October 2009 issue

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England’s friendly North

Friendly, wild (in both senses of the word) and hugely varied, England’s north is worth discovering, says Jane Vernon Smith.

The North of England is an area of amazing contrasts,” claims Andrew Hjort of Melton College in York. It has, he says, the wildest countryside in England, and the best city life, from Northumbria to the Lake District and from York to Manchester. For Richard Day of English in Chester, the region’s diversity means that it is able to offer “something special for each type of student”.

His own city of Chester “is one of England’s ‘must see’ cities,” he declares, “[and] the varied architecture and atmosphere within the old walled city is unique.” Indeed, he adds, 8.25 million tourists come each year to see the famous rows (galleried walkways) on the streets that join at the High Cross, to visit the cathedral and to walk around the ancient walls. For English in Chester, its location in this historic city is a big selling point, says Day, as is the fact that it is the only accredited school in the city.

Chester also scores highly on its active social scene, range of entertainment and good youth culture. It hosts its own festivals throughout the year, and is also conveniently situated to make the most of opportunities on offer in nearby Liverpool and Manchester. “We have 100 tickets for the pre-season friendly [football match] between Manchester United and Valencia,” comments Day. “These events sell themselves.”

Blackpool is also a popular excursion, attracting teenagers with its theme parks. Meanwhile, lovers of the countryside are drawn to the Lake District, and the many stately homes and gardens in the region prove popular with the school’s older students.

The nearby city of Liverpool is another popular excursion destination – so much so that English in Chester offers six different themed tours there. It is, says Day, “a very welcoming city, where the people have a great sense of humour and a passion for sport and music”. It is for these attributes that Liverpool is best known, as Jim Pearson at Liverpool International Language Academy (Lila), acknowledges. With two premier league teams, “Liverpool is synonymous with football”. As the home of The Beatles, the musical tradition is strong, too, with many classical and popular music concerts, as well as pubs, bars and clubs to suit all tastes. “Having a good night out in Liverpool is easier than falling off a ladder,” remarks Pearson.

For him, “friendly” sums up the local people – including the school staff. “I would recommend Lila,” he says, “because it is professional, well run, friendly, and the staff have one priority – to ensure the needs of the students are catered for.” Just 15 minutes away from the school, at Crosby and Waterloo, there are miles of beautiful beaches and sand dunes. North Wales and Manchester are approximately one hour away, and the Lake District can be reached in two hours.

Manchester itself offers a good alternative metropolitan destination with its own share of language schools. Manchester Language School, which offers total immersion courses of between one and three weeks’ duration for adults, is based in the home of its proprietor. It is “small, beautiful and the level of care and quality of teaching are of the highest quality,” claims Bill Godfrey, while feedback from students frequently highlights the school’s hospitality, warmth and friendship.

Although known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester is no longer a city of smoking factories and heavy industry, says Godfrey. Today, its main industry is education and, with three universities, it is very much geared to the young, as well as offering cultural attractions that appeal to adults. According to Godfrey, “Manchester’s top attraction must be Manchester United and the Old Trafford stadium and museum tour.” However, as Lesley Green, Marketing Executive at Manchester Academy of English, highlights, it is not just sport that attracts visitors to the city. “The Museum of Science and Industry, the Imperial War Museum, as well as the Manchester Evening News Arena and the Bridgewater Hall [concert venue] are just some examples [that] demonstrate Manchester’s cultural heritage.”

Another northern city famous for its footballing heritage is Leeds. “Leeds may not be the most beautiful city in the UK, but it is vibrant and exciting,” says Leeds Language College’s Director of Studies, Veronica Omeni. “There is always something happening…for a wide variety of tastes – music, films, culture, art, history, theatres, or just great places to go shopping. The city is modern,” she says, “but not out of touch with the past and Yorkshire’s rich historical heritage.” Transport links are excellent, and it is easy to get around without a car. Furthermore, she points out, the city is cosmopolitan enough for foreign students not to feel out of place, but not so impersonal as some other large cities.

Students at the school learn about UK culture while studying English. At the same time, respect is shown for their own beliefs and traditions, says Omeni. Students leave the college with a better understanding and tolerance of other nationalities – “the certificate of completion assessing their linguistic skills is only part of what they gain,” she underlines.
Nearby York is a tourist city to rival Chester. Offering an attractive mix of history – with the famous York Minster – museums, shopping and nightlife, it also has the great advantage of easy access and compact size, comments Hjort. The medieval walls, which – Chester’s notwithstanding – he claims to be the best in the country, have concentrated the attractions into a small area, he points out, and you can walk everywhere.

Top of his personal list of attractions is the medieval Minster (cathedral), which, noted for its original stained glass, “will always be special for me”, he reflects. Melton College itself has built a reputation for friendliness and quality, adds Hjort, and, based in a residential area of the city, he feels it offers the best of all possible worlds: “easy access to the lively shopping streets, but a genuinely peaceful setting and lots of space”.

Moving northwards, Newcastle-upon-Tyne is not a traditional destination for language students, as Managing Director of the city’s International House school, Trevor Udberg, admits. Because of this, “there is always a feeling that we have got to excel in what we do to keep attracting students, [and] we work extremely hard to deliver a very high level of service.”

Besides this, the city makes a strong case for greater popularity. Its highlights, according to Udberg, are the lively student atmosphere (with a population comprising over 25 per cent students), “the wonderful old and new architecture” and the friendliness of the people. A further advantage is that the city is very compact. “Students love it,” he says, “as it’s not too big, and they can find their way around very quickly. An essential part of any visit to Newcastle,” he continues, “is a visit to the quayside or riverside at night. This is the heart of the city, and is quite spectacular with its host of bridges.”

The school – which is soon to relocate to “bigger and much better” premises nearby – is centrally located within the city. Newcastle has a reputation for its nightlife, and socialising in bars and nightclubs is one of the most popular student activities. The area is also very strong when it comes to sport, and IH arranges sports nights every week for its students. At the same time, the countryside is very accessible and the region is one of the least populated in England, comments Udberg.

For students seeking a seaside destination, The English School Northumbria offers personal attention in a small school in Whitley Bay, just 20 minutes from Newcastle. “The school is based in a Victorian house with lots of character, part of a pedestrian Victorian terrace that leads to the sea,” says Proprietor, Christine Goodwin. She recommends her students try surfing. “I love the North-East, and I am always very proud to show students the attractions of the region – of which there are many,” she says. “So much history has happened here. There really is something for everybody.”

Agent viewpoint

 “Normally, students would not choose this area themselves, but we sell it with passion and personal experience. The people and the scenery are different from central England. There is also the unique history of places such as York and the Lake District. Students will be impressed by the buildings, the space and the nature. Initially, they may not be used to the accent, but then they will find the people are very friendly.”
Rick Lam, EdSA, Hong Kong

 “Students choosing the North of England are often those who ask us for recommendations, and are looking for a destination that feels genuinely British. They wish to get in contact with local students and easily feel at home. Some of our most popular schools are in [this region].”
Helena Bovin, Språkpunkten, Sweden

“The main reason [our students go to this area] is the quality of English courses. Among other reasons are the living expenses and the ease of commuting between home and the school and the city centre – unlike big cities. [Our students also like] the weather and the green nature…and the friendly people, especially the host families.”
Sadaf Ghani, Gulf & British Co, UK inbound

 “Our students are becoming more and more interested in studying in the North of England. This area is less populated; it is one of the least spoilt parts. [They] are often impressed by the fantastic castles and other landmarks in the region. They also comment about the tranquillity of the area.”
Larry Morello, IdiomasFuera.net, Spain

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