Our little town in the Highlands of Scotland – so much to see and do!

family english course
Hidden high in the hills above Crieff

Crieff is full of surprises. Surrounded by stunning Highland countryside (above) and different but perhaps equally beautiful Lowland countryside (below), you can go on countless lovely walks. But there’s also a lot to do in and around the town itself:

Scotland’s oldest working distillery;

family english course

A glassblowing factory where you can watch expert glass blowers and paint your own piece of glass;

One of the best Highland Games in Scotland;

family english course

One of the most beautiful gardens in Europe, with its own castle;

family english course

All kinds of outdoors pursuits, from horse-riding to segway;

family english course

Stunning bluebell woods;

family english course

A Victorian spa;

Our Arts Centre, featuring Scottish bands;

A beautiful park with walks along the river, lots of fun for children;

Neolithic stone circles on the moors;

family english course

A children’s zoo;

A historic library;

A medieval castle with a history of murder and romance;

family English course

A top international golf resort.

Golf at Gleneagles - a day trip as part of learning English

English for families – a typical day

family english course
family holiday in scotland
Sprachurlaub, Familie

Have you considered a family English course?

This is what a typical day looks like on a family language holiday at English Language Homestay Scotland.

The old tradition of sending teenagers on a language exchange has developed into the language homestay. But it’s not just for teenagers.

If you’d like to spend a family holiday, with a chance for both parents and children to improve their English, you can now all stay in an English speaking family. English lessons are designed around what your family needs, and can be shared at no extra cost.

A family homestay holiday suits families with children of any age. We’ve had guests as young as 3 and 4 – and the 4 year old took some English lessons – and as old as 17. We’ve had families with both parents, and with one. We can accommodate families of up to 5 people.

Do you need to hire a car? If you’re a family of 4 or less, it’s not necessary, though you may of course choose to do so.

One of the great advantages of a homestay holiday is that you’re completely immersed in English. During meals, in the car, while sightseeing or exploring the Highlands, in the garden, in the evening – you can spend half the day just chatting in English. And it’s the best possible way to discover a new culture. You’ll also see some places that tourists don’t see – we’ve lived here for years, and we know the best, the most beautiful and the least touristy places to visit.

A day at our homestay looks something like this:

  • Family breakfast
  • English lessons for children and/or adults. General, business, legal and HR English. Lessons are designed to be fun and encourage confident communication.
  • For guests not taking lessons, there’s plenty to do in town, we have a garden with games, or you can go for a walk in the hills or along the river, or take the children to our excellent local park.
  • Family lunch
  • Trip – trips are chosen with you to suit your family. There are lots of fun places to take young children as well as teenagers – including a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh, strawberry picking, a children’s zoo, building a fire by the river. Adults enjoy the beautiful Scottish Highlands, ancient castles, historic towns and whisky distillery tour.
  • Family supper
  • A quiz on Scotland. A treasure hunt. A family board game. A family DVD.

A family homestay holiday is designed around your family. If you have any questions – just get in touch. We’d love to have you to stay!

family homestay, scotland
family English course, scotland

The English Proficiency Index 2019 – what can we learn from it?

The annual English Proficiency Index, published by the global English teaching company Education First, holds few surprises this year.

Based on an online English test taken by over 2 million people worldwide, the Index provides us with a rough but handy guide to levels of English in 100 countries. Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa are all represented.

So which country won this year?

Top place goes to The Netherlands, closely followed by the Scandinavian countries.

In 10th place, Germany performs well. At No. 31, France has improved slightly on last year’s performance. Spain’s performance continues to decline, and it now comes 35th. Italy has also dropped down the Index, and is now in 36th place. France, Spain and Italy are the lowest performing countries in Western Europe, and are close to the lowest in the whole of Europe.

Should we trust it?

Let’s not take the Index too seriously.  The participants in Education First’s online English test aren’t randomly selected, but are people sufficiently interested in their level of English to have come across and taken the test on their own initiative. That process doesn’t lend itself to accurate results. But it does appear that the steps being taken in both Spain and Italy to improve English teaching in schools have some way to go.

Learning from the Netherlands…

We don’t need the EF Index to tell us that the citizens of the Netherlands speak excellent English. Why is that, and can other, worse performing countries learn from their example?

The Dutch have one great advantage – shared only by the Germans. English, Dutch and German belong to the same branch of languages – the West-Germanic languages. This means that learning English is simply easier for Dutch and German speakers. That seems a bit unfair, but there it is.  There are in fact plenty of similarities between, say, French and English too.

As in much of the rest of the world, a lot of Dutch TV programmes and films come from English speaking countries. But they’re not dubbed into Dutch. That’s not the case in France, Spain or Italy, where TV viewers enjoy watching in their own language. And that makes a real difference to levels of English.

I suspect that another factor affects language levels too. In the Netherlands, it’s taken for granted that schoolchildren will learn to communicate effectively in English.  After all, the adults already do. That’s still not the case in many countries around the world. In my view, knowing that English can be learned, not just by a select few but by most of the people around you, provides a vital confidence boost. Learning to speak English well isn’t so difficult. And yes, of course you can manage it.

The 10 best ways to improve your spoken English

  1. Spend as much time as you can with native English speakers. If possible, in an English speaking country. That way, you’ll know that you’re learning correct English. Native English speakers aren’t famous for their foreign language skills, so you’ll be forced to communicate in English. A total language immersion is the best way to make progress.
  2. Speak up! It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes – it’s only by talking that you’ll improve. Don’t worry – native English speakers often don’t speak foreign languages well, and admire foreigners who manage to speak reasonable English.
  3. Watch DVDs and listen to audiobooks, podcasts, etc. If you don’t understand them the first time round, listen again and again. Each time you listen, you’ll understand more. Live TV is less useful, because you can’t put it on repeat.
  4. Use language CDs or audiobooks to help you with pronunciation, intonation and rhythm. Listen to a sentence, and then repeat it exactly as you’ve heard it.
  5. Read books that you enjoy. Don’t try to read books that are difficult or boring. This is your chance to read the fun, easy books that you maybe don’t always allow yourself to read in your own language – thrillers, crime novels, children’s books…
  6. Don’t spend your time looking up words in the dictionary. Try to work out the meaning of new words from the context. Only look up a word in the dictionary if you really need to know what it means.
  7. Don’t think of something to say in your own language, and then translate it.  You need to start thinking in English. If you listen to people speaking English and read English books, you’ll soon know what to say – just say it!
  8. The best way to learn grammar is by listening and speaking.
  9. Sometimes, take the time to slow down and think about what you’re about to say. Focus on getting the grammar right.
  10. Take a test now and then to check that you’re heading in the right direction. If these keep picking up on the same mistake, open the grammar book and do some written exercises. That’ll help to reprogramme your brain. Then go out and start speaking English again.

Travel the West Highland Railway – one of the world’s greatest train journeys

the west highland railway

Just a 1 hour scenic drive from our English language Homestay on the edge of the Scottish Highlands is the small village of Crianlarich. From there, it’s a stunning 3.5 hour train ride to the end of the line at the little fishing village of Mallaig in the north of Scotland.

I did this trip a month ago, and loved every beautiful second of it.

The train heads across the isolated wilderness of Rannoch Moor – a journey you can’t make by car. Alongside beautiful lakes and hills and across the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct that many of you will have seen in the Harry Potter films. And finally along Scotland’s glorious western coastline, with views of the Islands of Rum and Eigg.

west highland railway
west highland railway
west highland railway

In Mallaig, you can take a boat trip to see the local wildlife. We saw lots of seals and 2 porpoises. You may also see sea eagles, whales and dolphins. The views are magnificent.

west highland railway

There was time for lunch too – Mallaig has some good eating places, and you can try the local seafood. Then back on the train, where we watched the sun set over Rannoch Moor. Magically, dotted over the moor in the dusk we saw a herd of deer, including a majestic stag with giant antlers.

This is the most thrilling day I’ve spent in Scotland. I hope you can experience it too!

west highland railway

Horse riding

 

riding holiday, scotlandWe have a riding stables here in Crieff, where you can take riding lessons, or go on a pony trek. And there are other stables not far away, in beautiful Highland countryside.

Our last visitors, from Germany, were horse mad. Naomi went on a pony trek with them. She’s the one at the back.

riding holiday, Scotland

Easter Day

Our Easter Day this year featured a lot of chocolate…

family english course

After eating their chocolate eggs at breakfast time, Naomi and our 9 year old visitor from Sweden found that the Easter Bunny had hidden some more eggs in the garden. He’d done a good job of hiding them, and it took them some time to find them.family english course

 

 

 

 

family english course

 

In the afternoon, we paid a visit to Annie the Donkey, who lives next to Crieff’s glorious bluebell wood.

donkey, family english course

An English learning holiday as a family – a good idea?

donkey, family english course

We run language homestay holidays for children, adults and families. But our family holidays are the most popular. What’s the attraction?

• I want to spend my precious holiday time with the people I care about – my wife/husband and my children.
• Ok, I can manage without my husband for a week or 2 – but my children are definitely coming with me!
• I need to improve my English for work. My children need to improve their English for school.
• If we all go together, I don’t have to worry about the children – I know they’ll be safe and will have a good time.
• My children are too young for a child homestay or language exchange – but they can come on a family homestay with me, and start learning English at the age when it’s easiest to learn (primary school age).
• We’ll be staying with a family. There’ll be lots of opportunity to improve our English outside of lessons – chatting over family meals and on all the trips we’ll go on.
• The lessons are 1 to 1, and will be designed around what each member of our family needs. We can share lessons if we want – it’s the same price for 2 people.
• I can learn business English – designed around my industry and job position.
• My child can learn English at the right level for them. Using fun games, debates, presentations, role plays. Even a complete beginner can make a start. It’s so much more intensive than at school.
• I’ve never been to Scotland. And apparently it’s very beautiful there. Especially the Highlands.
• I’ve always wanted to visit Edinburgh. Now I can.
• My child is obsessed with Harry Potter. He can’t wait to do a Harry Potter tour.
• We can live as part of the family – but I won’t have to do the cooking (unless I really want to…).
• If we want to, we can do activities with the family, like river swimming, badminton, family games, movie night, a local concert.
• We’ll see the beautiful parts of Scotland that tourist buses miss.

Which nationality does best at learning English?

According to the British Council, by 2020 English will be spoken by 2 billion people – over a quarter of the world’s population. It’s the one truly global language – with non-native English speakers far outnumbering those of us who use it as a first language.

Which countries are most successful at teaching English to their citizens? And which trail behind?

The international education company Education First ranks countries according to adults’ English language skills.

I’ve had a look at the most recent list, produced in October 2018.  Which country comes top, and which bottom?

The answer is:

Top: Sweden

Bottom: Libya

It’s no secret that the Scandinavians speak excellent English. But what about other European nationalities?  And does the EF list reflect my experience in hosting English learners at English Language Homestay Scotland, and as an online English teacher?

To date we have hosted homestay visitors from: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Russia and Oman. As it happens, our next visitors are from Sweden, but speak Swedish as a second language.

Online I teach students from countries including France, China, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and Greece.

We talk a lot about how they learn English, and how English is taught at school in their countries.

My impressions are confirmed by Education First.

German schools teach English well. They’re helped by the fact that English and German are in the same family of languages – and that English is grammatically easier than German.

France, Spain and Italy have been less successful at producing good English speakers. That may be about to change though.  I’ve been interested to learn from some of our Spanish students that Spain has recently made important changes to its English teaching methods, and that young Spanish children now speak better English than older ones.

So what are those countries’ Education First rankings?

GERMANY – 10

SPAIN – 32

ITALY – 34

FRANCE – 35

This is out of 88 countries.

If you have been let down by your school’s English lessons, and need to improve your English, you’re very welcome to stay with us.  With full English immersion in a friendly family, as many 1:1 English lessons as you need (general and business), and trips and activities in the beautiful Scottish Highlands.  I hope to see you soon!