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.