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US third age programmes
Specific programmes aimed at older learners offer a slower pace of learning and customised activities and excursions. We profile a range of such courses available in the USA.
The golden pound, silver surfers, the grey dollar there is a lot of terminology around now to refer to the spending power of the middle-aged market. Retirees with cash and spare time or adventurous 50-somethings with a desire to keep up with their kids; there are many potential older students out there who would consider learning a language overseas.
As a result, more and more programmes are cropping up specifically aimed at this market although many language schools point out that they also accept older learners as part of normal class scheduling.
In the USA, programmes for the third age sector are still very much a niche product, but some of the courses detailed below are new for 2008 and there does seem to be a small but growing number of dedicated programmes becoming available. At Sonoma State American Language Institute in Rohnert Park, CA, English for 50+ is new for the summer.
“This [course] is different from our regular intensive and academic course mostly for younger students,” explains Ikuko Masuki, Special Program Coordinator at the institute. “Our clients will prefer to be in same-age classes because of the stress-free, maturity-friendly learning environment.”
Masuki is confident that this age group has great potential within the language travel industry, given “today’s aging and globalising society”. This view is shared by Dawn Schmid, Director of the American Language and Culture Institute at California State University San Marcos in San Marcos, CA. “A large generation is now nearing retirement. This is an adventurous, active group of people who are open to new experiences, so the market for third age language learning is bound to grow,” she states.
Schmid says that they suggest 55 as a minimum age although special requests can be accommodated. “In addition to the excursions that appeal to people of almost any age,” she relates, “we can offer visits to a local wine country, tours of historical sites and other activities of interest specifically for third age clients.”
Teaming specific activities with language instruction seems to be a good way of ensuring the appeal of these programmes among the older age group. Marco Pinna of The Language Academy in Fort Lauderdale, FL, relates, “We design special packages for certain European agencies. For example, a combination of English and golf with an activities and excursions package.”
Chris Cullen at the California School of English and Foreign Languages in Temecula, CA, also testifies that activity-led learning is popular namely golf. “We think the market will grow when the word gets out, especially with retirees from Japan and Korea who are passionate on golf,” he says.
As well as Asians from affluent markets such as Korea, Japan and Taiwan, Europeans seem likely to enrol on third age courses, according to Pinna. He cites mostly German speaking clients, from Switzerland, Germany and Austria. “Also northern Europe and then Italian, French,” he explains.
Many of the schools listed are situated in the warmer parts of the USA, such as California or Florida, and Pinna explains that this is also an attraction for European oldies searching for a warm climate for their study holiday. “These programmes are basically cultural/educational tourism packages.”
As well as offering a holiday with a difference, third age programmes can achieve linguistic goals, and these are often enhanced through same-age class groups. Robert Bennion of Nomen Global Language Centers in Provo, UT, says that older students greatly appreciate having similar-aged class mates. “Many times clients are intimidated by younger students, who go at a faster pace,” he observes.
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