February 2012 issue

News Round Up
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Secondary Focus 1
Secondary Focus 2
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Language plus

For those language schools that offer them, sales of plus programmes are relatively modest, however, their impact on the language travel sector as a whole is significantly greater. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

Language plus programmes are a great source of media interest. Innovative courses, such as English plus safari or French plus spa can be successful in differentiating one school from another in a crowded marketplace. As Dorotheé Lamy of French language school, Accent Français, observes, “[They] give the school another dimension, and the buzz effect does give us extra exposure, and attracts extra students.”

Julia Brown, Marketing and Communications Manager at St Brelade’s College in the Channel Island of Jersey, UK, agrees that, “These courses do get the attention of the media and agents, as they set us apart from other schools...The majority of our students tend to still go for the tried-and-tested standard courses,” she adds, “but, if the language plus courses can bring more attention to our offerings as a whole, then it is always welcome.”

Brown’s experience appears to be shared by many other language schools. Indeed, the figures for uptake of language plus programmes speak for themselves. At Tandem Santiago in Chile, for example, Stefan Meffert reports that its language plus ski and language plus wine programmes together account for less than three per cent of the school’s turnover, and, he observes, “I have the idea that everybody offers them, all agents ask for them, but, in fact, they are not sold that much, in general.”

This view is confirmed by study travel advisor, Kassiana Pozzatti of Experimento Intercâmbio Cultural in Brazil, who believes that it is the cost of these programmes that prevents them from being more successful. “These kinds of programme attract a lot of interest,” she confirms, but once clients check the prices, they tend to prefer a standard language course, and then pay themselves for extras such as travel and theatre trips.

Creating positive publicity
Schools remain committed to these programmes, in large part, because of their terrific publicity value. For example, at Cavilam Service des Relations Internationales in France, courses in French plus golf and French plus spa have been available for the past five years, with French plus gastronomy added two years ago. Here, school spokesperson, Christine Barge, describes these courses as “more or less a loss leader.” She explains, “They attract mainly people who want to learn a language like a leisure [activity]. People who want to [place emphasis] on language improvement will not choose this type of course...” As such, language plus programmes represent a means of reaching out to a wider public than that drawn in by standard programmes.

Once a certain programme has done its job in attracting attention, it may subsequently be “converted”, with the “plus” element continued simply as an optional activity for general language programmes. Lamy illustrates the point: “We had an experience with the French and wine programme, which was very popular; a lot of people were interested and thought it was a great idea, but very few queries turned into proper bookings. We therefore decided to stop offering the programme as a “French plus” package, and to open the wine activities ‘a la carte’, all year round instead, [making them] available to all our students, to allow more participants to enjoy the wine tasting workshops.”

Language plus...innovation
For most providers, it seems, innovation is key to the effectiveness of the “language plus” concept. Hence – while observing that, “There will always be more demand for the more traditional language plus programmes,” – Becky Hayes of Expanish in Argentina goes on to comment: “However, for us, it’s important to offer something a bit different, to keep people interested, and show students we offer choice.” In January 2012 the school launched a new Spanish plus polo programme.

Others who also like to ring the changes include Clubclass Residential Language School in Malta. Here, Sales & Marketing Director, Alex Fenech, notes, “In the past, Clubclass has offered a number of language plus programmes, but we prefer to offer different programmes in different years, rather than make these types of courses an integral part of our programme. The challenge is to remain innovative,” he underlines, “and constantly come up with new ideas.” For Fenech, the importance of these programmes is growing, and, he observes, “Schools which can innovate and come up with good ideas will certainly be at an advantage.”

Again, at Accent Français, where the language plus offer is broad, including options such as French plus exam preparation and French plus internship, as well as French plus cooking, French plus wine, and French plus culture, “We try to constantly adapt to our public’s needs,” comments Lamy. “Our agents...know exactly what the students need, and we work hand-in-hand to develop programmes matching clients’ expectations.”

According to Robin Adams of language school group, GV English, which offers a variety of language plus programmes at its different centres, including English plus hockey in Canada and English plus surfing in Hawaii, “Many agents like to use these programmes as a means of sparking interest in their website.” These agents, he explains, are looking to present something unique to their clients.

One further advantage of language plus programmes is that they have the power to draw in clients of all ages, depending upon the choices offered. While the more physically challenging courses appeal primarily to those in their twenties and thirties, others such as language plus golf have been successful in attracting a more mature clientele, and safari programmes draw in people of all ages from 10-to-70, according to inlingua Cape Town, South Africa’s Director, Jane Diesel, with the majority ranging from between their mid-20s to their mid-50s.

Down to location
Programmes that have performed well over the past year span a variety of contrasting areas of activity. However, what stands out is the success of those programmes which tie in with a well-known aspect of local culture or an activity for which the area is renowned. For example, at Expanish in Argentina, Spanish and tango is “always popular”. As Hayes points out, “Tango is something that is linked inextricably with Buenos Aires,” and is, she says, a dance that really inspires and excites anyone who comes to the city, while also being a great way to practise Spanish outside the classroom.

Likewise, at GV English, the most popular English plus programme across all its schools is English plus surfing in Hawaii, while English plus hockey is its leading plus programme in Canada. “Given the hockey focus in Canada and a city like Toronto, it is possible for us to find a wide variety of [hockey] teams at different skill levels that are eager to have international players join their programmes,” he explains, adding that, at GV, “We are very keen on finding solutions to the individual needs of our agents.”

At inlingua Cape Town, in the meantime, English plus wine and English plus safari are popular choices that capitalise on the natural advantages that the locality has to offer. Meanwhile, Bay Language Institute – in Port Elizabeth, South Africa – has introduced a number of English plus programmes over the past couple of years, all of which focus on popular local activities – English plus golf, English plus diving, English plus safari and English plus surfing. Of these, comments Director, Shaun Fitzhenry, golf is the best seller.

Manchester Language School in the UK has been running its English Language Garden Tours programme every year since 1996, according to spokesman Bill Godfrey, and the key to its success, he believes, is the quality of the language teaching and the expert guidance offered in the gardens. With the programmes originally centred on Manchester, demand from returnees has led to the offer of additional programmes to other parts of the country, all combining English language conversation classes with garden visits.

Not all successful language plus programmes are focused on leisure activities. In Malta, a destination famous for its tourism, Clubclass Residential Language School ran an English and tourism programme last year. Consisting of an English language course, a tourism theory course and a work placement, this proved to be quite successful, according to Fenech.

Thinking outside of the box
In the USA, the American Language and Culture Institute at California State University, San Marcos, recently began running an English plus community service learning programme, in which English classes are combined with trips to local community service organisations, such as food pantries, veterans’ services, or a community garden, where students help with food sorting or distribution, gardening and harvesting. The programme also includes one or two activities “just for fun”, according to institute Director, Dawn Schmid. This course has proved very popular with students from a variety of source countries, she notes, and requests have also been received for its Youth Leadership programme, which includes community service as a component.

Having in the past tried out programmes such as English plus zumba (dancing) and English plus dance, the English Language School in Sydney (Elsis), Australia, has recently taken a new approach to the English plus concept. As Director of Studies, Cherie Soto, explains, these courses did create an initial buzz, but then seemed to “blow out”. Now, it offers a free work club for students, and has altered its lesson timetable to reserve Fridays for classes dedicated to enabling students to become “job-ready”. These classes cover themes such as hospitality, Australian workplace culture, resumé and cover letter writing, job search skills and public speaking. According to Soto, the job search programmes “are working extremely well”, and she reports that uptake is increasing, as word-of-mouth continues to spread.

In addition to programmes that fit comfortably into the language plus category, there appears also to be a growing number designed to bridge the divide between these and the more traditional general language programmes with optional activities.

In São Paulo, Brazil, for the past two years, Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) has been running a summer-time intensive Portuguese course, consisting of 100 hours of language tuition plus 45 hours teaching of one additional subject, taught in English – either Doing Business in Brazil or Brazilian Interdisciplinary Perspectives. As its Head of International Office, Lourdes Zilberberg, explains, the programme is available either as a language plus package or, alternatively, the “plus” elements can be opted for separately, after arrival.
Another variation on the theme comes from Expanish. Here, as well as continuing to offer its range of “plus” programmes, including Spanish and tango, and Spanish and football, from 2012 it is launching “a brand-new, low-cost option” for those who don’t want to commit to signing up to a full language plus programme. “We are offering cultural classes, a five-hour add-on option to our Intensive Spanish courses,” explains Hayes. “The cultural classes come in the form of short workshops in Spanish, focusing on cultural topics, such as Argentine cinema, history and photography.”

Personalised courses
Because of their niche appeal, some language schools run language plus courses only as tailor-made programmes. One such is inlingua Cape Town, where Diesel explains, “We have advertised options such as English and wine, English and golf and English and horse riding – and we run them on demand for one-to-one clients, rather than having them as fixtures on the group programme options.”
Likewise, at fellow Cape Town language school, Good Hope Studies, spokesperson Craig Leith, reports, “We are able to offer a range of courses, which we tailor-make according to the requests and needs of our clients. These include language plus golf, surfing, kite surfing, extreme sports and diving.” For Leith, it is their flexibility to create individual programmes which is one of the strongest selling points of his school’s language plus offerings.
He reflects, “Probably the most unusual request we’ve had was from a boys’ rugby team, who wanted to study English in the mornings and then in the afternoons/evenings train with club squads in Cape Town and play matches over weekends. Unfortunately,” he adds, “it was one of those that...didn’t materialise into a booking, but we would have arranged everything with a local club close to the school, where we had already made initial enquiries”.

What’s new?

The theme of innovation has continued for the 2012 season, with a number of new language plus programmes being announced.

Among the most creative must surely be an offering from Brandon College in San Francisco, USA. Here, Director Res Helfer announces the launch of an English plus open water swimming programme, in which students are given the goal of swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco at the end of their four-week programme. This is being run in partnership with world-renowned swimming coach, Pedro H. Ordenes. “Of course, this is a highly specialised programme,” Helfer acknowledges. “But I’ve seen a growing demand for English plus programmes. I believe that we will be offering more and more exclusive, maybe “eccentric” courses to meet the customer needs and requests.”

At Clubclass English Language School in Malta, the latest offering is English plus photography, which is being run in conjunction with Kevin Casha, claimed to be one of Malta’s best-known professional photographers. The school’s Alex Fenech reveals that this is a two-week programme, comprising English tuition in the mornings and a photography course in the afternoons. The photography element will include both photographic fundamentals and location workshops.

English plus volunteer programmes are becoming increasingly more widespread, particularly in South Africa, and 2011 saw SASTS, the travel division of the National Union of South African Students, enter this market. The organisation launched a programme that allows students to undertake an English course at a language school prior to undertaking a variety of different volunteering placements.

For 2012, International House Cape Town is adding to its existing English plus offering – which includes options such as surfing and safari – with an English plus volunteering programme. “We are finding more and more that people want to travel and yet at the same time make a real difference and a positive contribution when visiting a wonderful country like South Africa,” comments Director, Jonathan Thompson. Hence, the programme, which is being run in partnership with you2africa, will include conservation, community work, education, childcare and wildlife projects.

Defining language plus

While the language plus formula seems, on the face of it, to be a clear enough proposition, the reality is in fact not so, according to Jane Diesel at inlingua Cape Town in South Africa, and she believes that language plus programmes need to be better defined.

One important point that clients and study travel advisors alike should be aware of is the degree of involvement the language school has with the “plus” activity being offered. While some language schools simply purchase the services of an external provider and make the necessary arrangements on the students’ behalf, others take a more hands-on approach, creating a tangible link between the two elements.

At inlingua, “We define an English plus programme as one where a teacher will accompany the students on these activities,” says Diesel. So, for example, for its English plus wine course, students spend mornings in the classroom, looking at terminology associated with wine, so they can understand what happens at the tutored tasting sessions they will attend each afternoon, and are able to ask relevant questions and understand the answers. There is also a lot of reading and discussion around the topic, she notes, so that, “It’s not a case of general English in the morning, and going on a trip in the afternoon!”

Similarly, in the case of the school’s English plus safari course, a teacher accompanies the students and local guide. In addition, speaking, listening, reading and writing tasks are devised to suit the levels of the students on the trip. This, she says, is in contrast with similar-sounding courses at other schools, where “all that happens is that students do an English course at the school, followed by a safari with a tour operator – none of the language input we give...or the very small group [size].”

The English plus golf programme at St Brelade’s College in Jersey, UK, also illustrates Diesel’s point. Here, comments Julia Brown, “We offer various alternatives, depending on whether they would prefer more golf or [more] English. Students can choose between a standard or intensive English course and golf with [either] an English teacher or [with a] PGA [Professional Golfers’ Association] professional in the afternoon.”

Not all clients will require the “plus” element of the course to contribute actively to the learning process. However, in order to make sure that the course meets their requirements, it is recommended clients and advisors be aware of whether there is a teacher present during the “plus” activities, to help with the language and/or determine whether the appropriate vocabulary is being covered.

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