Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

May 26, 2010

English language courses in the UK – does the world end at Oxford?

As many of you will know I live in North Yorkshire the most northern part of the biggest county in England. It is also known as ‘God’s own country’, an epithet which is richly deserved for its beauty and diversity as well as its size, but one that was most likely bestowed upon it by the locals!

Whitby - a fishing port on the east coast

Yorkshire is indeed lovely as are the surrounding counties of Northumberland, Durham, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Cumbria then on northwards into Scotland… can you see where this is going? There is far more to see and do north of Oxford than there is south of it (I exclude Wales, Devon and Cornwall here as they are equally blighted by the concentration of everything EFL on London!). Then there’s Norfolk and Suffolk and what about the heart of England? So much to see, do and experience and guess what – these natives are friendly and they speak English!  Just look at a map of the UK and see how much is missing off the EFL course map!!

What, you might say, has brought on this frenzy? I am now on a mission! I have, this morning, been speaking to several well-known language schools in the UK about trends in student choice of destination when choosing courses in the UK. I am being told repeatedly that students ONLY want to go to London and the South East of the UK (this would include Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and the Southern sea-side towns). The HAVE to be within easy reach (1 hour or so?) of Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Now my question is – given that the UK is such a very small land mass – are these ONLYs and HAVE TOs coming from the students or from London-centric EFL organisations who think that the M25 is open countryside!

I find it hard to believe that a 2-hour train journey from London  (if indeed Heathrow and Gatwick are the ONLY possible airports to fly to) is such a long way if you are used to countries the size of France, Germany and Spain! Could it be, actually, that nobody is really being given a choice?  Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I do know from friends and colleagues in the EFL industry that there are problems placing all the students wanting to enrol on certain courses in the London area yet other friends and colleagues further north are never given consideration as suitable alternatives.

If you are visiting the UK for the first time, then London is a must see/do. I agree there is so much history and culture

Liverpool - music, art, great history and lively

there. It is relatively easy to get around and it is a 24-hour city which is very exciting. However, I feel strongly that not all students want to go to London, especially if they live in a big city themselves or have already experienced London.  Are these people being given a wide enough choice of UK venues in which to study? I don’t think so and it isn’t because there aren’t any schools or courses, it is more a matter of lack of knowledge (or too much self-interest?).

I have personal experience of lack of knowledge of all points north! I lived in London until 6 years ago. When I returned north to Yorkshire several strange comments were made by our London friends:

  • Why would you want to go there? It’s all dirty, polluted mill towns! (Er, yeah in the 19th century!)
  • Where should we stop over on the way? (Er, it’s only a 4-hour journey by car and 2+ hours by train!)
  • Is the weather very cold? (I’m not even going to answer that one!)
  • Can we stop off in Durham on the way? (only if you go past us and then come back!)

I know these prejudices happen in many countries but the north-south divide UK is alive and well! I will also lay some blame at the feet of the regional tourist boards for not promoting as much as they perhaps should!

A visit to Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales

I have had two students recently who were undeterred by not being able to fly to Heathrow or Gatwick. One flew to Edinburgh and then took the two-hour train journey through some wonderful countryside to our local town (bearing in mind it will take the best part of an hour to get through to the arrivals hall at either of these airports and then another hour or so into London itself!). The second flew to Amsterdam from her native Milan and took the short hop over to our local airport (30 minutes drive away). Neither felt they had come to the back of beyond nor did they feel that the journey was too onerous.

So if you are thinking of taking a course in the UK, come north!

I promise we’ll put the woad away (according to the Romans – people in the north of England used to paint themselves blue with woad to scare away their enemies!) and you’ll find us a very warm, friendly bunch of people!

We have great cities, history in abundance, amazing scenery, and lots of space – no crowded roads, streets or shops!

The challenge:

Turn your back on Heathrow and Gatwick, look to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester or Leeds. Set your feet northwards and give us a try! You won’t regret it!

More reasons to head all-points north!

(to view more great photos like these visit Pictures of England)

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  1. Hi there!

    As someone who was born in Chester and has lived in Derbyshire I have to agree completely. I work in a summer school in Nottingham and students there get the best of both worlds. They are within easy reach of both London and most of the north of England. It’s ironic though that many of the students at summer schools just want to go shopping anyway and so visiting a city such as Cambridge or Oxford isn’t particularly exciting for them. Much better to go to one of the cities further north such as Nottingham, Leeds or Manchester. I also feel that a lot of students miss out on some of the wonderful countryside in the UK as they seem to spend most of their time exploring cities. This is such a shame as you really don’t get a complete view of England by only visiting cities.

    Comment by Peter Fenton — May 26, 2010 @ 6:40 am | Reply

    • Hi Peter, thank you for your comment. I think you are right. I am actually quite shocked by the feedback I got and think that often students are simply not given a wide enough choice. I also know that students often complain a lot about the lack of opportunity to speak much English outside of class in London due to the population mix and the particular make-up of the London character – much less of a problem further north. The thing that came back again and again was the fact that the only entry points were Heathrow and Gatwick! I have a sneaky feeling that lack of knowledge rests not with overseas students but much closer to home!

      Comment by rliberni — May 26, 2010 @ 8:18 am | Reply

  2. Maybe talk to the English Tourism Board to find out ways to promote the North more?

    It’s like, for example, if you were going to go Australia – you’d immediately think of the Great Barrier Reef and see lots of fish in the sea and Sydney, you’d see the arched thingie in your minds eye – next, would be the red Uluru/ Ayers Rock or… if you think about the US, you immediately see Mickey Mouse in Disney, casinos in Las Vegas, San Francisco bridge –

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that so many people are “visual” so when they think of going to a place to study, they don’t really think about “what place” but what they remember seeing and how this affected them emotionally as a “safe place” to go study.


    Comment by Karenne Sylvester — May 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am | Reply

    • Thanks Karenne for these points. I hadn’t thought about student impressions but it is an emotional decision! I do feel that some Tourist Boards (in Yorkshire especially) aren’t promoting their regions that well. I’ll have another go at them!

      Comment by rliberni — May 26, 2010 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  3. Hi ya, was thinking about your situation on my way home – first thing I found was your beautiful Animoto video! Which was pretty much was I was talking about – the image of the North (how reality differs from imagined idea: I really did not expect Harrogate to be so beautiful for example) – the second thing was the law of opposites.

    For every person in the world who wants to go to or near London to study English there is another person who is not considering taking English language lessons in the UK because he wants to get “far away from the maddening crowd” – so what you need to do (if you don’t mind unsolicited advice) is find out where those person hang out because chances are that they’re not even contacting the normal EFL/ESL study-abroad marketers.

    To find the people who love walking (e.g. germans) offer learn English while walking tours (for example) or Spa English – (set up a package deal with a local spa/ thermal baths: English in the morning followed by an afternoon of treatments… for these sorts of things you could tackle resources like the “Wellness magazines” – perhaps offer to write an article. Also check out alternative travel websites that don’t cater for English language learning normally but a quieter clientele.

    Dunno if that helps or all this is stuff you’ve already thought about!


    Comment by Karenne Sylvester — May 26, 2010 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

    • As much advice as possible Karenne thank you so much for these suggestions and for taking time to think about it! You are absolutely right the traditional EFL channels aren’t helping for many reasons and the people who come northwards often come independently. A bit more creative thinking and less wingeing is the order of the day!!
      Some great ideas and a renewed spirit – lovely to get an outside view.
      Thank you :-)))

      Comment by rliberni — May 26, 2010 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  4. Thanks for an excellent article. You sum up quite nicely the perennial problem I have in my job as director of Leeds Languages in convincing agents, students etc that their English in the UK study options do not end with London, Oxford & Cambridge. I’m not sure if this site allows links but I hope it will let me flag up an article I’ve written on our school site which addresses this question – Five Reasons to Study English in Leeds. My primary arguments might just as easily apply to Harrogate, York or Manchester as alternative study venues for overseas students:


    Comment by Adam Pernak, Leeds, UK — June 13, 2010 @ 2:24 am | Reply

    • Hi Adam,
      thank you for your comment and link. I agree we have an uphill (literally in some cases!!) struggle to showcase the north of the UK as venues for students. I lived for 10 years in London and taught and hosted students, left for all the usual reasons, lack of space, difficulties getting around, the need to breathe and a desire to return to roots and, naively as it turns out, imagined that I’d transplant my work too. I am really amazed at some of the reasons I am being given – everybody needs to come to the UK via Heathrow or Gatwick, not true!, it’s more expensive to fly to northern airports – not true (I did a quick comparison last week & found it was cheaper!), the Japanese, for example (I was told) will not want to undertake a long journey after arriving at Heathrow – so how do they get to Nissan, Komatsu and many of the other Japanese companies here in the Northeast? So, also not true. Incidentally, it takes a good hour at least to get to central London from Heathrow (you can probably fly on to Newcastle faster). Ok, this is turning into another rant and I said I wouldn’t – but just to say I am flabbergasted by what I’m hearing and I think people are missing out. As Karenne pointed out, the tourist boards have a lot to do but we also need, I feel, to be very creative!!

      Comment by rliberni — June 14, 2010 @ 10:32 am | Reply

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