In my first year teaching English, I had the wonderful opportunity to help out with an exchange program to London. Twenty-one of our 16-year-old Spanish students travelled to London for four days where they stayed with a host family from a school in Surbiton, a neighbouring suburban city of London. The English students also spent four days in the students’ home in Badalona, a neighbouring city of Barcelona.
During the program, our students formed close bonds and friendships with the English students; it was truly beautiful to see young people with different mother tongues getting along so well. Many students were even in tears when they had to say goodbye to their new friends. They all, however, made a promise to keep in touch and see each other again.
For a few of our students, it was their first time on a plane and their first time travelling so far from home without their parents. At the tender age of 16, the program offered the students an opportunity to see a different country, to expand their cultural awareness and, of course, to learn English.
During the program, I saw significant improvements with a few of our students in regard to their ability to understand and communicate in English. Since the students lived with English-speaking families and still communicate with their English friends through WhatsApp, they have no choice but to apply their knowledge and dive right into the language. The English students’ level of Spanish, however, wasn’t as advanced as they have only been learning Spanish for two years while our students start learning English at three years old, which urged our students even more to use English.
The program puts the classroom into the real world and immerses the students in the English language. I believe this type of program is the perfect way to motivate young learners to foreign languages when they usually might be intimidated or embarrassed in a classroom setting. As I teach English to three-year-olds to 16-year-olds in Spain, I see that the hardest part is to motivate students to learn English. With an exchange program, the students interact and apply their learning to other people their age who are learning a foreign language as well. In this setting, the students became learners as well as teachers. It is an excellent way to teach leadership skills and encourage students to continue their language learning journey. It is important for young people to become a global citizen and to interact with people from different countries and learn about other cultures. A vital way to do this is to learn new languages, especially English, which is the most widely spoken second language in the world. An exchange program is a perfect way to mobilize learning to the real world and show students that the world is so much bigger than just their school.