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Progress in English through Homestay

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 one-to-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 "student driven". 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, but students become part of the family, and a little help in the kitchen is always welcome, and often fun!

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