On art / architecture ESL tours (1995)

The following is an introduction of a presented paper at the Penn-TESOL East conference on 29 April 1995 in Philadelphia with the title "Creating a Culturally Rich Study Abroad Environment for ESL Learners".

R.J. Preece (EFL)
English for Art & Design | 21 June 2012
Click to see the English for Art and Design overview page.

On art / architecture ESL tours: Creating a Culturally Rich Study Abroad Environment for ESL Learners

Are you a teacher, researcher, working in the art/design industries, or a student of English for Art and Design? Join our new quarterly newsletter to learn the latest news and views on the English for Specific Purposes sub-field. Go to the contact page and put "English for Art and Design" in the message.


University ESL programs located in cultural tourism centers in the United States offer altogether different educational and cultural experiences than their study abroad counterparts in Europe. In European programs, courses dealing with art and architecture offer teachers opportunities to take learning outside of the classroom and into the local environment within an academic framework, accommodate student travel-oriented interests, and help create a culturally rich study abroad experience.

The fundamental issues that create these two kinds of experiences are discussed, followed by strategies for the integration of art and architectural study tours into the ESL curriculum.

I. Introduction

Compare the two study abroad situations:

In the first example, students enroll in a program in order to study the language and culture. For academic and cultural learning, students are taken to significant cultural and tourist sites to view paintings, sculpture, and architecture produced by the studied culture spanning over twenty-two centuries. In between the visits to sites, the group takes a bus across town, and has lunch in a cafe or stops for coffee. After the tour, students go off in small groups to see other sites or go shopping while the teacher invites interested students to go to a gallery opening or an art auction. During these excursions, the students learn about the artistic and cultural tradition of the studied environment, and the study of this tradition is used as a framework for the experiential learning about the common culture. The students leave the program with a feeling of accomplishment that they have experienced, explored, and studied a different culture.

In the second example, students also enroll in a program in order to study the language and culture. Students sit in class and study grammar, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. While cultural institutions and significant architectural sites are nearby, they are not incorporated into the language learning or academically-oriented study abroad experience. Field trips may occur, but they are often not ESL-oriented or academic experiences.

The first experience describes the study abroad experience offered to American students at Temple University in Rome, and can act as a general study abroad experience for Americans in Europe in / near culture centers. Meanwhile, the second example describes an often familiar occurrence in college level ESL programs in / near the culture centers of the United States.

While there are many things to explore in a new culture, art and architecture are motivating factors for domestic and international travel. For the example of Philadelphia, in Blue Guide World: New York, America, and the East Coast, a Japanese tour book, the first eight sights listed are those which deal with historical sites, colonial architecture, and an art museum. Yet, art and architecture tours are usually not incorporated into ESL programming despite their ability to provide educational and cultural introductions to the country and local environment for short-term visitors (up to one year), long-term visitors pursuing a degree, and recently-arrived immigrants.

In this paper, I will present the fundamental differences that create the two study abroad outcomes, outline courses and segments that lend themselves to incorporating tours, and suggest techniques for developing materials and organizing tours for ESL learners. At the end of this paper, two appendices offer teacher resources and additional tips for tours.

This presented paper became the basis for a later published article entitled "Visual arts learning opportunities for study abroad students in American ESL programs: Focus on tours" (1996/97). A follow-up presentation also occurred later in the year entitled "ESL collaborative ’day trip’ materials: How not to reinvent the wheel".