In anticipation of the Dalf C1 examination I took eight weeks of the intensive prep course (30 lessons per week) at ILA in May and June of 2015. Overall I found their classes to be organized and leaning towards a grammar based academic approach. Morning classes are divided into grammar lessons and activities that cover the specific language competencies – reading, listening, speaking and some writing – while afternoon classes (3 times a week) focus more on oral competency based activities such as role playing or debates.
Although the overall format is generally the same, with all the classes of the same level following the same 8 week rotating grammar schedule (for example the futur simple is taught in week 3, passé composé in week 6), the classes do vary according to the particular instructor and the other students in the class. Instructors generally spend about half of the morning class going over grammar rules and grammar exercises. The rest of the class time is spent on listening, reading or speaking activities.
For me there was not enough of a connection between the grammar structures taught and their practical usage. Many of the structures were only practiced through written grammar exercises – fill in the blank or complete the sentence. Only occasionally would an instructor create an activity that would require the use of the particular grammar structure taught.
Many of the students, at least in level C1, were Swiss and were planning to take the Delf or Dalf exam. A few students were of the holiday language learner variety who really wanted to spend more time on random conversation than on learning or reviewing more grammar rules. This difference in objectives sometimes created a complicated classroom environment for the instructor. On several occasions a holiday language learner would talk on and on about nothing while the Swiss students sat silently rolling their eyes or playing with their phones.
The student’s placement level – A1 (lowest) through C2 (highest) – is based on a multiple choice on-line exam with no oral follow up upon arrival at the school. In fact, they don’t even tell you what level you are in until you are assigned a class. If the class level is important to you it’s best to check with administration before you begin. Otherwise you may be told, as I was, that the class you want is already full.
Size of the school
This is a fairly large school, especially in late spring and summer. Class size is limited to 10 students and in June there were at least 3 C1 level classes and I imagine even more classes at each of the lower levels – A1 through B2. Classrooms are spread out through 3 buildings – the main building, an annex next door and another building about 3 blocks away.
Exam preparation courses
The Delf and Dalf preparation course is a 6 week afternoon course (three times a week) taken in place of the oral activity course mentioned above. In our course we used ABC Dalf, a book of practice exercises that mirror the exam. Generally we started every class with a listening comprehension exercise, then went over the answers to the reading comprehension – usually done as homework – followed by two oral presentations. Each student had the opportunity to do an oral presentation once a week.
Twice during the course, week 3 and week 6, we did an in-class mock exam that is more strictly structured and graded than the daily practice activities. While basically taking the exam over and over again is great practice, there is very little taught or advised concerning strategies to improve your skills or to pass the exam in general.
With a greater number of students, the school has the ability to offer a number of excursions and afternoon activities such as wine tasting or visits to local attractions. I participated in only a few of the activities as I was already familiar with the region and its specialties. The excursion I participated in – the visit to two wineries near Pic Saint-Loup and to Château de Flaugergues on the outskirts of Montpellier -were reasonably well organized. See below for photos.
I would only recommend this school for those who are interested in a more academic approach to language learning. Since I was studying for the Dalf exam and generally like grammar, I didn’t mind this style. For those wanting to improve their general oral competency, however, I think a school that focuses on communicative methods rather than grammar based methods would be more effective.
Chateau de Flaugergues