SELC – Yes or No?

It is probably good idea to write about our experience with Sydney English Language Centre (SELC) after we spent there six long months.

The main aim of this small article is to share our feelings and maybe give some recommendations, which could help to all of you who plan to study at SELC or at any other language school in Sydney. To make it available to more people, not only to Czechs, it is written in English.

First of all – we can’t say that SELC is a bad school because we don’t have any personal experience with other schools. Many times we’ve heard (from agents, teachers) that SELC is better than other schools. This; however, doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect school, at least not for us and a lot of other people as well. We started to complain probably during the second week in the school and complained about various things several times. According to our experience, we think it’s really good to complain when you aren’t happy, because if nothing else you’ll practise conversation with such people like school director, studying counsellor and the others for how long you want to speak.

There is everything planned in three-month cycles. It means that after 3 months everything starts again, everything is repeated. So if you’re staying at school longer than 3 months and you stay on the same level you’ll do the same book, the same excercises, you’ll repeat what you’ve learned in last three months. This could be also true even when you’ll change levels, as a lot of things are used accross different levels. The levels at SELC are beginners, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate, superintermediate and advanced. We’re somewhere about on the lower upper-intermediate level in Czech Republic, but according the entrance test we were sent directly to the advanced class (the highest one available there) and had to stay there our whole studies (6 months). The advanced class actually doesn’t mean something special – we had a few classmates, who had perfect grammar and vocabulary but weren’t able to speak at all. Quite shocking, when even teachers had problems to understand them.

So, the General English is not the best course if you are on advanced level. Luckily, they have other courses as well and we can recommend the special course – EAP (English for Academic Purposes) and, probably, the Cambridge Course (we didn’t do this one). The EAP is supposed to be more about writting which sounds terrible, but it was really good experience and we spoke a lot as well. We had good luck with teachers in this course and we really enjoyed it. As far as the General English should be focused on listening and speaking, we had the impression that in the EAP we practised speaking and listening even more.

The teachers are the most important point – some of them are really good, the others; however, have long teaching experience but they don’t know how to teach at all. Just one example – one of the teachers was so successful that he discouraged almost all students from comming to his lessons, he finished his second day with us just with two students (just two of us had the courage to stay there).

The elective classes are supposed to be a pleasant change during the hard week. They are available from the intermediate level up. We soon realized that these classes are actually meant to be the rest for teachers. We can’t say that we really learned something during the elective classes, except the Barista course, where we learned how to prepare coffee and we had a perfect teacher and made a lot of fun. However, all courses (and you can choose from Barista course, Listening and speaking, Grammar classes, Australian Studies, IELTS or TOELF preparation, Natural therapies and Movie making) look really good when they describe them. When you choose them, you realize, that description is different from practice. In practise you don’t do all the things they promised to do and you just try to live through it.

Marketing is one thing in which is the SELC really good. When you see in their brochure that you will receive Barista certificate after Barista electives, that you can use videocameras to connect with home, that they will teach you use of English in practical situations, that they have a modern building, and a lot of other things as well, it seems to be a perfect school. When you choose this school you find out that the brochure is one big lie. When you ask about it you get the answer „Oh, sorry, you must understand, it’s marketing.“ The answer was from the person on highest positions in the school. We made for us a translation of their answer: „We’re really good at telling lies, we’re doing a good marketing, and you are really stupid, because you choose our school and paid for it and can’t do anything with it.“

The building has an air-conditioning, which keeps it cool during winter and hot in summer. No, I’m not wrong, it was really cold in winter and really hot in summer. They have videocameras in business class, but you aren’t allowed to use them (even if you study Bussiness course). They don’t teach English in practical situations, because you are good enough to be able to use English in those situations and if you need to practise, go out and practise outside school. It’s interesting, that the same thing is valid for lower classes and advanced as well, so everybody who knows a little bit English, knows how to handle all the practical situations. Also the school have a nice library, which is closed on Fridays. Of course, you can borrow books on Thursday, but we still don’t understand why it’s not opened on Friday. The computer rooms are opened till 5pm and during our stay the school decided to close them on Friday, because there were nobody who could look after the students using the computers. After our big and loud protests they gave up.  

You will be also surprised with another two things – there are a lot of Asian people (sorry guys, nothing personal) – about 65% in total. These guys are really good in grammar and vocabulary, but most of them don’t speak at all, so it is really hard to speak with them during classes and when you work with them in pair, you are in big trouble. But it’s probably similar at the other schools as well. The second thing are teachers – most of them are English, so don’t hope that they’ll teach you something about Australia, Australian slang or anything related to Australia, even if they’re living in Australia for several yars. Especially the slang is „hard to teach“ as we were told when we specifically asked for it after not understanding the people in the streets and at work. It’s funny that after five months one teacher was able to find several things made for this purpose – teaching Australian slang.

Very important thing is the pronunciation. Every teacher will tell you, that it is really important, that especially your’s is really terrible, but that’s it. Nobody will correct you almost all the time. Also a lot of them just let you speak and after everybody in class will finish their speaking they’ll just tell you – OK, you are doing a lot of mistakes we have to work on it. But they’ll never tell you, what mistakes you did. Of course, exceptions exist.

All in all – we could recommend this school. Just advice you to do EAP course or General English just for short time. According to other people we can recommend you the Cambridge courses. Don’t expect anything special from Electives – it is just for filling space in the middle of the week. And also be prepared that first Monday of each term is free (OK, you could have grammar class or listening class, but it is usually really borring and low level) and also that last Friday of each term is shorter. Don’t count this days, otherwise you’ll realize that you paid a lot for free days.  

We have a lot of mistakes in this short article, for sure, but we did our best. The point is we don’t have the feeling that our English did some improvement during these six month at SELC. It is probably a little bit better than it was before, but not a big change. Maybe two month travelling and speaking with locals will bring us more than the time at school 🙁

We were asking ourselfs many times, where is the problem? Why are we so unsatisfied? There are the possible answers: we’re to old. We expected for big money high quality. We came to Asutralia to learn English not to work.

We have a big request to other unsatisfied students at SELC – we know there are many of you, you complain amongs your friends, but you should take your courage and complain in official way to achieve some change for next students. You are also welcomed to give your opinion as a comment to our article.

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