February 2013 issue

News Round Up
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Secondary Focus 1
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Tertiary Focus 1
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Market Analysis

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Language plus activities

Language plus activity courses are proving ever popular with a niche student market that some say is growing bigger every year. Such programmes have a useful role to play in a school’s portfolio of course offerings, as Bethan Norris finds out.

Language plus activity courses play a key role within a language school’s suite of products, even though many course directors report a low uptake among students for such programmes. Fernando Ribas from AIP Language Institute in Spain says that the school offers Spanish courses alongside tuition in sailing, kitesurfing, Spanish cuisine and dancing and adds, “Generally, less than five per cent of our annual students require these activities due to the fact that they have extra costs due to transportation, class materials, insurance and the presence of professional trainers with years of experience.”

Encompassing activities as diverse as golf, singing, cooking and spa packages, language pus activity courses are usually not the mainstay of a school’s business with general language and exam courses usually achieving the majority of year round enrolments. However, the marketing value for a school offering courses that specifically highlight some of the local attractions is often a reason in itself for developing such courses. Cavilam in France offers French language courses in combination with gourmet cuisine, golf and balneotherapy [the treatment of disease by bathing in mineral springs] and Franck Chabasseur at the school says that only a few students out of 2,800 at the school undertake these courses each year. “For us these courses are a luxury product, which works as a loss leader,” he says. “They add some prestige to our other courses.”

Robin Adams at Global Village English Centres, which has schools in the USA and Canada, says that while sales for their language plus activity programmes – particularly English plus surfing in Hawaii – have been growing, they only make up five per cent of total sales. “These courses are particularly useful in generating dialogue between frontline counselling staff and potential students,” he says. “Conversations about English plus programmes can often lead to bookings for traditional programmes as well as English plus options. English plus programmes moreover are an ideal means of both extending the product mix and reinforcing bookings for core programmes.”

While demand for language plus activity programmes may be quite low, schools report that numbers are growing and new courses are being developed to meet increased interest. Julia Brown from St Brelade’s College in Jersey, says, “We offer an English plus golf programme which has been growing steadily in popularity over the past few years. It is quite a niche programme so the numbers are still quite low – between one and two per cent of adult students – however through marketing these programmes more attention is drawn to the school and the more standard courses as a consequence. Last year, we also introduced an additional activity programme for adults on standard courses, called ActiveXtra. This gives students a greater choice of activities and includes some more adventurous activities, such as surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing etc.”

Jeffreys Bay Language School in South Africa is currently developing its package of English plus activity courses with English plus volunteering. “We only started this during the year and have had a great response to it,” says Dallas Land at the school. “We decided on this as the volunteer package includes assisting with wildlife which is always a big deal for students.” The school also offers an English plus learn to surf course, although Land reports that changes are likely to be made to this programme in the future. “It is not as popular as we expected considering our location. We are looking at changing this to English plus surfing – for surfers rather than learner surfers. We could then plan English around the waves, so to speak!”

One trend that has appeared when it comes to schools updating and developing new language plus activity courses is the move towards students travelling while studying a language at the same time. David Sampere from Estudio Sampere in Spain says that a new course this year is the Cuba School. “We offer a travelling course including one week in Havana and one week travelling around the centre and the west of the island,” he explains. At AIP too, where kitesurfing is the most popular activity course on offer at the school, Ribas reveals that they plan to add more opportunities for students to travel. “We strongly believe that weekends have to be fully enjoyed. This is the reason why we have decided to plan some excursions and trips in other areas of Spain – for example in Barcelona or Madrid – but also in other countries such as Morocco.” He adds, “Valencia is the perfect place to practise kitesurfing due to its constant winds and the great conditions of the Mediterranean. After the Spanish course in the morning, students can have fun in the afternoon trying this unforgettable experience, doing acrobatics on the water.”

In some destinations, language plus activity courses are given greater prominence in a school’s course portfolio as certain locations have developed a reputation for offering a range of exciting and unusual activities. In New Zealand in particular, students often seek out language plus adventure sports programmes and schools in the country target a younger audience for such programmes. Southern Lakes College is based in Queenstown, New Zealand, which, according to Blaise Barham is a “perfect destination for English plus courses as we have so many different activities available here”. He adds, “We offer 17 different English plus activity courses at present. I don’t know if any other school offers as many.”

Barham reports that about 15 per cent of their students are enrolled on language and activity courses each year and this figure has been growing little by little each year. At New Zealand Language Centres, which has centres in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington, Justin Mastoyo reveals that their NZLC Young Learner English + Activities programme for 11-to-17 year olds is “extremely popular”. He adds, “The demand for the programme is increasing as we start to receive the younger siblings of past students who thoroughly enjoyed the experience.” Meanwhile Nick Arnott at Unique New Zealand relates that their language plus activity programme has developed recently to encompass family groups. “It’s become popular for parents to accompany their children and join Unique’s adult English classes,” he explains.

The nature of language plus activity courses means that schools can really get inventive in dreaming up new courses to fit the local activities on offer and Scuola Palazzo Malvisi in Italy has certainly delivered in this regard. Cesare Portolani at the school says that their course Language and Truffle was inspired by the local area. “Bagno di Romagna is famous not only for its spa but also for its cuisine and its local products: chestnuts, mushrooms, black and white truffles, cheeses and more.” He adds, “The course includes 18 Italian language lessons and two guided excursions in search of truffles. The search is limited to a maximum of four/five students at a time and the truffle found [is kept by] the students. The course also includes a cooking class and a visit to a winery with tasting of regional wines.”

Overall, language plus activity courses offer schools more than just financial gain. And for students the value is gaining a bit more of an insight into the local culture. As Ribas points out, “[Students] choose the language plus activities in our city [so] they can learn a new and different language in a cosmopolitan setting, enjoying the sea, the nature and the many other aspects of Valencia, surrounded by a great atmosphere, open to both new cultures and old customs.”

The student market

Due to the variety of courses available, language plus activity programmes attract a varied audience. Some courses appeal to very specific sectors of the market as Fernando Ribas from AIP Language Institute in Spain notes, “The nationality and age of the students usually depends on the kind of activities, for instance the Spanish plus cuisine course is generally chosen by 35-to-40 year old women.”

In New Zealand, Blaise Barham from Southern Lakes College says that a wide range of age groups and nationalities are attracted to their language plus activity courses. He adds, “Our English plus skiing/snowboarding courses attract students from teenagers to the over 50s.” Julia Brown from St Brelades College in Jersey notes that older students are often keen to try out new activities that might have previously been marketed at the younger student. “The ActiveXtra programme has been popular with all age groups and nationalities, which we found surprising. We had felt that it would appeal to a younger age group but all age groups have been keen to try out activities.”

Robin Adams from Global Village English in North America predicts that demand from Asian and European students for English plus courses will grow in the future. “It is my sense that rising English proficiency levels is driving demand for programmes where the emphasis is on the use of the English language, rather than on the structural principles of language acquisition,” he says. Meanwhile, Nick Arnott at Unique Education in New Zealand reports an increase in Russian students recently. “Many Russian students, especially those from Eastern Russia, are now choosing New Zealand rather than the UK,” he notes. “The peak season is July – weather wise the Auckland winter is comparable to the British summer so there are no worries there.”

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Sara's New York Homestay LLC  
Colonias de Inmersión al Idioma.  
English Australia  
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LAL Language Centres Holding Ltd  
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Malta Tourism Authority  
AHLI - American Home Life International  
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FLS International  
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IH Pacific (Vancouver, Whistler, San Diego)  
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Ross School (The)  
Saint John's University  
Sara's New York Homestay LLC  
UTP (University Track Preparation)  
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West Hills Community College  
Zoni Language Centers

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