a language learning breakthrough

British Buddies Programme

Meet Nico….

Nico wants to learn English. Nico’s parents want him to learn English. He studies the language in school, but he tends to only speak when he can’t avoid it because talking in front of the class takes a lot of confidence. Nico understands more than he can say.

His parents feel that going to England for two weeks in summer will help. They want him to have fun and learn as much as possible. They trust you to tell him what will keep him safe, motivate, encourage and entertain him.

Nico is excited to travel. This is a big chance for him to get a head start in school. He spends all year in school and, so he is hoping that learning abroad will be completely different. He imagines that actually being in the country will be a big help. He is also a little nervous.

Of course, you can give Nico’s parents excellent advice about how their son can improve and have a great time. We are sure you already work with some lovely language schools and summer camps, so thank you for taking the time to find out about an exciting alternative.

We know that families in your country trust you, so it is really important to us to do all we can to explain how British Buddies works. This book is intended for you, our partner. and is written in a way we expect to make sense to you as an experienced language travel professional.

We can supply different material for you to inform families. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if you need anything to promote this programme.

Whether Nico is currently doing well in school or not, whether it was his own idea to travel or his parents’, their booking is a significant chance for him. Whether Nico is currently doing well in school or not, whether it was his own idea to travel or his parents’, their booking is a significant chance for him.

  • Will he make the most of it?
  • Could we provide a better environment?
  • How sure can we be that he will learn as much as possible?

Let’s first take a look at a couple of questions about traditional language travel: How much do students learn?  What are the typical barriers to learning?

Nico and his parents imagine him spending his days speaking English. This is such a major hope because they all know that foreign language communication takes practice. The challenge of learning in his home country is that everyone around him is speaking his own language. When he is in the UK, he should be surrounded by English and be able to absorb new vocabulary without having to learn lists. His accent is expected to improve as he interacts with native speakers.

There are several ways Nico, his parents and his organisation can increase the likelihood of him speaking as much English as possible. He might be brave enough to travel alone and his parents might feel he is ready for that. Maybe they insist on there being no other speakers of his language in the host family home. His teachers probably split nationalities for partner and group work.

So now he will not be speaking his own language and he will automatically improve, right?

The language magnet

Unfortunately, we know this is not the case. Even if students are independent enough to travel alone and book a host family alone, it is almost impossible to find a language school or summer camp in which Nico is the only person from his country. It is unrealistic to expect him to avoid his compatriots. We have all experienced hearing our language being spoken abroad and felt the pull of familiarity. Nico can find someone speaking his language within seconds of entering a new environment and nobody can blame him for this. He is drawn as if by a very strong magnet. Some families even want the assurance in advance that there will always be someone on hand to speak the same language as they think it will stop homesickness and somehow keep a student safe.

The online escape

You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That old
expression also applies to language travel. We can bring a student into a country, but his attachment to technology can so easily prevent him really arriving. Of course, it is possible to stay so closely linked to home through social media and entertainment sites that language learning is effectively blocked. Even if opportunities to speak English are also being taken, the frequent switching between languages increases the difficulty. It is a sign of our times that people of all generations check their phones constantly. It has been observed that we particularly do it in environments where we are not comfortable. It is a way to look busy, not look lonely. Unfortunately, this adds up to not looking or being approachable either. Are students unavoidably vulnerable to this temptation when travelling?

The tourist trap

Have you ever observed a group of language school students
following a leader through a beautiful British city? The leaders often
have their hands full making sure nobody drifts off. Much as they may
have information about the historic buildings they are passing, they
rarely have a chance to share it. The groups are too big and, if truth be told, students are often just waiting for the magic words ‘you now have 30 minutes freetime’, so they can try and speed to Primark. Students can often tell you afterwards where they went, but not what they saw. Of course, it is particularly sad if they are chattering away in their own language on their once in a lifetime trip to Oxford, London or Cambridge.

The same thing, different place issue

The good news is that high school language teachers around the world are using more collaborative methods. Even the most conservative schools have introduced games, role plays and technology into the classroom. Time spent in a language school abroad used to mean a more communicative way of learning than students knew from their frontally taught classes at home. These days, there is much more similarity between the pedagogic approach in high schools and in language schools. Teacher training for both is making use of the same methods and the national curricula in most parts of the world are now reflecting the need to all four skills, reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Students also have access to apps and websites which make learning a language more attractive to them. They are can benefit from sophisticated online programmes in their free time and find English speaking Youtube vloggers talking about subjects which interest them. Young people coming to a school in England used to say it was their first time in the UK. These days, they tend to reel off a list of the places they visited with their parents or on a class trip. All this is great, but it presents the language travel industry with a new challenge and requires us to think differently.

Students are now less excited by a change in pace offered by a language course, whilst still facing the same difficulties. Teenagers in particular struggle speaking in front of their peer group. No surprisingly, speaking another language can be an exposing experience at a time when teenagers are already trying to find their place in the world. The fear of doing something wrong and being laughed at is a major obstacle at this age. Teachers often embrace pair and group work because it comes closer to authentic communication, but many students have come to dread it. It can feel fake, frustrating and frankly embarrassing. Adults often feel it would be fun to send students out on the street asking strangers questions in a treasure hunt arount the town, but it requires students to fight with inhibitions which are not even language related.

We have effectively transported the home classroom to the classroom abroad. The teachers are not more qualified or talented and they are adapting to a new classroom dynamic every week whereas their counterparts in the home country know their student.

The better the teaching at home gets and the more people travel for tourism, the harder it is to make language travel special. We have a responsibility to create memorable learning settings rather than compromise situations because they can be life changing for young people.

How would this all work for Nico?

What would help Nico more?

If you want to find out more, get in touch

We’d be happy to discuss any questions you may have or if you need any further information.