Would you consider opening up your home to language students who want to learn English? With our background firmly rooted in the UK education system, it was an ideal opportunity for us when we moved to France. Here’s what you need to know.
How did we hear about English Immersion stays?
Initially, it was through word of mouth. A friend of ours was chatting about how she had discovered a great opportunity here in France to host French children whose families see the acquisition and mastery of the English language as a real priority.
What exactly is an English Immersion stay?
Working with an English Language Immersion Stay company, a young person, or young people (as it is possible to host more than one child at once) are either brought to your home by their parents or collection from the train or bus station is arranged.
Stays usually range from a week to two or even three weeks. The aim is for the child to be treated as part of your family for the duration of their stay. The child is to spend as much time as possible with you and your family members in order to improve their confidence, skill and fluency in speaking English in a fun way, which is different to a school environment.
There are companies that simply offer “immersion stays” where essentially the young people live as you do, and you might plan a programme of activities together for the duration of their stay.
However, select companies offer an English “teaching” element to the immersive experience, and that was definitely an attraction for us. Teaching qualifications are, of course, necessary and being an experienced English teacher and having my husband’s extensive educational and pastoral skills too – we felt comfortable that our family would make great hosts. After discussing the idea with our children, we decided to go ahead.
Why do we enjoy hosting?
Our family loves meeting new people, and we love helping others. Young people are our future, and we both love teaching. Our children are happy to have new friends to play and interact with – it’s a great cultural exchange.
There are so many advantages to hosting English Immersion stays, and not least the satisfaction of seeing a young person make HUGE progress in as little as one week with their language skills.
We actively seek out ‘student-friendly’ activities which help us to know the local area and to experience new places.
We benefit from a varied programme of daily activities. If we didn’t host students, I feel the holidays with our own children may just slide by. Hosting keeps our days organised – each day has a new activity to keep us all busy. From canoeing to pottery, Aquajump to baking, day trips to the beach or local attractions – all in English.
Our children make new friends and have playmates for the holidays and even for life. Some students return year after year and really become a part of the family.
Welcoming others into our home has encouraged our children to be even more thoughtful and to also have an increased awareness of the needs of others. Our daughter is a born teacher! Both children are experts with our ‘house rules’, and they are confident communicators.
It’s also a great opportunity to be proud of and to share our British culture. Being from the North East, we love to share pictures of the beautiful North East coastline and to share our culture through cooking. We make a traditional Middlesbrough Parmo, a Sunday lunch with Yorkshire puddings, take our students to local British-run cafes for ‘Afternoon Tea’, and we share the way we celebrate with family barbecues, Easter, Halloween, Christmas, even birthdays – it’s a great way to learn about differences and similarities across our cultures. And it is very much a two-way experience.
What is our typical day?
We have worked very happily with Daily English for years now, and Sally, the Director, is very experienced and always on hand if needed. She says: “We are just so proud of all our families, and the amazing feedback from parents, which is always outstanding!”
I am usually the first one up in our house as I like to prepare for the day ahead while the house is quiet. I set the table for breakfast – no, not a “full English” breakfast every day! There is always a fruit basket, and we agree the night before what the students might like, be it croissants, pancakes, yoghurt, toast, eggs from our hens, or cereals.
I also make sure all our resources are in place for our lesson. Children learn best when they’re having fun, so video clips, games, cards and fun activities are all at the ready.
Lessons begin around 9.30am and last for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the age of the students. We follow the French curriculum in terms of English teaching, and the lesson is tailored to the needs and the age of every child. If the weather is nice, we sit outside under our shady pergola – an ideal space for active learning – it’s never “chalk and talk!”
Lunch is usually a ‘help yourself’ affair with sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads, etc., laid out, and our students help with preparation. This is intentional as it really helps to learn everyday household vocabulary. The children are building linguistic confidence all the time.
The afternoons are packed with activities chosen and agreed upon by our students in conjunction with our own children. Each day and each week is different as each child has different interests. Some love a nearby high ropes course at Fontdouce; others love Aquajump’s inflatable assault course on the lake at St. Yriex or golf in the vines at the Cep Enchante. We like to share our local Charentais culture and historic attractions too, such as Les Bouchauds – a local Gallo-Roman amphitheatre in Rouillac and Cassinomagus near Limoges or a visit to a local Chateau at Neuvicq as well as our strong links to local agriculture and the Cognac making industry. Visits explaining the Cognac-making process with a tasting of non-alcoholic grape juice are entirely possible at our local, very prestigious Cognac Gautier in our town of Aigre or La Chevalerie Cognac near Rouillac.
Not all activities involve leaving our house either: we love baking and cooking, painting, making clay sculptures, playing rounders, doing some gardening and relaxing in our swimming pool.
Who can you contact?
If you are considering becoming a host family, do your research carefully. We all know what a huge responsibility it is to look after children, and every parent needs reassurance that their child is in completely safe hands.
A simple internet search for “Sejours linguistiques en anglais” will bring up a whole host of companies.
Do make sure, whichever company you choose, that it is fully registered and properly accredited. Look for DDCS and UNOSEL accreditation. Also, be aware that you should be expected to undergo a Police background check, specific changes to your home insurance policy are advisable, and you will need to meet each company’s vetting requirements, which should also entail a home visit.
Lead photo credit : Carol and her family
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