Learning a foreign language in a classroom is a strange concept, if you think about it. We expect babies and small children to assimilate language by some kind of miraculous process. We vaguely correct grammatical mistakes, or let them slide because they sound cute, or we’re in a hurry. Because small children are so good at learning a language, we are unprepared when it comes to helping our children learn a second language.
How, then can we encourage and support teenagers who are struggling or unenthusiastic about learning a foreign language at school? In the world that awaits them, monolingualism will be a real disadvantage. We have all the opportunities, in fact, on our doorstep, and The Language Gap is here to help.
In order to understand how The Language Gap can help switch you on to learning a language, here is Rose’s story:
By the time GCSEs were looming, Rose was feeling detached and uninspired by French lessons at school. She has travelled widely with her family, and understood that speaking another language was important. However, French didn’t seem relevant to her life and useful for anything other than acquiring another qualification. Rose’s mum spoke to me at The Language Gap, and asked me to help.
My first questions are always the same. It is the answers that help me tailor make the right experience for each person.
What is your current level and what level are you hoping to reach?
How long have you got to spend abroad?
What are your interests and hobbies?
With this information, and with a full list of Rose’s needs, I was able to build a week’s experience to change her perception of French language and culture.
So, for a friendly, outgoing person who loves sailing, and has a severe dairy allergy, what would I find?
The challenge of finding the right trip is part of what I love about organising a language gap. It’s like choosing a really good birthday present for someone. What will their expression be when they unwrap the parcel? Rose’s was certainly a big smile!
She flew from her local airport (less stressful for a new traveller) to spend 6 days in St Malo in Brittany, and was met at the airport by her hostess, Danny. She also has a dairy free diet, and had been carefully selected by the local accredited language school. The beautiful seaside town where Rose was to study French and spend time with local teenagers at a sailing school is small enough and welcoming for someone who has no experience of travelling alone.
Rose connected with Danny immediately: “She is like my French mother!” The Language Gap had provided Rose with an invaluable phrasebook designed for British students staying in host families, containing useful phrases such as ‘what are the ingredients?’ and ‘what is the WiFi code, please?’. This helped break the ice, and open conversations. She has kept in touch with Danny, and wants to take her family over to Brittany to visit her!
Rose found having a laugh with the French teenagers on the sailing course ‘magnifique’. There was no option to use English, but she found that communication was much easier than she had expected. The sailing instruction was in French, of course; the repetition of the same words, and the hands on approach meant that she learned a lot of technical sailing vocabulary along with the new skills. French, she says, became the language ‘at the top of my mind’. Rose’s mum laughed on her return that she was naturally answering questions with ‘oui’ or ‘non’.
The language school experience was important in many ways: the classes are mixed nationality, and French is used as the teaching language. This puts everyone on a level footing. Rose found it daunting at first, but soon realised the benefit of total immersion; her French is much improved!. Above all, the experience has changed her attitude towards French altogether. The association is now with a positive experience, friendship, fun, and a well loved hobby. She has grown in confidence not only linguistically, but it has given her a real desire to travel in other countries and learn other languages. This means that lessons at school now have a point.
By booking her experience through The Language Gap, Rose was able to have a really personalised experience. I negotiated preferential rates at the language and sailing schools, which completely offset my standard fee, and she was able to debrief and discuss her experiences with me on her return.
With each client, I offer a unique experience. I have contacts all over the world, and can tailor make any length of stay with courses, holiday jobs, homestays and cultural activities. The Language Gap works for professionals, families, teenagers, Gap years, University years abroad and those simply wanting to brush up their language skills.