Language study abroad for the 50+ age group: separate or integrate?

We’ve gathered tips and views from IALC language centres in France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the UK on the characteristics and preferences of the senior or 50+ age group. Read on and decide for yourself: integrate or separate!

4 critical areas where mature students’ needs may differ

Richard Day of English in Chester identifies accommodation, balance of programme, support and critical mass as the key factors in this niche.

1. Accommodation

“50+ students are very demanding and have another standard of quality than a younger student,” says Sandro Humann of Estudio Sampere in Spain. Luca Armaroli at ALCE in Bologna agrees that mature students want more comfort and facilities: “Usually their first choice is superior families, boutique hotels and B&B, or totally independent flats.” 50+ students learning German at Horizonte in Regensburg and Spanish at Escuela de Idiomas Nerja overwhelmingly choose residential or apartment accommodation..

2. Balance of programme

For this age group, the activities matter as much as the languages classes. “They like culture, learning languages and international social networking within their age range,” says says Bob Burger at Malaca Instituto in Malaga, a firm believer in dedicated 50+ programmes. ”We offer an activity each weekday just for the 50s + group and a staff member accompanies every activity and excursion.” Given the importance of cultural activities to these clients, it’s vital to check and advise them accurately on what’s included, says Andrew Hjort at Melton College in York. “A painting class that does not take place can be a big disappointment,” agrees Sandro Humann.

3. Dedicated support

Special 50+ programmes normally include dedicated support, such as a separate induction and a named staff contact.  At Alpha b in Nice, course participants have their own first day welcome and city tour, and a restaurant dinner with their teacher on the last Friday.

4. Critical mass

People over 50 are a small part of the student population and IALC language schools deal with this in different ways. Alpha b runs separate classes 4 times a year and otherwise integrates 50+ students into general French courses. “For the pure 50+ classes, if a client is not fitting in the general A2 to B1 level, we offer an international class of that level,” Anja adds.

Escuela de idiomas Nerja has been running its separate Club 50 + Course for more than 15 years and now has ten starting dates per year. At ALCE in Bologna, 50+ students have their own social programme but always join the international classes. And apart from 2 dates per year, Lyon Bleu also integrates mature students into regular classes: “We inform our clients clearly that they will be inserted in a mixed age general French group. People registering for these courses have so many different levels that we think it’s the best way to handle it,” says director Frederique di Tuillio.

Other language schools integrate mature students fully, like Horizonte in Regensburg. Director Bernhard Friedl explains: “50+ people don’t want to be in 50+ programmes. The 50+ people in our courses are happy to be in the “normal” groups and most of them make an excellent contribution to the group life.”

At IS in Aix-en-Provence, the average student age is 40 so there is no need to separate 50+ students. “We also attract the more mature students by optional courses at specific dates combined with general French, such as Discover Provence, Provence cooking and Oenology” says Anna Clara Sainte-Rose. It’s the same at Piccola Universita Italiana in Trieste, Italy. “The 50+ (we actually call it 60+ because calling it 50+ is rather ridiculous for our portfolio) is just an eye catcher. Students at this age do not want to be separated,” says Simone Rainer.

It’s an approach shared by Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre in New Zealand. Owner Kim Lawry says: “We find that amalgamating the seniors into normal classes where they are treated just like any other student is the very best way to make them feel part of the school. Our policy has been questioned sometimes by some agents, but it is unlikely to change because of the very positive feedback we get from the senior students themselves.”

Summing up the pro-integration camp is Barbara Jaeschke at GLS in Berlin: “Nowadays, 50+ clients are often in the middle of their career instead of looking forward to retirement. They do not want a more relaxed or less academic course – what they primarily want is a truly grown-up learning atmosphere, and that demand is not limited to ages 50+.”

So integrate or separate? Clearly both can work, so our advice to agents counselling students over 50 is:

  • Check what the individual wants – integration with other age groups or separate classes
  • Match them with the right programme
  • Make sure you and they understand what’s included and excluded


Characteristics of  the senior/50+ market:

  • Looking for short (1-2 week) courses
  • 50-50 balance of course and organised activities
  • Residential, apartment or hotel accommodation in preference to homestay
  • Convenience: easy access to school and local sights
  • Specific activities i.e. less clubbing, more culture
  • Experienced and well-educated – separate activities or catered for within a big programme

Article written by Jan Capper, Executive Director of the International Association of Language Centres (IALC).

Contributors are owners and senior managers of IALC-accredited language schools: Richard Day, English in Chester, UK | Sandro Humann, Estudio Sampere, Madrid, Alicante, Salamanca in Spain, Cuenca in Ecuador, Havana in Cuba | Luca Armaroli, ALCE, Bologna, Italy | Bernhard Friedl, Horizonte, Regensburg, Germany | Luis Carrion, Escuela de Idiomas Nerja, Spain | Bob Burger, Malaca Instituto – Club Hispanico SL, Malaga, Spain | Andrew Hjort, Melton College, York, UK | Anja Denyisiuk, Alpha b Institut Linguistique, Nice, France | Frederique di Tullio, Lyon Bleu, France | Anna Clara Sainte-Rose, IS in Aix-en-Provence, France | Simone Rainer, Piccola Universita Italiana, Trieste and Tropea, Italy | Kim Lawry, Coromandel Outdoor Language Centre, New Zealand | Barbara Jaeschke GLS, Berlin, Germany


About this blog

Members of IALC share their insights on the language travel industry. Contributors are owners, directors, managers, teachers or administrative staff of IALC-accredited language schools worldwide.

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