As the days get brighter and longer the English Language Education sector in Ireland is gearing up for its busiest time of year.
Ireland welcomes students embarking on their journey to speaking English all year round, but it peaks as junior students arrive on Irish shores in their tens of thousands. Juniors are under 18 years of age, typically from EU/EEA regions as a Visa is not required for their time in Ireland.
There are a range of options for junior students to learn English in Ireland. Most students partake in Summer Schools. These programmes are often 2-3 weeks long and students stay in residential accommodation or with host families. Junior students are present in Ireland throughout the year with Mini-Stays and High School Programmes. Mini-Stays involve groups of students travelling together for a period of 1-2 weeks, whereas students attend Irish schools for several months as part of High School Programmes. The expansion of the sector over the last decade has created opportunities for junior students to study English in Ireland in a way that caters to their individual needs, goals, and budgets.
Junior students are drawn to Ireland by several factors. Ireland is now the only English-speaking country in the EU which comes with the benefits of having a fully immersive language experience without navigating the bureaucracy of visa requirements. Maite Mulet, a Spanish agent noted that “being European also makes things easy in terms of currency, phone calls…” Many students are also drawn to Ireland by its beautiful landscapes and dynamic history. MEI (Marketing English in Ireland) schools are dotted around the country in urban and rural locations, allowing students to choose the experience they desire.
Ireland is renowned for its welcoming atmosphere, and few benefit from it as much as junior English language students. Spending 2-3 weeks away from home is a daunting prospect for any teenager, but Irish host families create a sense of community for students during their short stays. While there are a variety of options for junior student accommodation, those who live with host families view it as a memorable experience. Sara Montali, an Italian agent shared her perspective on this.
“Ireland has many selling points, for instance, it is a very good option for homestay accommodation. Irish families are very welcoming, the kids feel at ease and Italian parents get
the feeling that their kids are well looked after and tend to relax while their children are abroad. Also, Irish culture for many aspects is similar to Italian culture so it’s less of a cultural shock.”
The benefits to host family stays range from home-cooked meals to cultural integration with the family and other children. It also allows students to practice their language skills in a practical way. Another option is residential accommodation, offering students the chance to live with their peers and experience a greater degree of independence. The positive experiences of junior students highlight the benefits to their language learning
of living in Ireland, sharing cultural experiences and integrating into an English-speaking country.
Many schools take advantage of the summer weather in creating an exciting activity programme for their students. Montali highlighted that this is a key factor in promoting Ireland to her clients. “Ireland offers many different programmes, but the best choice for our clients are the outdoor sports options, such as surf, kayak, zip-line, horse riding and many other fun options.” Varying from region to region, students have the opportunity to engage in water sports, scenic outdoor trails and traditional pastimes like music, dancing and sport. There are also options that cater for more specific interests, like horse riding or museum visits. Junior students gain an experience that stretches beyond just learning a language, and in many cases, this is how lifelong memories and connections to Ireland are created.
Behind these great experiences is the often-unseen work of the summer staff in the ELT (English Language Teaching) sector. In 2022, 1,638 teaching staff and 1,090 administrative and support staff were employed as additional seasonal workers. Mulet believes that it is “mainly the people, the members of the family, the teachers, and members of the staff’ that make a good summer programme. This allows them to “come back with better English and great memories.”