boys reading dictionary in class

6 Reasons to Study English in ORA’s International Environment

The way most students study English is far from being the best way to learn the language. If you’re studying in your home country, surrounded by students who all have the same first language as you, perhaps being taught by a teacher who isn’t a native speaker of English either, you may find learning English is a challenge. But under different circumstances, you could find it much easier.

With Oxford Royale Academy, students live and learn in an English-speaking country – whether in the UK or USA – and study surrounded by peers of a wide variety of different nationalities and with an equally wide variety of first languages. Our teachers are highly qualified native English speakers, too. The result is that students make more progress in learning English than they would have thought possible, even from just one or two weeks of study. Here’s why all of this, and especially our international environment, makes all the difference.

1. Learn English from native speakers

Image shows an ORA teacher helping a student.
Oxford Royale Academy EFL teachers are all highly trained native English speakers.

It’s generally held that there are advantages and disadvantages to learning English from a native speaker. The advantages are evident: it’s likely that their ear for accent and pronunciation will be better honed than a non-native speaker; they won’t transmit their own mistakes in using the language to you; they can explain culture and context in a way that a non-native speaker might not be able to; and they use the language primarily as a living means of communication, not an academic subject, which is an attitude that you can learn from. 

The key disadvantage that’s usually raised in relation to English teachers who are native speakers is that their knowledge of the rules underpinning the language, the whys and wherefores of its grammar, is weaker than that of non-native speakers, because they’ve never had to understand English grammar for themselves; they’ve merely used it. And it is true that the average native English speaker uses grammar rules all the time that they don’t fully understand, such as “ablaut reduplication”. Native English speakers understand this best through examples: “singsong” and “hiphop” go that way round because in these kinds of words in English, i always precedes o. “Songsing” and “hophip” are grating to the ears of native English speakers, but most of them wouldn’t be able to explain why.

At Oxford Royale Academy, we get the best of both worlds, as our English language teaching faculty are native speakers who are highly qualified in teaching English as a foreign language, and have thus studied English from the perspective of those learning it from scratch. They can support you in understanding tricky grammar rules, even the ones that native English speakers grasp unconsciously, while bringing the benefits of their cultural background, greater intuitive knowledge of the language, and pristine pronunciation.

2. Use English as a lingua franca

Image shows students hanging out at our summer school, in the sunshine.
In an international environment, you’ll use English to communicate with everyone around you.

One challenge in learning English when you’re surrounded by people who share your first language is ensuring that you continue to use English, rather than slipping into your native tongue whenever the conversation starts to strain your linguistic abilities. At Oxford Royale Academy, we have students of 150 different nationalities joining us every year. Among such a diverse group, you may find you’re not studying alongside anyone else who speaks your native language. That means that in order to communicate, from figuring out where your room is to making friends, you’ll need to use English.

Using English as a lingua franca is incredibly valuable for helping you develop in your use of the language. Because you’ll be communicating with other students, you’ll not only have to work within your own limitations in using English, but within theirs as well. This helps to develop your English in ways in which you might not anticipate. For instance, if you’ve learned a set phrase to convey a particular meaning, while your friend has learned a different one, the process of figuring out how to communicate will lead both of you to learn something new. 

What’s more, if you don’t plan on moving to an English-speaking country, your primary use of English in the future is likely to be as a lingua franca – for instance, if you work for a company that operates internationally. So learning how to communicate using English with people from different backgrounds is likely to be particularly useful and relevant. Using English as a lingua franca is a specialist skill; some people study English specifically as a lingua franca rather than as a foreign language. With Oxford Royale Academy, you can learn its use as a lingua franca and a foreign language, getting the best of both worlds.

3. Benefit from total immersion

Image shows students punting in Cambridge.
You’ll use English even for activities like punting.

It isn’t just with your peers that you’ll be speaking English. Oxford Royale Academy English language courses work on the basis of total immersion, which is widely held to be the most effective way to learn a language. In a total immersion setting, you use English all the time. At our summer school, that means using English in class; to talk to your friends at lunchtime; to participate in activities and excursions; to interact with people in shops and to order in cafes – in short, for any communication at all, you’ll be using English. 

The most obvious benefit of this is the sheer amount of practice that you’ll get in using the English language. But there are other advantages of total immersion as well. When people are in the early stages of learning a language, they focus on translation: they think of a sentence in their native language, then translate it into the target language, sometimes word by word, sometimes by using set phrases that they’ve memorised. 

But translation can only take you so far. To really make progress, you need to move away from translation, and instead try thinking of sentences in the target language without going through your native language first. There might still be some words and more complicated phrases that you’ll need to translate, but mostly avoiding translation results in using your target language more quickly and fluently. After a certain point, if you’re the sort of person who thinks in words rather than pictures, you might find yourself thinking in your target language, or even dreaming in it. You might even start hearing people speak, and understanding them, without being immediately aware of which language they’re using, which feels very disconcerting the first time it happens! That’s when you know you’re approaching true fluency.

4. Learn from your peers

Image shows two students talking to one another in a lesson.
Your fellow students can be an amazing source of insight.

In an international environment, surrounded by people who come from different countries and who have been exposed to different approaches for learning English, you can learn as much from your peers as you can from your teacher. 

Depending on your first language, you might face different challenges when learning English: for example, people with French as a first language tend to find English grammar reasonably straightforward, as much of it is the same as French. (There are exceptions, such as phrasal verbs, a challenging piece of English grammar that was borrowed from Irish). English pronunciation, on the other hand, is much more challenging for French speakers, who often still have strongly accented English even when they’re otherwise fluent. Hearing the English spoken by native French speakers, in comparison to say, native Dutch or German speakers, can help you better identify areas of weakness in your own pronunciation. 

Comparing experiences with your fellow students can also help you work out which approaches to learning a language might be most effective for you. Because you’ll all have come from different school systems, some of your class might have been taught using traditional methods, such as memorising conjugations and doing formal practice in translation. Others might have experienced a different approach, where the focus is on building fluency, and there’s more tolerance for mistakes as part of the learning process. Both approaches are valid, but you’re likely to find that one suits you better than the other. Discussions with your classmates can help you discover new ways of learning that might be effective for you. 

A further helpful thing you can learn from your peers are the tips and techniques that they use for individual challenges in English. For instance, they may have mnemonics – memory aids – for particularly tricky bits of spelling or grammar that might never have occurred to you.

5. Practise your English in an authentic setting

Image shows ORA students playing a game on the beach in St Andrews.
You can improve your English in social settings.

At home, the environment in which you’re learning English can feel artificial. You’re speaking a language to people who also share another language with you that you both speak better, and often you’re practising saying things to one another that you wouldn’t generally say authentically – from the early stages of “on Saturday I go to the swimming pool” to later enforced discussions on youth issues, or questions of British politics. Often, the most authentic way you’re practising your English is by listening to the lyrics of English-language pop songs. 

In an international environment such as Oxford Royale Academy, it’s all quite different. You’ll be using English just as you would wish to be using it in future: for communication, both with people who speak solely English, and with people where it’s the only language you have in common. The conversations you have as a result won’t be the stiff, formal affairs you might be used to from your English classes at home; they’ll be the kinds of conversations you have in your native language, where you’re getting to know new friends, sharing gossip, or just exchanging information such as what excursion is coming up next, or what homework you have. 

With Oxford Royale Academy, it’s possible to take this a step further. Many of our students choose to take an English language course, and, once their English has improved sufficiently, follow it up with one of our academic programmes. With this approach, you have the opportunity to learn all about the academic or vocational subject that interests you most – from coding to Medicine – while continuing to build on your English language skills. If you’re considering studying at an English-speaking university, this is particularly valuable as you can build up your knowledge of subject-specific vocabulary, meaning you’ll have a less steep learning curve as a new undergraduate.

6. Improve your language skills during activities, excursions and free time

Image shows ORA students dancing at a party.
Even your graduation party can be a chance to practise your English!

Perhaps the best thing about studying English in an international environment is that you’ll be learning new things and practising the language while having fun. Much of the time you spend learning won’t feel like work at all. Arguably this is a much more natural way to learn a language than any time spent in the classroom – after all, the time at which we are best at learning languages, as babies and toddlers, is also a time when we learn almost exclusively through play. 

Learning through activities, excursions and free time teaches you new vocabulary in a wide variety of different settings. It’s often in these circumstances that you broaden your vocabulary the most, as you’ll learn words and phrases that it would never have occurred to you to look up in a dictionary. You’ll also learn to use English in a more natural manner. The English you learn in your school classroom can be old-fashioned, or inappropriate to your age, while the English you practise in your free time is likely to be more appropriate, as you’ll learn slang and other phrases that are more likely to reflect the kind of thing you would say in your native language. 

What studying English in an international environment should demonstrate is that learning a language doesn’t have to feel like hard work. Though you’ll undoubtedly be tired at the end of the day from the extra effort of speaking, reading, writing, listening and even thinking in a non-native language, you shouldn’t feel like it’s been a slog. In fact, our hope is that you’ll find yourself wondering how your English skills improved so rapidly while you were enjoying what should feel like a holiday. Then you’ll be in the best possible position for using your new English language skills in the future, whether that’s for work, study, or simply to stay in touch with the new international friends you made during your time with Oxford Royale Academy

 

All images in this article were taken on Oxford Royale Academy summer schools.