The demand for English courses is related to the increasing priority of English as one of the main international languages. Globalization and the acceleration of international trade, commerce and travel have greatly boosted the demand for English. Ireland has always been a very popular destination for tourists because of its reputation for beautiful scenery and hospitality. This reputation combined with the fact that English is the primary spoken language means that Ireland is also a top destination for students who want to go abroad to study english. It is estimated that the EFL sector in Ireland contracts more than 130,000 students annually.
Globally, the British Council has indicated, in a report on international education, that the numbers of EFL students could grow to 2 billion by 2010, which means there will be more and more students coming to Ireland in the future.
According to a survey carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology in 2006, students from Italy made up the largest single nationality group, accounting for 38% of all EFL students who came to Ireland between April 2005 and March 2006. Spanish (15%) and French students (9%) also made up a sizeable percentage of students. European students make up an overwhelming majority of all EFL students in Ireland (74%). Students from Asia account for about 10% of the total, with the vast majority of these students concentrated in the senior category.
An important factor, when examining the EFL sector in Ireland, is the age profile of foreign students who come here. Research carried out by the Language Travel Magazine (2006) shows that students aged between 19 and 24 years of age are the largest group. Interestingly, students aged 19 years and older represent over 70% of all students.
It is interesting to ask the question, why do students choose Ireland rather than other English speaking countries? Irelands’ reputation for friendship I think must be among the top reasons. Ireland has always been known for its hospitality and welcome to foreign visitors. The host families play an important role in this, as they allow students to experience, first hand, Irish culture and family life. They create a ‘home away from home’ atmosphere. Ireland is also perceived as still being a reliably safe place to visit and this is probably another important factor in why students choose Ireland.
The Lonely Planet travel guide group listed Ireland as the Worlds’ Friendliest Country, in 2007. The Lonely Planet’s Blue list books are annual collections of the top trends, destinations and experiences around the world. In the latest survey, Ireland came in above Fiji, Indonesia and Malawi as the friendliest travel destination. “Visitors are always ‘in for a treat’ and with ‘The Troubles’ ended, ‘a cautious optimism reigns supreme, infecting the land once again with the sense that anything’s possible’ Lonely Planet, (2007).
Aspects of popular culture including the success of bands like U2 and Westlife, as well as the international profile of the Riverdance ensemble and Irish film may also have had an influence in promoting a positive view of Ireland. Ireland’s membership of the EU is also an important factor for students from EU countries. Ireland’s historical heritage and literary tradition also carry interest for students. In addition, the awareness of the Celtic Tiger economy is relevant to the perception that Ireland is likely to be an easier country in which to find employment.
There is a greater selection of English courses available in Ireland. English programs are now widespread throughout the country and not just in Dublin city. Cities like Galway, Limerick and Cork now also have a range of English schools and programs to choose from. Some examples of the courses include, general English courses, intensive english courses, homestay english courses. There is a trend towards combining English courses with other sports and cultural activities such as horse riding, golf, rugby, fishing.
Other students enjoy spending time in the Irish countryside by learning English through a stay on a farm.
The choices are endless!