When children learn their native language, they do not see it as a subject nor a chore, it is communication. It is the means to interact with their peers and parents and their mechanism to let the world know: who they are, how they feel and what they want. It is an integral part of their identity. However when most British children learn a second language, their relationship with that new language is often similar to that which most children have to mathematics. It is a subject to study and often a chore to learn. The new language is frequently only experienced as a collection of phrases to memorise and rarely are children able to see the new language as what in the long run it should be which is the way of interacting with people from a different country.
This is where language trips abroad come in to bridge the gap between viewing the new language as a subject and experiencing it as real communication. It is essential to make this connection at a young age in order that children link the hard work done learning the language in class to real practical usage with native speakers. This is exactly the connection that excellent English speaking countries make to English. At a young age Dutch children experience English not merely as a subject enforced upon them at school, but as a language: to watch television in, to listen to music in and they frequenly witness Dutch adults using it to communicate with non Dutch speaking people. In short Dutch children experience English as another language to use, rather than just a subject to be learned. If the British are to catch up with the rest of the world, this is exactly how we need to view second language acquisition and naturally language trips abroad have a huge role to play in providing this real contact to the second language at a young age.
At a moment Britain argueable looks inwards, due to Brexit, it is more essential than ever that our primary and preparatory schools be at the forefront of getting our future movers and shakers looking outwards from a young age. A language trip abroad not only provides that vital link to using a new language as real communication but it also exposes young students to new experiences and alternative ways of doing and seeing things, providing that all important cultural awareness. Add to this the unique bond that can form between teachers and students as they experience together a trip abroad and primary schools have so many positive reasons to run, what will may ikely be, the first trip abroad for many students. Organizing a school trip abroad also looks great in school prospectuses, as it proves to parents the importance the school places on language learning and building greater cultural awareness.
Of course saying all of this, the challenges of taking primary school children abroad should never be underestimated. A school trip abroad can throw up many headaches: the challenge of moving children through an airport, worry about whether safety standards are the same as at home and concerns about whether the accommodation is suitable for children to name but a few. However all of these can be planned out to be prevented from causing issues. First and foremost it is vital to look for a quality local supplier who can do the bulk of the organization and take care of risk analysis and assessment. Not to mention providing vital on the spot local knowledge and support which is also why you should look for companies that provide local chaperones to accompany your students throughout the trip. Choosing a supplier who can provide residential accommodation on exclusivity basis is also a must for primary schools as this provides a safe and controlled environment for young students. Next it is vital to do an inspection visit of the residence and area and experience the activities and excursions first hand. Not only does this allow you to check safety standards but also meeting the local supplier in person builds up vital trust and allows for tweaking of your school’s bespoke programme. Via doing all these things a school trip abroad need not be a strain to organize and certainly the gains linguistically and culturally more than provide payback for any time put in.
Douglas Haines and Inge Hol are a British/Dutch couple who run Spark Spanish a school trip provider based in Spain which offers bespoke residential primary school tours for both independent and state schools.