York, a rewarding and fascinating City in which to study and teach EFL….where size certainly doesn’t matter!
By Peter Read
York city, the ancient capital of England, is one of its greatest treasures. Steeped in history, this thriving and bustling small city, was once home to Roman soldiers and then later Danish Vikings, who gave York the ancient name of Jorvik.
Today, it is also popular for its connection to the Harry Potter films and there is more than one wizard shop in the ancient medieval Shambles ( a medieval street with great examples of Tudor architecture).
It may sound fanciful and in reality very unlikely to have happened, but it could just be that York was one of the first places in England to offer classes to students wanting to learn English as a foreign language.
Both Roman governors and Viking plunderers and marauders would have had to learn some of the English language prevailing at the time in order to assert their authority, govern or even marry the local Celtic beauties!
Today York is one of the most popular destinations for EFL students from around the world. I teach English there on a freelance basis and it is a delight to go to work every day and explain to my students the marvels of this ancient city. History is very often confined to text books, but walking around York, one can touch and feel the history and thus bring it alive.
York is a walled medieval city and a former stronghold. There are four gates to the city where upon entering, one is faced with an El Dorado of historical choices to explore. One can start with the famous York Minster cathedral, whose construction began in 1220, although there is evidence of church there since 620 AD.
Continue then to the Jorvik Viking centre, which is a celebration of York’s Norse heritage. Here you can experience the life and times of the Vikings and even take a ride through time, witnessing the everyday life of a Viking warrior and his family.
The city is comparatively small and very easy to get around. It is full of traditions, heritage, ancient buildings and medieval allyways that are often slow to release their secrets but well worth the investigation when they do.
So, apart from its great history, just what is it that makes York such a popular choice with English Language students and teachers?
Why do both choose to come to this city instead of perhaps to some of the other well known English Language centres located in, for example, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford, South Coast towns such as Hastings or Bournemouth and inevitably London?
Well, it is an accepted fact, that many students believe that the ‘Great Metropolis’ offers the best facilities and tuition.This, from the author’s own experience is a misnomer and a mistake.
Whilst London does indeed offer a great deal, it also has disadvantages that include its sheer size, accessibility, in terms of the time involved in travelling, and the potential costs likely to be incurred in what can now be described as a vast sprawling megalopolis.
Added to which is the very expensive overall cost of living, including the often prohibitive price of accommodation and commuting to, from and around the centre.
Yes, there are many things to do and see in London but often, when choosing a course, students simply don’t realise just how large London is. As a consequence, it is sometimes impossible to achieve a balance between the real purpose of their visit, which is to study and improve their language skills, against the many social choices that London offers.
There are simply too many potential distractions and students do have to exercise a great deal of self-discipline to achieve their goal.
However, the pressures and disadvantages that describe London are simply not present in York. The pace of life is slower, it is easy to move around the city and nowhere is beyond a walk or short bus ride away, including the vast choice of accommodation that varies from hotels, hostels, B&Bs, private apartments and staying with host families together with a wonderful choice of restaurants, bars and eateries.
There is much to see and do that is within easy reach and does not conflict with nor take time away from the studying process.
Many ESOL students study English history during their school years in their own country. This often includes the Tudor Period, one that extends to include the English Civil War. To be able to walk around the walls of a city that was besieged by Oliver Cromwell’s army of Round Heads, and to go into ancient pubs and other buildings that are historically linked to the 17th century is another means of generating a practical interest in their English language studies.
One of the most famous pubs in York is named after the infamous Guy Fawkes who was born in York in 1570.
He was responsible for attempting to blow up parliament and is remembered every year on Nov 5th when Bonfire night is celebrated and when large fires are lit in communites throughout the land.
Poor Guy fawkes was captured and hung, drawn and quartered, a very gruesome death indeed.
Finally, I should mention the ghost tour which takes place nightly in the city centre. Here very convincing actors tell terrifying stories of York’s past while taking visitors to see the dungeons and ancient underground spaces.
This is a scary but truly fun experience and a chance to see the more unpleasant history of this fascinating city.
What York offers is a friendly environment in which to learn and teach. It is a much more approachable city than say cosmopolitan London which to the short-term visitor can appear inhospitable, unfriendly and difficult to get to know.
If, as a teacher you are thinking of bringing a group of students to England, then please consider York, you will not be disappointed.