Progress in English through Homestay
Christine Robbins, BA Hons, DipM, CTEFLA
It seems that everywhere you look these days for information about English courses, be it directories, English clubs or EFL websites, the word "homestay" is always to be found, often as a category by itself, away from the list of schools. But what exactly are homestay courses? How are they different from studying at an English school? And what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Staying and learning with your teacher
In many ways, the concept of homestay is simple. The student lives or "stays" in the teacher's home, with the teacher's family, taking meals together and joining in family activities. The student also has formal, one-to-one English lessons with the teacher, usually for 2-5 hours per day as required. So the course is intensive, and generally students stay for between one and three weeks, to fit around their busy personal lives. Because the start and finish dates are completely flexible, this type of course is often taken by businesspeople, who can thus fit the courses around business commitments. Having said this, "students" taking homestay courses range from those interested only in improving their English as quickly as possible (usually for their work), to "holidaymakers plus English", people whose interest covers visiting a particular region combined with the opportunity to practise and improve their English.
How are homestay lessons different from lessons at a school?
The main difference is that homestay lessons are on a oneto-one basis, so the focus is on exactly what the student needs to learn, and the actual vocabulary that he or she needs. In a classroom, where several students are studying together, the teacher has to plan and control the lessons within a framework, and the students "fit into" that framework. On a one-to-one course, these roles should be reversed: a good one-to-one teacher will plan and fit lessons around the student, and the lessons are "studentdriven". For example, a student may make a short spoken presentation about his company on the first day, and the lesson that follows may be about reformulating that presentation into correct English. Sometimes the "lesson" may be working together to prepare a written presentation for a forthcoming conference. Many students who go on homestay courses have quite specific requirements and the aim is to work together in partnership to help the student achieve realistic goals.
What are the advantages of homestay courses?
The main advantage of homestay is the individual, personal attention that students receive from their teacher, who has time to focus on exactly the areas that students need to improve. The courses generally take place in an informal and comfortable setting (usually the teacher's living-room!) and are relaxed, with regular breaks, often for a stroll in the garden! The teacher and student have time to get to know each other quite well, and often end up discussing an amazing range of topics.
What are the disadvantages of homestay courses?
Students have to speak English all the time, as there are no other students to talk to! This can be a major advantage, or a disadvantage, depending on your point of view! Any social life has to be provided by the host family's activities, and students who want to go on major sightseeing trips will often have to go alone, although families do often take students out to local attractions. For this reason, homestays are best suited to adults over 17, who have more independence and confidence when abroad. Living with a family is not for everyone - if you expect hotel service, then it's not for you! Students have a private room and often a private bathroom can be arranged, but students become part of the family, and a little help in the kitchen is always welcome, and often fun!
How can I find a homestay course?
You can find a homestay in two ways: 1) through a homestay agency or 2) direct with a homestay teacher. You can find agencies and teachers listed under the homestay section on sites such as EnglishCLUB.com, or through many search engines. There are advantages to both ways. A good homestay agency will find out your requirements and match you to a suitable teacher, who has already been checked out by the agency. Contacting a homestay teacher direct can save you quite a lot of money. But do make sure you ask the teacher plenty of questions:
- Is he or she qualified?
- How much experience does he have?
- What are the family's interests?
- What is the house like?
- Is it easy to travel to their home?
- Are there other facilities, such as libraries, shops etc near the house?
Ask the teacher for the name of a past student that you can contact for comments, as good teachers won't mind doing this at all. Finally, only book with them when you are happy that they will suit you. Hopefully, like many students who go on homestay courses yearly, you could find your homestay to be a very special experience that is both fun and educational.
- fit into: become part of a bigger plan or structure
- forthcoming: about to happen; future
- host: a person who receives other people as guests
- host family: the family that you stay with in Homestay
- reformulate: to change the form; make modifications
- role: a person's function or job in a certain situation
© 2001 Christine Robbins
Christine Robbins is married with two children and has been a homestay teacher in the United Kingdom for ten years. During this time she has hosted and taught students of all nationalities and occupations, from Japanese to Czech, from pensioners to policemen. Cristine loves languages and travelling, having travelled extensively in India, China and Australasia, and likes to keep in touch with many of her ex-students around the world by email. BSNS English