distance tuition include:
NOTE: Online courses are not covered by the Accreditation UK Scheme.
By Susan Young - firstname.lastname@example.org
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