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Study reveals shifting motivations for language travel and changes in how students book courses

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A new global survey provides fresh insights on the motivations and decision processes of students when planning for language study abroad
  • This year’s respondents reflect the increasing importance of future academic goals, and the continuing key role played by education agents in advising students and informing school selection

A new study published by the International Association of Language Centres (IALC) shows that students are increasingly interested in acquiring a new language to support their academic goals, though personal reasons – such as an interest in travel or desire to learn – remain the primary motivations for language study travel.

The IALC 2018 Research Report, Perfecting the Student Experience, is based on an online survey conducted among more than 4,700 students in 136 countries between January and March of 2017 and focused on the “pre-arrival phase of the study abroad journey.” It follows an earlier report in the series that “enumerated and quantified student preferences, experiences and, ultimately, satisfaction.”

The 2018 study respondents were former or current students of IALC schools around the world. Of the nine languages offered by IALC schools, English was the preferred language of study (46%), followed by German (19%) and Spanish (15%).

Students aged 18–24 composed the largest segment of respondents (37%), with 25–34-year-olds next (29%), followed by students aged 55+ (12%) and juniors aged 17 or younger (3%).

Patrik Pavlacic, head of research at StudentMarketing, presented key findings from the 2018 research report at IALC’s annual conference in Bologna.

Academic goals on the rise

Roughly half (53%) of this year’s student respondents were motivated by personal reasons for language travel, and relatedly, 40% said that “learning a language was part of their lifestyle and had been a lifelong dream.”

But those motivated to study a new language to support current or future studies is growing, with 27% now citing this reason versus 21% in 2013/14. By contrast, in the recent study 16% sought language learning for work-related reasons, a significant drop since 2013/14 when 21% chose this reason.

Chinese, English, and German for career or academic goals

Less than half of surveyed students studied Chinese, English, and German for personal reasons, with these languages more likely to be seen as instrumental for either further studies or employment. Students are particularly interested in learning Chinese for work reasons (35%). Italian, Spanish, and Japanese are the languages most likely to be studied for personal reasons.

The main reasons for going abroad for language study, by target language. Source: IALC

Those aged 55+ are not surprisingly the most motivated by personal reasons, and this group as well as 45–54-year-olds studying at IALC schools were the most likely to “want to spend some or all their vacation time” studying a language (particularly Spanish or Italian). Those aged 35–44 were the most likely to be driven by work-related reasons, and juniors and those aged 17– 24 were the most intent on pursuing a language to support their academic goals.

Education agents a key channel

While the dominant ways in which language students first find information on language schools is the Internet (school website or third-party portal), education agents are the main sources for junior students as well as those in the 18–24 age bracket.

major-information-channels-through-which students-first-find-information-about-language-schools
Major information channels through which students first find information about language schools. Source: IALC

More than 60% of students selected their school using Internet searches, education agents, and the advice of friends. As for final selection, students’ own research was the primary factor (45%) followed by the advice of education agents (28%) and then the reputation of the school (22%).

The dominant reason for choosing a destination (as opposed to a particular school) was the image of the destination itself (25%), and New Zealand, Australia, and Japan were the most popular for those motivated by this reason. One in six IALC students chose a destination with future studies or employment in mind, and study in China was especially linked to this motivation.

For those students studying English, agent recommendations were the dominant influence in choosing a destination.

Booking preferences are changing

While the largest share of respondents booked their courses directly (32%) from their home country, this is down from 40% in 2013/14. That said, remote bookings (i.e., bookings made in the student’s home country) are responsible for 45% or more of bookings for studies in French, German, and Italian, and an impressive 62% of bookings for Japanese language learning.

Meanwhile, bookings through an education agent have risen from 16% in 2013/14 to 23% in the most recent study; a large component of this increase is the fact that 42% booked through an education agent for English-language courses (versus 11% or less of students who booked Chinese, German, French, Italian, Spanish, or Japanese courses through an education agent).

In-person bookings have fallen to 15% from 18% in 2013/14, but they compose by far the largest portion of bookings (39%) when it comes to Chinese language learning.

The use of education agents peaks among those aged 18–24 (32%) and 25–34 (30%), with remote bookings increasing in every age cohort after that.

The increasing use of education agents at some point along students’ journeys to their ultimate choice of school and destination is highlighted in this excerpt from the study:

“Every fourth student uses an education agency at some point, even if ultimately enrolling via another channel, predominantly directly (remotely, as well as in-person at the school) or through educational institutions in the home country.”

For additional background, please see:

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