Even though Greek and Turkish are the official languages in Cyprus, the country’s British colonial past can be credited for its healthy English language industry.
Recently the tourism authority has begun including English as one of the island’s perks alongside the sun, fun and culture.
Those familiar with the Mediterranean region would not think students or agents would have problems placing Cyprus.
But Angela Wright, operations manager at Columbia Private Institute, says: “Putting Cyprus on the map was the biggest challenge in the beginning. Then secondly, putting it on the map for the language industry that we do speak English here.”
Being a British colony until 1960, English is very much still prominent today. Britain retains sovereignty over a few military bases, which make up 3% of the island, and over three quarters of inhabitants can speak English.
“Putting it on the map for the language industry that we do speak English here”
“English is an unofficial second language,” says Yiota Kontoloucas, director at Malvern House Cyprus.
Road signs throughout the country display an English translation below the Greek words and despite the variations in the names of a couple of the towns such as Lefkosia, known to the British as Nicosia, and Lemessos, also known as Limassol, understanding the directions on the road isn’t much of a problem.
“All the people, they speak English here,” says Iryna Pashaly, a student from Ukraine, who came to study English at Malvern House Cyprus to prepare for her IELTS test. “When they see that we try to speak English they just speak English as well, so it’s a chance to practise [the language].”
Cyprus attracts a mix of students from countries such as Russia, Italy and Ukraine
While there may be preconceptions about the English influence on the island, the holiday aspect is well renowned. “I think nobody would doubt the quality of the exotic part of what we have – the sun, the sea, the beach,” says Kontoloucas.
Another challenge schools face is demonstrating that there is in fact a high quality of education in the country.
The sector has responded by creating the English Language Schools Association of Cyprus, which has worked since its inception a few years ago with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation to reassure parents, agents, and students that there is a high level of quality of English language education on the island.
“The first thing it did was it brought together government organisations to be aware of the product,” says Kontoloucas, one of the founding members. “What Elsac has done, it’s aided CTO to formalise the idea of learning English in Cyprus. And when I say formalising I mean CTO now has a base.”
“The first thing it did was it brought together government organisations to be aware of the product”
The association, which has seven active school members. In order to be a member, schools must be accredited and inspected by the Ministry of Education.
“We want to protect the market,” says George Phylactou, chairman of the association and director of Xenion Education.
Areas which are inspected in the licensing process include the qualification level of the teachers, and the quality of the teaching materials used, as well as accommodation and excursions.
“Elsac has managed to get CTO to attend ICEF Berlin,” comments Kontoloucas. “We managed to get funding for certain fam trips and I think we’re on the right road.”
Students come from all over the world but Russian students alone made up just under half of the total number of visitors who came to Cyprus to learn English last year, approximately 2,500 students.
Cyprus has many beautiful spots for students to discover
Italy claimed 11% of the total, and Ukraine 9%. Kazakhstan and Germany completed the top five source countries.
But Russia faced difficult market conditions following the crash of its rouble last year, and some educators admit the devaluations impacted the ELT industry in Cyprus, as it did in other ELT markets.
“On the one hand the rouble means it costs more to come here, but on the other hand it is an expanding market, so there are more Russians who want to come,” explains Nicos Anastasiou, academic director at InterNapa College, a higher education institution that enrols many Cypriot students, but sees its biggest international student cohorts come from India, Pakistan and Nepal as well as Russia.
“On the other hand it is an expanding market, so there are more Russians who want to come”
Sun, Sea and iGCSEs
While it is possible to enrol in one of the island’s English language teaching institutions at any time during the year, the most popular times are, as expected, during the summer months.
“From the 15th June until the 10th August, this is our peak months,” says Phylactou at Xenion.
Established in 1980, Xenion Education started as a small language centre, expanding out into a private secondary school, as well as incorporating a private junior school.
Participation in Xenion’s summer language courses is the most popular among the 14-17 year olds, and a fun club is also offered for those aged 4-11, an option which is attracting growing interest, Phylactou says. On these courses, students take English classes in the morning, while the afternoon is filled with either excursions or other activities.
Junior courses are also the most popular at Columbia Private Institute, an English language school which opened 31 years ago and caters to both domestic and overseas students throughout the year.
“The final exam that they take is the IELTS,” explains Anna Athanasiou, one of the school’s directors. Unlike the country’s top source countries, the highest number of international students come to Columbia from France and Italy, instead of the Russian speaking market.
“Strangely enough, we have students from Greece,” adds Athanasiou. “And we’re going to have more groups coming because they know Cyprus has a reputation of a very good standard of English.”
“The UK has always been the main destination for tertiary education”
Despite the widespread use of English in the island, many Cypriots are not native speakers and take advantage of the ELT providers on their doorstep.
“I would say that during the year we have more Cypriot students [than foreigners],” says Maria Ioannou, CEO at Plato Educational Services who adds that, like most other schools on the island, is full of foreign students during the spring and summer months.
In addition to serving domestic students, Plato also offers course packages combining subjects such as creative writing, with English lessons, as well as excursions and other outdoor activities. The school also creates packages for young or adult students but also for families who want to combine vacation with study.
Pascal Education, a private secondary school chain with five campuses across Limassol, Larnaka and Nicosia, offers an English camp during the summer months. Students can come for a minimum of two weeks.
Xenion also runs a “fun club” for 4-11 year olds
“If you want to do the IELTS, the GCSE, we are running those throughout the year,” says Gregory Markides, the school’s senior manager. “Maybe there are students who want to come here for two months to have fun, to enjoy the Mediterranean island and learn English as well.”
Pascal has also more recently expanded into the boarding school space, providing accommodation for international students studying in Cyprus full time.
Teaching in the British curriculum provides students with the option to continue on to tertiary education in the UK, says Markides.
“The UK has always been the main destination for tertiary education,” he explains. “We can offer the prep courses, at high school or language programmes to enter the universities in England. It’s cheaper and people prefer to come to Cyprus to prepare themselves.”
He also acknowledges that universities are now beginning to realise the prospects that the island has to offer.
The UK-based University of Central Lancashire set up a €53m campus in Pyla, not far from Limassol, in 2002, and English language school Malvern House Cyprus has partnered with the institution to offer a university taster camp.
Now in its third year, this uni taster camp combines English language learning with university lectures in a range of subjects including computing, business studies, marketing and sports science.
“The whole thing is very carefully knitted together to combine a course that’s for the students that really don’t know what they want to do at university,” explains Yiota Kontoloucas, director of Malvern House Cyprus.
“The opportunity to come and holiday themselves at the same time the children are studying somewhere at the school”
English and Tourism
Cyprus has a thriving tourism industry, and sees around two million tourist arrivals a year, around half of whom are British nationals. Aware of the country’s growing reputation as an English language destination, the tourism board has more recently begun promoting its ELT offering.
“Cyprus offers the add-on experience,” says Antigone Kapodistria, tourism officer at the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. “Something that you cannot easily find in other destinations.”
“Education is a service, so you can combine learning with hanging out on the beach, what could be better?” echoes Anastasiou at InterNapa College.
Schools report that many students and families do combine language studies with tourist stays. “This is one of the benefits of Cyprus that offers these packages,” says Kapodistria. “The opportunity to come on holiday at the same time the children are studying somewhere at the school.”
“Or [parents] send the children and they come later, so they all have the holiday together,” she adds.
A small byzantine church is a typical treasure that tourists may stumble across
In a country where driving from Paphos on the west coast, to Protaras on the east coast takes just two hours, Cyprus’s history can be traced back thousands of years. You don’t have to travel through a neighbourhood for more than a couple of miles before stumbling across a small Byzantine church situated on the pavement.
The majority of the Greek Cypriot population is Greek Orthodox, so churches are also a common sight on hilltops or mountains, and the bigger monasteries remain enshrined within traditional villages.
“Cyprus is very small. Everything is interconnected you can easily be in the mountains you can take excursions, you can see archeological sites, you can see the history,” explains Kapodistria. “You can also have the modern bars and restaurants, modern boutiques, mosques, churches, vineyards…”
“I chose Cyprus because it’s an English speaking country”
“We’ve had groups that were located in a village for some time, and they also took classes there,” says Ioannou at Plato. “They combined them with painting workshops and pottery workshops, nature, trekking, these kind of things.”
Cyprus in the global marketplace
Competing on the global level isn’t always easy for this small island country but providers say rough seas in the UK market have driven students to their sandy shores.
“We’ve benefitted from the UK visa problem especially with the Russian market,” says Wright at Columbia. “It’s so easy to get a visa here.”
Study periods of less than three months are permitted on a tourist visa.
The strength of the sterling is also one of the motivating factors for students to turn away from the UK.
Anastasia Antropova, a Malvern House Cyprus student from Russia, is preparing for her IELTS test, with the hope of studying a master’s degree in the UK.
“I chose Cyprus because it’s an English speaking country,” she says. “And here it’s cheaper than the UK and also I don’t need a visa to go here.”