5 Reasons Why Language Teachers Should Travel Abroad With Their Students
Are you a language teacher wondering why you should take students abroad? While there are multiple factors involved in the decision to travel with your students, one of the greatest benefits is the opportunity to immerse them in a local culture with people who speak the language they’re learning.
Immersion is one of the fastest ways to learn a new language. Students are exposed to the language they’re learning every day just about everywhere they turn when they travel. When students are surrounded by a language, they accelerate the learning process.
According to the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies, it takes 600 to 750 class hours to become proficient in a foreign language similar to English, such as Spanish or French. Difficult languages, such as Arabic and Mandarin, require 2,200 class hours on average to gain proficiency. If you join students in a language immersion program, you’ll have numerous opportunities to expand their class hours outside of the classroom.
Also, language programs are essential to a high school curriculum because they help students become more independent, more empathetic, and more well-rounded. You can foster academic and personal growth in your students as you also gain the benefits of traveling abroad with a class.
In this post, we’ll explore more reasons why teachers should travel abroad with their class and the benefits of educational travel for both teachers and students.
Table of Contents
- Practice With Native Speakers
- Expand Your Language Focus
- Provide Unscripted Learning Opportunities
- Promote Diversity Among Your Students
- Hone Your Foreign Language Skills
- Best Destinations for Educational Travel
- Benefits of Class Trips Abroad
- Learn More About Our Educational Travel Programs
1. Practice With Native Speakers
As a language teacher, you’re aware of the intrinsic irony of typical language classes. The teacher introduces a grammatical concept to the class, and then the students practice speaking with each other. Although practice makes perfect, there are several benefits to practicing with native speakers versus non-native students, such as:
- Valuable feedback: While it is not entirely uncommon to have one or two students in the class who speak Spanish at home, for example, the majority of your students are non-native speakers of the target language. As they practice with each other, they receive feedback from other non-native speakers. However, feedback is a critical component of language skill development. Imagine taking your class abroad so they can engage in projects alongside community members with whom they will communicate entirely in the language they’re learning. Their language skills will improve exponentially because they’ll receive real-time feedback from a native speaker. Also, native speakers can discuss cultural topics or provide information about the region to make the experience more educational and exciting.
- Independent learning: When students travel abroad and spend time with native speakers, they are forced to use the language independently, which can increase their confidence and improve their vocabulary. They will also be in situations that require active listening.
- Overcoming fear: Perhaps most importantly, students will face their fears of speaking the local language when they travel. As students become more confident, they’ll enjoy learning and practicing with others, and they’ll look forward to conversations with natives and fellow students in the new language.
As a teacher, you’ll be there to help your students make the most of their immersive language experience. You can encourage them to use the local language even if they make mistakes and help them become comfortable with errors. Remind students that the purpose of using a language isn’t to sound perfect, but to communicate. Making mistakes is a critical part of the language learning process whether you’re a student or a teacher refreshing your language skills.
2. Expand Your Language Focus
Either intentionally or unintentionally, your classroom instruction likely revolves around the type of language spoken in one particular country. For example, many schools in California focus on the nuances of Mexican Spanish because of the significant Mexican population in California. Similarly, it’s possible that a school teaching Spanish in Europe might choose to focus on the Spanish spoken in Spain. In both instances, traveling with your students to a country not as heavily represented in your curriculum will help broaden their understanding of the language.
Another example is if your students are learning Mandarin. A journey to China can expose students to various tones separating Chinese languages. They wouldn’t have this experience in the classroom where they may only gain exposure to Mandarin Chinese. Likewise, students who are studying Arabic will find that its spoken form varies between countries, as well as towns. By traveling to Morocco or another Arabic speaking country, students get the opportunity to practice a different dialect.
3. Provide Unscripted Learning Opportunities
As a language teacher, you probably arrange field trips to museum exhibits showcasing foreign artists, or perhaps you’ve set up cooking lessons featuring native cuisine. While these activities help expose your students to the values and cultural practices of the people whose language they are learning, these activities might lack authenticity.
Over the course of a typical day traveling with your students in another country, they’ll watch cultural practices involving greetings, food, transportation, and art unfolds naturally around them. Bonus points if your trip coincides with a cultural festival, celebration, or someone’s birthday! As a result, you’ll be able to provide a more balanced curriculum full of adventure and surprises to benefit students.
When you travel with students, you’ll also have a chance to teach throughout the day in small segments. It’s more effective for students to learn a new language in segments rather than cramming information in one session.
Lastly, when students travel, they get to have rich cultural experiences which provide memorable and engaging learning opportunities. They can develop a deep appreciation for the host country, and a passion for the language and the culture. This will make them feel motivated to learn, more so than if they only studied from a textbook. Learning a new language is hard work, but when it’s full of stimulating activities, genuine interactions, and a sense of adventure, it becomes something much more meaningful that students enjoy.
4. Promote Diversity Among Your Students
When students learn a foreign language and are only exposed to the cultural representation presented to them in school, they miss out on opportunities to learn about diversity.
For example, teaching Spanish is particularly rewarding because it’s spoken in more than 20 countries. Spanish provides the opportunity for students to learn about diversity in the Spanish-speaking world. Traveling with your students to a Spanish-speaking country will help to debunk the idea that one example of Spanish-speaking culture, like food or attire, applies to all Spanish-speaking countries.
Similarly, a trip to Morocco provides opportunities to practice French outside of France. Although Arabic is the official language in Morocco, French is often used in government and business. Students get to experience a new culture beyond the typical French culture they learned about in the classroom. When students travel to Morocco, they get to see a culture that embraces multilingualism, and they may even pick up a few Arabic words as they practice French.
5. Hone Your Foreign Language Skills
When was the last time you spent a significant amount of time in a location where the language you teach is spoken? If you teach a language that isn’t native for you, it’s important for you to continue developing those skills.
According to Michigan State University (MSU), it’s critical foreign language teachers master the language they teach. Although teachers mustn’t reach native proficiency, near-native proficiency is ideal. When teachers lack direct contact with native speakers, they are more likely to become frustrated in the classroom, and their proficiency will decline. On the contrary, traveling abroad and immersing oneself in the language helps teachers maintain proficiency.
One of the most significant benefits of teachers traveling abroad with their students is it helps keep motivation levels high. Students seek role models who believe what they are doing, and who are motivated and committed to the subject they teach.
There will be myriad opportunities for you to brush up on your speaking skills and notice the speaking patterns of those around you. If you’re a non-native speaker of the language you teach, an unexpected positive outcome would be that your students get to see through your efforts that learning languages is rewarding and can be a lifelong passion.
As language teachers, we understand that learning a language is not the end goal. Language is a tool that creates bridges between cultures. Your decision to travel abroad with your students to participate in language learning and service will help create a foundation for their understanding of the roles they’ll play in the future as global citizens.
Best Destinations for Educational Travel
You may be wondering where you should take students abroad as you have many options. At Rustic Pathways, we aim to make the process as simple as possible. Our language immersion programs for educators provide ideal settings and tools to foster language development. Our programs help teachers create life-changing learning experiences for students studying Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, or English. Here are some of our language immersion programs worth considering.
It would be hard for students not to fall in love with Chinese culture and Mandarin when they surround themselves with ancient temples, breathtaking scenery, and unforgettable Chinese food. Students and teachers can travel to China to experience a fascinating culture much different than what they are used to at home. China welcomes over 100 million visitors a year and is overall a safe destination perfect for students and educators looking to build their language skills.
Our Chinese Language Immersion program takes students and teachers to Tianjin University and surrounding areas for eight days. Through this program, students get the opportunity to speak, read, and write Mandarin while immersed in Chinese culture.
In the morning, students will spend time learning about the local language and culture in a classroom setting. During the afternoon, students will get to experience Tianjin and Beijing and put their hard work to practice. They’ll get to visit markets to practice language skills with locals, eat at restaurants to learn about the cuisine and practice the language, and take fun and engaging classes like calligraphy and Tai Chi. They’ll also journey to the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden Temple to provide historical context to their learning experiences. Students are bound to possess a passion for learning and Chinese culture by the end of the program.
2. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is an excellent country for high school students and teachers who want to learn and practice Spanish. First, Costa Rica is beautiful. Imagine lush rainforests, white beaches, and an abundance of wildlife ranging from toucans to jaguars. Within this setting, there are endless opportunities for adventures such as zip-lining through the jungle or learning how to surf. Students will feel excited and motivated to learn and practice the language because they will be enjoying themselves.
Secondly, Costa Rica residents, or Ticos, are known to be warm and welcoming. This creates a comfortable environment for students to overcome their Spanish-speaking fears, and they’ll be more likely to engage with natives.
A third reason Costa Rica is an excellent destination for high school language learners is it’s generally a safe country to visit. Students, particularly first-time travelers, can feel at ease while traveling with Rustic Pathways in Costa Rica and experiencing a new culture.
Lastly, students can easily eat a nutritious diet and try adventurous foods in Costa Rica where exotic fruits and fresh vegetables are a major part of the diet.
Our Spanish Language Immersion program in Costa Rica allows students to learn Spanish in a small group from native speakers. Students will stay with a welcoming host family where they can use Spanish skills in a low-pressure setting outside of the classroom. Students will also get to practice the language as they work alongside community members in small-scale construction or maintenance projects. As a bonus, students can feel good about making a real impact while they’re immersed in the local language and culture.
Additionally, students will have opportunities for adventure, such as whitewater rafting, zip lining, biking, and hiking while learning about sustainability and local biodiversity. After an amazing experience, students may feel compelled to continue studying Spanish long after the program ends.
Morocco is a beautiful, magical country sure to fascinate students and spark an interest in learning. Imagine bright, bold colors, dreamy landscapes, fresh spicy cuisine, and friendly locals. When students and teachers travel to Morocco, they get to open their minds to a completely different culture and widespread multilingualism.
Students and educators who enroll in our French Language Immersion in Morocco program will spend eight days exploring both a vibrant city and a rural village. They’ll participate in exciting activities like visiting local markets to practice bargaining skills in French and taking a cooking class. Every day starts with a traditional Moroccan breakfast followed by three hours of French instruction in a conversation-focused class. Students will have the opportunity to practice French as they dive into the local culture after lunch.
Students studying Arabic will benefit from our Arabic Language Immersion program. They’ll be exposed to Darija, the local dialect, which they can use to practice the language with locals. Students will also build skills in Modern Standard Arabic, which they will hear on TV and see in newspapers. This program involves small language classes where students will partner with native speakers to learn the local dialect. Lessons start in the morning followed by an afternoon of exploration and putting language skills to use within the community.
Benefits of Class Trips Abroad
As a teacher, your students look to you to guide them and motivate them throughout their language learning journey. One of the best steps you can take to show your commitment and passion for language is to travel with your students abroad. They’ll never forget the experience they had with you, and they’ll be more apt to retain what they learn when they practice their skills in real-world situations.
Traveling benefits you and your students in many different ways. For example, according to a recent study, students who travel are more engaged and more interested in learning, more successful in school, more likely to further their education, and more likely to earn higher wages than students who do not travel.
Also, you’ll strengthen the bond you share with your students which will help you in the classroom. If students trust you and believe you care about them and their growth, they’ll be more likely to engage in the classroom and listen to lessons. You and your students will enjoy an improved learning environment overall. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), teachers who have close relationships with their students report that students are more cooperative and less likely to avoid school.
Lastly, you’ll learn ways to improve your teaching methods as you watch your students communicate with native speakers. You’ll also remind yourself of the importance of lifelong learning as you hone your language skills.
Learn More About Our Educational Travel Programs
Are you ready to learn how to travel abroad with students? At Rustic Pathways, we make travel and language immersion a stress-free experience. We’re thrilled to work with educators and schools to create ideal group travel programs, and we strive to meet you and your students’ needs. Our experienced Program Leaders will be there with you and your students throughout each program to guide the journey and ensure students are safe, happy, and make the most of their experience abroad.
Marisa served as Program Leader and Flight Leader for Rustic Pathways and always looks back fondly on Rustic's first summer in the Dominican Republic in 2012. Marisa shared her love for language and community service with students while working alongside them in the bateyes. Marisa is a former Spanish teacher who works as a yoga instructor and blogger in San Francisco.