School Tour Operator Believes Overseas Visits Are The Answer To Encouraging More Students To Study Modern Foreign Languages

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Analysis of UK Application Statistics Released This Month By The Press Association Shows A Steep Decline in Students Choosing To Study Modern Foreign Languages. Halsbury Travel, A Leading School Tour Operator, Believes The Answer Lies In Providing Students With Exciting Visits Abroad.

Work Experience Abroad

Work Experience Abroad

With regards to languages, it's very difficult for students to progress if they aren't able to travel and experience the language first-hand.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Press Association analysis of UK application statistics (released by the Press Association on 8th May 2015) has shown a steep decline in the number of students applying to study languages since 2010. Whilst current sixth formers may be celebrating the fact that it is marginally 'easier' to get into a top university to study languages than previous years, the news actually confirms what many in the field of language education had long known; that fewer students were being motivated to study languages.

Halsbury Travel, a leading school tour operator, has reported that their Work Experience Abroad programme, which provides students with the opportunity to spend a week living and working in the country in which their target language is spoken, has seen a similar decline in participants.

Managing Director, Keith Sharkey, explains: “Over the last five years, we’ve seen a 75% drop in the number of students applying for our Work Experience Abroad programme. Many of the schools that we work with [who regularly send students on the programme] have put this down to a drop in the number of students opting to study a language at A-level. In 2007, we had over 1,500 students taking part in this programme and our language courses abroad. In 2016, we are expecting just 500.”

Such a significant drop is concerning, especially when the British government has itself advised that the country’s general lack of language skills is costing the economy around £48bn every year. Keith Sharkey confirms that this problem is already causing issues for British companies: “As a travel company, it’s vital that we have members of staff who are able to communicate with our overseas partners. However, we are finding it increasingly difficult to find candidates with these skills.”

Mr Sharkey is himself a former French teacher and, therefore, firmly believes in the benefit of providing students with the opportunity to experience the language in its natural environment by communicating with native speakers. “One of the reasons we started our Work Experience Abroad programme was that, as a company, we’re passionate about providing students with opportunities to further their studies through travel” Keith explains. “With regards to languages, it’s very difficult for students to progress if they are not able to travel and experience the language first-hand.”

He continues: “We initially started out with a school exchange programme. However, as this became less popular, we developed our Work Experience Abroad product, to give A-Level students the opportunity to go and work at a local business (e.g. bakery, café, nursery or even a local radio station) in the country in which their target language is spoken. When students return, they often tell us what a 'life-changing' experience it has been for them and that it has ‘inspired their passion for learning a language'.”

It is these accounts from students who have enjoyed the experience, coupled with his own experience as both a language student and teacher, that has convinced Mr Sharkey that the key to getting students excited about languages is to ensure that they are able to take part in similar experiences that are designed to give them practical experience of the language and the opportunity to take pride in their ability to communicate in a second language.

Halsbury Travel was founded in 1986 by former French teacher Keith Sharkey, who holds a passionate belief in the value of educational travel. A family-run company supported by a dynamic team of travel experts, Halsbury Travel now carry around 40,000 passengers on 800 tours annually.

For more information on Halsbury Travel and their range of tailor-made school trips, please visit:

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Katie Sharkey
since: 05/2011
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