Belfast (Nordirland)

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Paul, Director of Studies in Belfast

Als Director of Studies ist Paul verantwortlich für die Englischkurse an der Sprachschule in Belfast.  Er koordiniert die Kurse, stellt Lehrer ein und supervisioniert die Qualität des Unterrichts.

Paul, tell us a little bit about your school (location, facilities…)

We’ve got a great location in the Queen’s Quarter of the city. This is the old university district with its iconic red-brick University, wide tree-lined avenues, and the tranquil green expanses of the Botanic gardens , as well as a cosmopolitan atmosphere and vibrant café culture.

Since 2007, we've been welcoming thousands of students to Belfast to learn English in a comfortable, modern and friendly environment. We are housed in a lovely, newly refurbished building which keeps all of its Victorian charm with original features such as stained-glass windows and wooden carving and stucco work. The school has 12 bright, spacious classrooms with interactive whiteboards, over four floors, a study room, computers, kitchen and dining area, and an attractive courtyard. We also have a library of CDs, DVDs and books for you to borrow. And we’ll keep you connected with free Wi-Fi throughout the building.

How do you define your quality standards?

As far as a definition of quality standards is concerned, we are British Council accredited, a certified Cambridge ESOL examination and teacher training centre. All of this requires regular and rigorous inspections to ensure very high quality service across every aspect of the school.

As far as teaching is concerned we maintain especially high standards. Our Director of Studies, Maeve Keohane, and the teacher training team provide ongoing teacher development sessions once a month for all our teaching staff, including training on how to exploit the latest technologies in the classroom.

How do you select your teaching staff?

Teachers all must have the Cambridge CELTA qualification plus experience. Our permanent full-time teaching staff (Lisa, Sophie, Aaron, Gayle and Ian) has a combined experience of 40 years teaching in the EFL industry.

Belfast is an up-and-coming tourist destination. What makes it different to other English destinations?

We are a brand new destination, not only for study abroad but for tourism in general. As such, we offer something unique; that is an English-speaking country which still has relatively few foreign students. That means there is less likelihood of our students spending all their time socialising with people in their own language. It is very easy for students to connect with local culture, meet local people and enjoy the famous craic!

What profile do your students have? What are the average ages and nationalities?

We run course for adults all year at our main centre on University Street (average 20-35 years of age). Most of our students are European (especially Spanish, French and Italian), but we also have a significant number from South America (especially Brazil), the Middle East and East Asia.

How are your Cambridge Exam courses structured? Who can benefit from them?

These are 25-hour-per-week courses which combine a 20-hour Intensive Course with 5 hours of exam preparation. The course runs over 4, 8 or 12 weeks. We are also a certified Cambridge exams centre, so students can also do the exams here in the school.

The exam courses can of course be expected – depending on the dedication of the student! – to raise the level of the student as well as to prepare them for the exam.

Do you have any tips on how students can improve their chances of success at the Cambridge ESOL exams outside the classroom?

The recipe for successful learning and success in the Cambridge exams has three elements: great teaching; conscientious studying; and authentic exposure to English in a friendly and open city…..like Belfast!

What are favourite accommodation options for your students?

By far the two preferred options for our students are our apartments in Sandhurst House and our homestays.

At the Sandhurst apartments you will be just a few seconds away from school and in the heart of the University district with its shops, bars and restaurants. The city centre and all main bus stations and train stations are within easy walking distance. This new building is modern and comfortable, with both one- and two-bedroom fully-furnished apartments. All have a fridge, washing machine, TV, oven, dishwasher and free Internet.

Home Stay accommodation allows you to be immersed in local culture, using English with your hosts at every opportunity and so learning even when you’re not in the classroom. We have carefully selected local families who offer single-room accommodation to students as a bed and breakfast or half board (which includes an evening meal). Some families are also able to offer your own private bathroom.

What can students expect to find in Belfast and what shouldn’t they expect?

Things to expect: a warm welcome; friendliness; openness; a curiosity towards foreigners; a low-rise, accessible and peaceful city with beautiful red-brick Victorian architecture; fresh air and low pollution; one of the safest cities in the world; a vibrant pub culture; an excellent arts scene – especially music (traditional, rock, jazz, classical); the traditional and the modern; fantastic shops; great restaurants and cafés; a fascinating recent history and politics; an optimistic city undergoing a renaissance!

Things not to expect: a predictable and conventional experience; conformity; perfection; boredom; sterility; a tropical climate!

What is there to see around Belfast?

Northern Ireland has been designated a “must see” destination by Lonely Planet,
one of the world’s top travel guides. You’ll understand why when you visit and
explore our dramatic coastlines, rolling fields and windswept mountains. In fact, Northern Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful and unspoiled scenery anywhere in the UK. From the breathtaking Antrim coast and glens, the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, the Mountains of Mourne, the Marble Arch Caves and Lough Neagh (the largest lake in the British Isles), to the Fermanagh Lakelands, dotted with tiny islands, wooded parks and monastic ruins, these gems of Northern Ireland are stunningly beautiful and all within easy reach of Belfast. And you’ll get to do more than just admire the view. Across Northern Ireland you’ll find facilities for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, fishing, sailing, canoeing and golf.

Does the school offer excursions as part of the programme?

Yes. Activities are planned all year round and include guided visits to places of interest in the city and trips across Northern Ireland. During the week (Mon-Fri) we have a social activity every day – accompanied by a staff member on at least 4 of the days. At the weekend we have trips out and about in Northern Ireland, including a day spent on the magnificent North Coast and Giant’s Causeway, and another in the famous Mountains of Mourne, inspiration for CS Lewis’s magical land of Narnia. Most activities and visits are free – on occasion, transport costs or entry fees need to be paid – and the weekend trips are an affordable £22-£25. We can also help you to find out about and arrange sporting activities.

What is Belfastian English like? Any useful expressions? Any taboos?

Like most local varieties of English, Belfast English is characterised by an accent, pronunciation and intonation (stronger in some than others!); some grammatical and lexical idiosyncracies (for example the 2nd person plural form of ‘yous’ and the diminutive adjective ‘wee’); and some characteristic idiomatic expressions such as ‘Bout ye!’ (Hello!), ‘What’s the craic?’ (What’s happening?/ How are you?). Students generally like to learn a bit of the local patois to spice up their speech!

Irish food doesn’t have the best reputation. Is this fair? What should you eat when in Belfast?

How dare you!  Despite stereotypes, it is quite possible to eat very well in Ireland! We have the best milk and butter in Europe (80% of our agricultural land has cows and sheep on it); we have excellent and reasonably priced meat – especially lamb, beef and smoked bacon; the best spuds (potatoes) in the world, excellent green veg, and plentiful fresh fish and seafood. If you don’t want to cook, we have excellent restaurants – my personal favourite is the Mourne Seafood Bar where you can live the heavenly experience of washing down fresh Atlantic oysters with a creamy pint of the black stuff (Guinness!), or try a plate of ‘champ’ - buttered Comber spuds with fresh parsley, cured bacon and scallions! For plentiful, cheap and tasty food you can also eat in the pubs, where a big tasty plate of sausage and champ will only cost you £7 or 8.

Can you recommend any good films or books to prepare for a stay in Belfast?

Any poems by Seamus Heaney (E.g. Death of a Naturalist); a Colin Bateman novel (e.g. Divorcing Jack (Book); many Belfast-set films such as Mickybo and Me (Film)

Last, but not least… any nightlife tips?

Firstly and fore mostly, go to the pubs! This is where everything happens in Belfast – not only for drinks – also excellent traditional music every night of the week, stand-up comedy, pub quizzes, karaoke and most of all, the famous Belfast ‘craic’ – good times, banter (conversation) and friendship. Apart from our school, this is where you will learn most about speaking English. Favorite pubs with our students are Lavery’s, Madden’s, Kelly’s, The Garrick, The Crown, The Duke of York and the excellent and not-for-profit John Hewitt which offers some of the best pub-grub in town.

We have excellent theatre and concert venues including the Black Box, the Lyric Theatre, the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Hall, the Crescent Arts Centre and the iconic Waterfront Hall; many cinemas including the art house QFT which shows many independent films; and a plethora of nightclubs if you want to party until the early hours. Believe me, if you can’t have a good time in Belfast, you can’t have one anywhere!

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