Pounds 30m boom for language schools

15th August 1997 at 01:00
They love the country, go hunting for the Loch Ness monster, make lasting friendships and will not eat beef. They work hard, go home and want to come back the following year. That, typically, is a snapshot of the tens of thousands of foreign teenagers, adults and even the elderly who come to Edinburgh each summer to learn English.

Summer language schools are a Pounds 30 million industry in the capital. More than 30,000 students come from around the world, each spending well in excess of Pounds 1,000 a head as they get to grips with absolute possessives, careless repetition and cast-iron idiom. The boom has been checked, however, by the strong pound, which may be an incentive to those of us like the Prime Minister heading for Tuscany but adds to the costs of language schools here.

Host families are an essential link in the summer schools system. Some language schools prefer, however, to put their pupils up in university residences, vacant for the summer, and provide round-the-clock pastoral care. All have a wide range of extracurricular activities in place - educational, sporting and cultural.

What does it cost? Julie Darling, principal of Hamilton School of English, which has been hanging its summer slate in the city for 15 years, estimates the bill for a week's tuition, accommodation and outings is about Pounds 250.

Between polishing up their reading, pronunciation and comprehension - 18 hours' tuition a week with nine to a class - her students go horse riding and take trips to the likes of Linlithgow Palace, East Lothian and Incholm island.

"On average, students spend three weeks with us and they come from every corner of the world. Europe, Turkey, Japan, even Russia which has provided 15 per cent of our total this year," Julie Darling says. "I think what we give them is not just English but a chance to meet people from all over the world. They become independent and confident."

The strong pound has especially hit numbers in the so-called "young learners" sector. Jacqueline Garry, director of Edinburgh School Of English, says that many parents seem to have been put off. Her organisation, which normally operates language schools in Aberdeen, Strathallan and Dundee as well as Edinburgh, is this year concentrating its business in the capital. Given the continental fashion of family holidays in August, young learners are more numerous in July.

The school is a round-the-year operation with up to one in four returning for further tuition. According to Jacqueline Garry, English language teaching in Edinburgh is growing. "There is an upsurge on the Celtic fringe simply because the southern market is now saturated," she says.

Lesley Pugsley, who has two young children, is taking students for the first time this summer. The girls range in age from 14 to 17. They have welcomed the opportunity to be big sister to her son and daughter and proved no problem. Coming from Japan, Austria, Spain, Russia and Italy, they have, she says, been good company.

But when it comes to feeding them, oatcakes have not proved popular. "No wonder, they ate them dry," she says. And beef, post-BSE, is strictly off the menu, "at the request of the language school".

Mrs Pugsley says: "The younger ones get more homesick, but that soon passes. I went to foreign families when I was at school so I know how they feel. But the thing is that they quickly find we are all quite human." Curfews are set - 9.30pm for 14-year-olds - and outings are organised.

"We have been up to Drumnadrochit to look for the Loch Ness monster and, at home, I have been dressed up in a kimono by a girl from Japan. I have enjoyed their company, and I want them all to come back."

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