LEARNING ENGLISH ABROAD
By Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com).
The two most important factors to consider before deciding to study English abroad are:
· Time available
· Cost restrictions
Firstly, what are the advantages of studying English abroad? The main advantage is that for the duration of your course you will be exposed to English all day, every day. In Brazil, your exposure to English is determined by the number of hours of classes you have and the amount you read, write and listen to English in your free time, which may be, for a motivated student, about 6 hours a week. Studying English abroad, if staying with a host family, you will be exposed to English, on average, 14 hours a day. It is because of this that your level of English before going abroad to study is so important. Unless you are at intermediate level or above, studying abroad can be stressful and demotivating. You will understand what is happening in the classes (normally three hours per day), but for the rest of the time you will not understand what people are saying, nor be able to express yourself effectively. This is not to say that elementary and pre-intermediate students shouldn't study abroad, but that they will only really benefit if they have the time and money available to spend at least 4 weeks completing an intensive (one to one) general English course. If you spend less time than this, you might as well study English in Brazil. It is impossible to learn to communicate well in English in a month no matter where you are, but at least it's possible to cover the basics. Students at intermediate level should be aware that although they will have lots of opportunity to practice speaking, a lot of what they say and hear abroad, outside the classroom (talking to other students) will be incorrect English, so it is quite possible for a student to return from doing a course abroad with a worse level of spoken English than they left Brazil with! Studying abroad is particularly good for students who have a good grammatical knowledge, but have had little opportunity to practice. Therefore, students who have completed intermediate level, or are studying upper-intermediate should benefit most.
If you are upper-intermediate or above, and only have a limited amount of time available, I recommend that you consider doing an ESP course (English for Specific Purposes), this means a special course for business, administration, law, medicine etc. If your time abroad is limited, you will not be able to extend your knowledge of general English very much, so do a specialised course and you will learn lots of relevant language and still get lots of opportunity to practice speaking and listening outside the classroom.
If the amount you can spend doing a course abroad is restricted, many people consider studying English in the USA. Although the flight may be cheaper and the USA more familiar, I do not recommend studying in the US. I know several students who have done courses there, and they have all been disappointed. In some cases there was an imbalance in classes, with a high proportion of Japanese students who didn't communicate very well, and in others, the standard of teaching was not very good. Generally speaking, the quality of teaching and materials used in Britain are of higher quality than in the USA (but being English, perhaps I'm biased!). If you choose a school in the UK, make sure that it is a member of ARELS/FELCO and has been recommended by the British Council, who inspect the quality of teaching and resources.
Once you have made the decision to study English abroad, when choosing a school you should consider the following points:
Location, Accommodation, Family, Facilities, Cost, Age Range & Duration. (See page 2)
Here are some useful internet addresses for people who want more information:
- British Council site on English in the UUK.
- Lists US & UK schools.
- Viv trained to be a teacher here.
These schools have a good reputation for English language teaching.
- Viv taught here.
- English courses in the USA and Canada.
After deciding whether to study in the UK or USA, you must decide exactly where you want to go. I don't know very much about the USA, but avoid doing a course anywhere where there is a high proportion of non-English speakers - especially Miami and California. As I have mentioned, the main benefit of studying English abroad is the opportunity you have to communicate in English outside the classroom. Choose an area with a very low immigrant population. Is it better to study in a big city, or a town? This depends on the type of person you are and the amount of money you have available. Life in London and New York is exciting with an infinite variety of cultural and entertainment programmes. However, the cost of living in London is about a third more expensive than a medium sized town within half an hour's train journey. If you want to relax and dedicate yourself to learning English, choose a smaller city like Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Tunbridge Wells or a town on the South Coast like Hastings, Brighton or Bournmouth. If you want excitement and fun (at a price), go to a school in the largest cities.
The cheapest and most efficient form of accommodation is with a host family. This way you can experiment British customs, cuisine and family life, something which is normally not experienced by foreign tourists. You will also have the opportunity to hear natural English without the mistakes which the other students make. Another alternative is university accommodation, where you will be surrounded by other foreign students with lots of opportunity to talk, but perhaps best not to listen too much! If you value your privacy, hotel accommodation is expensive and you must make an effort not to get isolated in your room. DO NOT STAY WITH BRAZILIAN FRIENDS OR FAMILY! It would be better to study English in Brazil.
Leave them at home in Brazil. Either you go abroad on holiday with your partner (and children), or you go to learn English. If your aim is to learn English, Brazilians will only stop you communicating in English.
Check that the school you choose is fully equipped for language learning. TV/Video in all classrooms, language laboratory, self-access materials, library, Computer Assisted Learning equipment, social, sports and accommodation organisers, as well as somebody who can speak Portuguese in an emergency, if necessary.
Check that the course fees include everything, and that there won't be any nasty surprises. Also confirm that fees will be refunded in the event of you having to return to Brazil in an emergency. Of course, the cheapest course is not necessarily the best. Generally, with English language courses in the UK, you get what you pay for.
In the summer months (June-September) English language schools are full of teenagers, mostly from other European countries. If you are a teenager, this is the best time to study in Britain. If your not, it's not! If you can, check the compatibility of other class members with the school before you start.
The longer that you can study English abroad the better. If your time is limited and/or you speak English very well, do an ESP course. If you can't speak English very well, then less than one month abroad is a waste of time and money (in my opinion!).
Viv has brochures from the schools overleaf, which can be borrowed, and he will be happy to give help and advice on other schools if required.
Good luck, and I hope that you enjoy and benefit from studying English abroad.
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