Residential or Homestay?


For the foreign child coming to The UK to learn English two distinct types of course are available: the residential course, in which the student lives, eats and receives lessons in the school; and the homestay course, in which the student lives with an English family. Which is better? 


Homestay: A student placed with a good family is in an excellent position to practise everyday English in a natural social and cultural context. Much will depend on the confidence of the student and the affability of the family. A student lacking confidence, or faced with a socially or culturally unfamiliar situation, might feel too shy to talk. Remember also that much of a student’s time in a homestay situation will be spent outside the family with other students on the course. It is important therefore for the students to come from a variety of countries if they are to benefit from speaking English together. It is unwise to accept a situation where students of the same nationality are lodged with the same family. 

Residential: so long as the residential situation is genuinely multinational (and it is advisable to check how many students share the same mother tongue) a great deal of English will be spoken between students from different countries and cultures. There is arguably greater motivation to speak English because the students must use the language to make friends with others who share common interests. For students to learn English it is important that they feel socially comfortable. For younger students especially a feeling of ‘safety in numbers’ on residential courses helps them to feel less inhibited or isolated, more likely to join in. 


Homestay: a student well-placed with an English family is in an excellent position to learn about English life and culture. What this is, however, will depend on how lively and cultured the host family is. Host families are paid to accept students so there is some tendency for poorer families to act as hosts. This has social and cultural implications that you need to be aware of. 

Residential: there is less contact with everyday English life and culture. However, students from many different countries and cultures mix together and benefit by becoming more ‘international’: arguably more useful than knowledge about English life and culture in today’s world. 


Homestay: reputable organisations try hard to accommodate students with good host families. Nevertheless standards of food, comfort, etc. will inevitably vary from one family to another.

Residential: because all students receive the same food and use the same facilities, standards can be guaranteed. Facilities can be checked in advance by a careful reading of the school’s brochure or web site. If the school is Accredited by English UK / The British Council, these have to be truthful. If not, there is an independent complaints procedure. Students at residential schools also benefit from the on-site facilities such as swimming pools, sports halls, sports fields, etc. These help them to mix and speak English together. Read the school’s information carefully to check exactly what is available at each site.


Homestay: the students generally have more freedom than in a residential situation. The normal stipulation is that a child should return to the host family’s home by a certain time in the evening. What they do, where they go, who they see during this time is largely their own choice. This encourages independence but it also carries risks, especially if students feel they are beyond their parents’ control. So the maturity of the child and the nature of the local town and its inhabitants become important considerations. 

Residential: 24-hour supervision is possible. This limits freedom. For example students will not normally be allowed to leave the school grounds without a member of staff. However, campus often cover a large area, with on-site facilities. There will also be opportunities for the students to go on supervised shopping trips and excursions. Contact with the local community will be more limited, but the students can socialise with their counterparts from different countries and cultures. Some residential courses also invite British youngsters to participate.


With homestay courses there are many different variables to take into account: the type of family, the personality of the child, the nature of the locality. At best, the child will form excellent relationships with the host family and return year after year (or ‘exchange’ with another child on a swap basis).

In the residential situation it is easier to guarantee standards and facilities are generally better. At best, students will return home healthy and refreshed having made new friends all over the world. Whatever type of course you choose, make sure the school is Accredited by English UK / The British Council: participating schools undergo regular inspections to safeguard standards. 

© Christopher Etchells, ECS, revised 2019

ECS organises British Council Accredited, residential, international English Language and activity summer courses in The UK for children and teenagers. A maximum of 5 boys and 5 girls are accepted in each age group in order to ensure an excellent mix of nationalities.