Happy landings

12th October 2007 at 01:00

Why should exchange pupils spend their days bewildered in a foreign secondary school? Sixth formers in one Liverpool suburb benefit from a scheme that involves all ages in England and Spain.

Under an agreement between Sefton Council and the municipality of Vic, near Barcelona, pupils from a Spanish comprehensive come over and help out in Sefton primaries for two weeks at the end of June. Then Merseyside sixth formers fly back with them to Spain for two weeks' work experience in local cafes and bars.

"The parents are sometimes nervous," says Paul Jones, head of languages at St Wilfrid's Roman Catholic High School in Liverpool, which runs the scheme at the English end. "They think their children are going to a red light district. But these are bars where all ages go and the English students can sit down to lunch with the owner."

"They sell alcohol, but most of the clients ask for coffee and sundries," says Robert O'Connor, who went to Vic this summer after AS levels his first visit to mainland Spain. "They're mostly middle-aged, with the odd young person coming in. The older people are the best to talk to.

"Sometimes they start drinking at 10am," he adds. "It's strange for us they only have one, then go to work."

Robert surprised himself by trying unusual fare such as squid and even rabbit ("actually quite nice", he says). He enjoyed his stay so much and learnt such a lot of Spanish that he has decided to abandon plans to study engineering and means to take up Spanish instead.

Sending pupils from a Liverpool suburb, where you can hop on a bus any time, to a mainly rural area with scattered settlements, means pupils could easily feel isolated. So the group is accompanied by a teacher, who keeps in touch with them all and ensures they meet regularly. Only the most confident are assigned to remote areas.

Jade Gallan (pictured left, at the cafe where she worked) lived 25 minutes up a winding road in the mountains, in a village with 200 inhabitants. "It took some getting used to," she says. "There were lots more flies and spiders, and I didn't like it at first."

Food was also a problem until the mother in her exchange family took her shopping. Her family drove her to work in Vic every morning and usually picked her up in the afternoon.

"I learnt a lot of new words, but more than anything I learnt to be confident when speaking and not to worry about endings," she says. "And I learnt to pick out words when they spoke fast." Now she too wants to study Spanish with business.

What you need to know

For more details and ideas about foreign language exchanges, go to the web forum run by CILT, the National Centre for Languages: cilt.org.uk discussion.htm. Ashcombe School's site is www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk.

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