Life-Changing Experiences


Chris Retallack tells about the Language Learning Experience at SUL Language Schools. For over  30 years, SUL has been organising Language Learning Experiences for international academic institutions in the South West of England for young people.

Chris, help us understand what do you regard as SUL’s Mission.

After over 30 years of teaching, meeting and working with those who have come to the UK to learn English, I know that the one element that makes the really big difference to Language Learning is the quality of the ‘experience’ when abroad.  The experience itself is clearly made up of three parts: the approach of the teaching process; the environment in which it happens and those with whom you share the experience. It is has been the awareness of the importance of this combination that separates the modern approach from the didactic version of the past and which is now bringing such excellent  results.

I have also seen how English has been effecting peoples existence. Once it was an academic subject but now use of English really has the power to change lives going far beyond simply ‘doing better’ at school. It can now radically change one’s career prospects as well as open up opportunities for people to develop relationships and friendships that formerly would have been quite impossible.

Every day I go to our office, I remind my team that our mission is to create compelling experiences for every single person who come to us so when they leave us they really can change their lives for the better. It makes no difference to us if that person is 10 or 50; is from Italy or Nepal, has come alone or sent by a company, the objective remains absolutely the same: deliver the experience.


So, these days who is asking SUL to give them that type of Experience?

Once, our clients were essentially schools and even today we continue to serve many school groups. It’s fair to say that it was the educational institutions who first recognised the academic value of bringing children to where the language originated but its effect on achievement of fluency was – and still is – quite limited. In the past much of the world was in effect ‘closed’ so the main interest  was from essentially  W. Europe particularly France and Spain.

Today, the situation is very different. Large populations like India, China and Russia now have the chance to travel and learn. East Europeans who quickly adopted English as their 2nd language now want to practice it. However, the biggest change is the mindset whereby the common language between all non-English speakers is now expected to be English: this is what is finally being recognised by parents planning for their children’s future.

To this must be added globalisation and the world of work. Many companies are demanding common language practice both internally and to their customers. They recognise the need for all employees to use both spoken and written English and we are seeing that need filtering through fast as we begin to work directly with employers who now view the language as an integral part of  their training“

This combination is changing who comes to SUL. We see more adults, more nationalities and more direct contact with families who are entrusting us to prepare their kids for the future: a big responsibility!


Please explain, what does the SUL Experience actually consist of?

Imagine a puzzle made up of four large parts. On one is written ‘Learning’, on the 2nd ‘Environment’, on the 3rd  ‘People’ and on the last is written ‘Enjoyment’.  Let’s have a look at each in turn.

Learning is not teaching but the quality of teaching has a direct effect on learning. We only select expert tutors to teach English to non-mother tongue speakers (TEFL) and we design our approach & method  around the use & practice of the language: even our excursions are used ‘to teach’ in our courses. The way we structure the teaching groups is such that English is often the only common language between the groups further promoting language use.

Environment is  a critical aspect not to be under-estimated. Being in the UK, groups are completely surrounded with the language so there is no escape and no respite! Not only are they in a beautiful area but are usually hosted in families or with the tutors themselves where they are subjected to linguistic dynamics that come close to that of home-life further developing learning opportunities.

Add the fact that we don’t view the people who come to SUL as students at all but as ‘guests’ so we go to great lengths to create an atmosphere which is both friendly and international where no one feels like a stranger at all but as one with a common purpose. The final touch are our Excursion Programmes which  are designed to be inspiring, varied and distinctive all contributing to that vital final element  of Enjoyment: the picture becomes complete!


You mention a ‘Beautiful Area’ but where are your course locations?

For traditional school groups and educational visits we organise courses all over the south of the UK plus Ireland (Sligo) and Scotland (Edinburgh & Stirling). We respond to the needs of the institutional organisers because many come back year after year and simply want to run a standard courses but change the location.

With our Intensive and Adult courses however, we have decided to focus on the South West of England and London for two basic reasons: knowledge and diversity. Whilst all of us in the UK know that London is absolutely not England, we fully recognise its attraction as an international metropolis  and a place where there is a fantastic amount to see and do which is exactly why our popular Discovery London Course is there again in 2015.

In complete contrast is the area of the country in which SUL was founded – Cornwall. The county is in the far south-west corner of England and is completely surrounded by the Atlantic ocean. It is famed for its fantastic coastline, its maritime heritage and as an area associated with myths and legends: some claim even Jesus visited!

We have chosen Plymouth as our centre of excellence for the Discovery South West course since it is the 3rd largest natural harbour in the world and today it is served by an excellent infrastructure connecting it with Bristol, Exeter and London.  Our Junior Residential Course this year is in North Devon at the wonderful Shebbear boarding school in another sublime location in what we call an area of ‘real’ England. Bags of choice for everyone!


Chris, who do we get in touch with for more information?

We have partners all over Europe who help families, individuals, companies and institutions to decide which course is best for their particular requirement. They are the ones that generally are more  au fait with the local situations and have information in local language. My advice is always to make them the first port of call for those with a serious interest and if there is something they are unable to answer immediately, we are frequently in touch with them so  no delays should be experienced.

In Italy the contact telephone numbers are as follows:

Mobile: +39 335 6184924 (Mike Wright)

Office:   + 39 02 36531203 (Corrado dal Corno)

An e-mail can be sent by clicking here and to visit their site in Italian click here. Full information about SUL can be found in English at our site >

I hope I have been able to give your listeners an idea of what we try to do here at SUL and we look forward to welcoming some of them to the SUL Experience here in the UK.