English Language Summer School
Most students would prefer not to have speakers of the same language in their class or group and this is perfectly understandable. This is even more key for many teen groups (although a lot do travel en-masse) and parents often rank this at the top of their list of priorities when seeking a course for their offspring. Although we try very hard to avoid having students of the same mother tongue in the same class – sometimes it just cannot be avoided. We therefore have to create a ‘culture’ around the course which will enable students to use English exclusively or at the very least keep their mother-tongue utterances to a minimum.
As our courses are for very small groups (4/5 maximum) the students are mostly with native English speakers for the best part of the day and so there is a need to speak English constantly in order that everyone is included. We find generally that as English is dominant then most of the time everyone uses it and this cuts down dramatically on the use of mother-tongue. This is also the case with bigger groups we once had a group of 8 people from the Netherlands and although they did use Dutch at times generally English predominated during the day.
The second important point is the willingness of the students to use English and improve their language skills. Again here most students are highly motivated to better their English and understand the opportunity available to do this if they jump in and leave their native language for conversations with home in the evenings. One French teenager was so determined to speak English completely that she even refused to speak to her family for fear of ‘contaminating’ her learning! English is all around, on the radio, on the TV, everywhere in the house and of course during the lessons and activity time. There is, frankly, very little time when it is possible to use another language.
The emergence of social media and smartphones has made it even harder to keep students away from their native language and although we used to switch off the modem at night, the emergence of 4G means that even this can be by-passed. It’s a new challenge but one that we need to embrace as social media and smartphones are not going to go away any time soon!
I can boast, hand on heart, that for 99.9% of our students – even when they have a sibling or friend here on the course with them – their English fluency increases 10 fold. It is a fact of the way we operate and the level of immersion we provide. Engagement, providing an atmosphere where they feel their confidence growing and making sure that they are involved in their English in an interesting and ‘fun’ way, means that they always want to use their English and relish the chance to use it every day.
When I began teaching English eons ago it was the norm to include things like British culture and English literature at certain levels. Indeed both the Cambridge FCE and CPE exams included set texts in the writing paper which students could opt for and many did. In the university and colleges I taught at we had an introduction to English literature for ESOL students which they could take once they reached FCE level. Today it seems that these aspects of English language courses feature less yet many parents of Teenage students who send them on our Teenage Immersion courses want their children to have some exposure to literature and while in the UK it is an interesting thing to do.
Bearing in mind that one of the important tenets of our courses is that we want then to be different from ‘school’, it poses an important question – how to expose our students to literature in a fun and interesting way.
Having had four of our own children, we have a good range of books for younger readers available in the house and so for the younger students we usually get them to choose something they like and ask them to read just one chapter each night. The first exercise in the lesson is for them to tell us what is happening in the story. We have found them all to be very enthusiastic about doing this and everybody gets involved in the unfolding tale and ask questions. If they don’t like the book they choose then they are free to find another but generally with a little advice up-front about the content, they choose something that will engage them as well as be accessible to them. One of the best recently was Charlotte’s Web which the group really got into and couldn’t wait each morning for more news about how the story was progressing!
A few years ago I discovered graphic novels and have a small selection which have proved invaluable for getting older teens (14/15) to read. The favourites are Frankenstein and Great Expectations. We usually end the lessons each day with a chapter. I have recordings of the stories which are well-done and bring them to life so we listen, read and discuss a little. We will also watch the movie of these books and one of the delights for me is how the students discuss what is missing from the film and how it compares with the book. Overall the feelings have been that the books were better and the films miss out some of the more interesting elements. These discussions are of course brilliant from a language point of view but also help the students to develop critical thinking and literary analysis.
As a spin-off from these activities there are several fun things to do around the reading sessions such as designing film posters, writing blurbs or reviews for either the books or the films. Actually acting out and recording scenes from the books is also an interesting activity which would extend the theme and get students to engage even more with the stories.
And the stories themselves – there are hundreds of great stories to introduce so if the students are not captivated – I choose another. They are here to improve their English and whatever we read will get that result so it makes sense that they enjoy what they do and can benefit from it.
It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog and this got me thinking about dogs in general and about how here in the UK we do as a nation have a particular fondness for dogs – so much so that we include them in a lot of our colloquial language, especially idioms.
The dog in the Chinese Zodiac symbolises loyalty and good fortune and famous ‘dogs’ are Donald Trump and also Winston Churchill!
Loyalty and companionship are probably the characteristics most prized in a dog and one of the main reasons that we are fond of this animal.
Here at Fleetham Lodge we have two dogs – a sheepdog called Maguire and a Jack Russell terrier called Arty.
Maguire is almost 10 years old and Arty nearly 6. They are generally friendly dogs but we are well aware that not all people like dogs and so we are very careful to keep them contained and away from the main part of the house. Some of our students, however, have been very excited about having dogs in the house and asked to play with them. In fact two young students were so engaged in playing with the dogs in our paddock that the poor dogs came back thoroughly exhausted – the students were none the worse for wear!
Although we supervise such activities with young students, there have also been several adult students who wanted to take the dogs off for walks locally and of course we are always happy to have them do this either alone or together with us. There are several local walks around the adjoining lanes where it is very easy to take the dogs on their leads. There are some rules – the dogs should be kept on their leads in public places and should not be allowed to run into farmer’s field (especially where there are animals) but these are mostly common sense and if followed then a walk with a dog is a great way to see the local countryside.
In addition to the dogs we also have two cats (who get on ok with the dogs) called Winston (Winnie) and Churchill (Churchie) – they are also very friendly and we have had students in the past who were more ‘cat people’ than ‘dog people’ and enjoyed giving them attention. Finally our three hens (who don’t have names) not only produce eggs for us but are a delight to see wandering around the garden. Lots of our guests have enjoyed collecting, cooking and eating the eggs and we have proof they are good – we have for the past 4 or 5 years won first prize in the egg section of the village Feast!!
If you are not an animal lover – no problem – our animals do not have free range of the house so you needn’t even meet them if you don’t want to.
We have had some interesting animal encounters on our visits out into the countryside. Once we met a herd of cows walking down the road – which was quite a sight and on another occasion we had to cross a field of horses which we were a little wary of but one of the students was very familiar with horses and she went ahead and made friends with them so we could pass through unnoticed!
We’ve come across deer, owls, hares and many other countryside inhabitants on our journeys to and from different venues.There is always a lot of wildlife to see.
Farm visits are a good way to get up close and personal with animals in a controlled environment and
we have ‘Big Sheep, Little Cow’ right on our doorstep. It’s always a treat to feed the baby lambs. For those adults interested in farming we can easily arrange a visit to our farmer friend who runs a completely organic farm and has given a tour to several of our students followed by tea and cake in their lovely farmhouse.
Being in the countryside means that there are always animals to see both far and near.
But back to our year of the dog.
Here are some dog idioms to delight and amuse.
- Hair of the Dog – cure a hangover by drinking another alcoholic beverage
- Bark up the wrong tree – mistaken
- Dog eat Dog – cut-throat situation
- It’s the tail wagging the dog – who is in charge, the boss or the tea-boy?
- Don’t buy a dog and bark yourself – listen to the expert you have hired
- Dog days – the end of summer
I have 4 daughters and know what it feels like that first time your children go away from home on a school visit, to stay with friends or a course overseas. My eldest travelled alone to New York aged 16 and my youngest went to Australia with a fellow student aged 15. In both cases, although everything was arranged well, I was waiting for that message to say they had arrived before I could relax completely. Naturally they themselves were full of excitement and adventure and had no qualms at all about the visits.
Having your child go away for the first time (or at any time) can be a big decision and I think it is important that parents are reassured by everyone involved in making the arrangements.
Here at Fleetham Lodge our groups are very small just 4 or 5 children so we are privileged to be able to have personal contact with the parents of most students who come here – indeed some of our parents have actually delivered their children personally. This contact allows us and the parents to find out everything we can to make sure that the students when they arrive, will not only hit the ground running in terms of language but also give us more information about their interests and that all important area – food!
So, to illustrate for any parents thinking about a possible course at Fleetham Lodge and also to show how we manage parents expectations as well as those of our young charges, here is a blow-by-blow of the contact points between the parents of prospective students and ourselves from finding us, to booking, to arrival, departure, post course and all points in-between!
Points of Contact
Usually requests will come via email and email is the first action. However we always offer a phone or Skype call to discuss further. With some of our overseas partners and agents we may also set up a Skype call so we can discuss things with the parents (and sometimes the students themselves) with our partner to translate if necessary and we can give a quick tour of the facilities via iPad. This helps people see what is on offer and speak to us and we have a chance to find out more and explain how things work. At this stage everything is exploratory.
Once things are settled then there is a lot to find out – approximate language level, dietary requirements, hobbies and interests, travel arrangements etc. This all requires more emails or phone calls and the excitement starts to build 🙂
After our students have arrived at Fleetham Lodge, and we always collect all our students personally, we get them to telephone (or nowadays perhaps text or whatsapp!) their parents to let them know that they have arrived safely. I know how it feels to be waiting for this information – it’s important although the students themselves don’t always appreciate this!
During the Course
As we go along through the course we try to touch base with parents two or three times just to give them an update on what is going on and how their children are doing. It is simply a courtesy to reassure them and also give them an insight into what we are doing and where we are going. I have found that parents really appreciate these short emails.
Arrangements may need to be confirmed and it is also important to let parents know that everything was fine with the boarding and that the children are now safely on their way home.
It is our custom to send a short report to the parents after the students have left. This is a summary of what we did in the lessons and how they progressed. We usually include some suggestions for where they can continue to practise and improve with some online links or book suggestions. In the past parents have passed these on to their teachers at school, used them to support school applications or just read them for their own interest. We are serious about the progress of each student and want to share their success with parents and their teachers too.
Keeping in touch gives peace of mind to parents and I believe it also signals our determination to do the very best we can for the students we welcome here at Fleetham Lodge. Phone calls and emails are kept short and simply provide, in the first instance a connection, after all we will be responsible for these children for the time they are here and in the second instance a snapshot of what the children are doing here. From my perspective as a parent of children who have been away from home it is both welcome and heartening.
When thinking about visiting a country it’s quite natural to be drawn to the places that are most famous. The capital city or certain landmarks – for the UK this would, of course, be London and then perhaps Oxford and Cambridge or Stonehenge, Loch Ness etc. These are certainly worth visiting and London is also a city to come back to again and again to quote Samuel Johnson’s famous line:
‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’
However, London is not especially representative of the UK as a whole and there is much more to discover. The fact we are quite a small country also makes it very possible to explore further afield and find new places to experience. So I want to fly the flag for Yorkshire and point out some reasons why you may want to consider coming here for your English course.
Yorkshire is often called ‘God’s own country’ – people are fiercely proud of being from Yorkshire and have a word for those interlopers who move here from elsewhere in the UK – ‘offcumdens’. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t like visitors – the opposite is true – we are very warm and welcoming and eager to present the fantastic things this great county has to offer!!
10 Reasons to visit Yorkshire for your English language course
- Space – we are the biggest county in the UK by a long way. We have vast expanses of landscape for walking, cycling or just enjoying the outdoors. The roads are not crowded and getting around is quick and relatively easy. I can do a 70 mile round trip in 90 minutes! (This was my daughters’ school run). The Yorkshire Moors and Dales are amazing places to explore and when the Tour de France came here in 2014 even the cyclists were surprised at how fabulous it was!
- Friendly People – northerners are noted for being more friendly and open that their southern counterparts. I think there is some truth in this. People are inclined to chat more and there is a slower pace of life here. Students to Fleetham Lodge have reported that people were happy to chat with them and were generally helpful.
- Something for Everyone – large swathes of Yorkshire are rural – especially North Yorkshire with agriculture being the main industry, however there are cities – Leeds, York, Bradford, Sheffield all of which offer good city amenities – shopping, restaurants, museums and galleries as well as their own particular history. We also have a great coastline with plenty of beautiful golden beaches and lovely seaside towns to visit – Whitby with its Dracula connection, Scarborough a typical seaside resort dating from the Victorian times and Robin Hood’s Bay an old smugglers village as well as smaller fishing villages along the coastline.
- Pubs! – we have so many of them (more than other places), from the quaint traditional country inn to vibrant city venues, Yorkshire certainly tries its best to continue this very British tradition and it’s not all about drinking, most now provide good food and a lovely ambiance for a relaxing lunch or dinner. Tann Hill, England’s highest pub, is a favourite of ours – in all weather!
- History – we have our fair share of historic houses some of the most famous such as Castle Howard and Harewood House to name just 2. We also have a large number of ruined abbeys with all the history of the reformation that they exhibit. There are other gems with magnificent gardens to visit too. York is a city going back to the Roman times and has much to offer a history buff in terms of architecture, archaeology and is one of the most attractive cities in the country.
- Literature – You may not have heard of Bram Stoker but you will have heard of his masterpiece Dracula! Whitby is the setting for some of this story written while he was visiting the town. The Bronte sisters were also natives of Yorkshire and we have done many Bronte days out following in their footsteps.
- Yorkshire Pudding – this famous delicacy is what really makes a traditional Sunday roast dinner and we’ll provide one just for you (although I am not the best maker of these puddings!). We source all our food locally and have some wonderful food producers right on our doorstep. Our very own vegetable garden gives us organic vegetables and our very free range hens provide excellent eggs (we have been local egg champions in the Feast for the past few years).
- Market towns – being a largely agricultural area, North Yorkshire (yes the county is split into 4 sub-regions) has several Market Towns – these are largely Georgian and are so called because the farmers would come here to sell their produce. The markets still exist but sell more than just food nowadays and are a great place to visit.
- The oldest working Georgian Theatre in Britain – this gem of a theatre, small but perfectly formed, often features as one of our afternoon visits. If there is a performance then we’ll include this too.
- Fleetham Lodge – this is where your course will be and it is in the heart of the Vale of York
between the Moors and Dales and so ideal for all the things mentioned above! Of course in-between visiting these places you’ll be immersed in English and getting expert lessons to help you improve all your English skills so you can take full advantage of these trips.
These are just some of the reasons why Yorkshire is special. There is much to see, do and experience and I hope that this little snapshot will entice you to visit here and book an English Immersion Course at Fleetham Lodge very soon!