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A Guide to Language Schools Abroad

If Duolingo or hand-made flash cards aren’t making you the language whizz you hoped to be, maybe it’s time to try a different approach. A great way to learn the rules of a language (as well as all of the interesting, dirty slang that is relevant to life which school textbooks don’t mention) is to attend a specialized language school. Even better, a language school abroad. That way, you can put all of those verb conjugation charts into use after class and see how those idiomatic expressions hold up with locals. Practice makes perfect, right? The points below are a couple things to take into consideration when looking for the right way for you to learn a language abroad.

STEP 1: CHOOSE A LANGUAGE

The biggest factor to consider when choosing a language school abroad is the language that you’re interested in learning. While there are language schools abroad for almost any type of language, some languages are more popular than others. According to GoAbroad’s popularity rankings, you’ll find yourself among a good amount of company if you decide to study the following languages abroad:

  • Italian. The language of opera, love, and some really delicious food. Be prepared to devote most of your vocabulary to different types of pasta shapes and grape varieties.
  • Chinese. From story-like histories of its characters to its present dominance in the current global business sphere, Chinese doesn’t seem to disappear in importance soon.
  • Spanish. Not just useful for Don Juans and fans of cheesy telenovelas. Spanish is the main language is all of Central and South America (Brazil aside). That’s a lot of new travel or work opportunities…
  • French. Once you get tired of reciting revolutionary poetry and singing jazz, take French to international relations. Did you know that (along with English), French is the only language spoken on all five continents? (We still have to decipher what accent the penguins are squawking in though).
  • Arabic. The glamour of the Middle Eastern economy aside, Arabic is both lyrical and powerful. Impress everyone around you with skills in this growing language.
  • German. Add some structure to your life with the rules of this handy language. Also, it’s the language with the most internet domains… and that’s where the future will be, right?

STEP 2: SELECT A LOCATION

Now that you have a language picked, the location should be a lot easier to choose. English schools tend to exist all over the world, but other languages are going to be a lot more location-specific. For example, if you want to study French, you’re probably going to end up in France. If you want to study Vietnamese, you will most likely not be living in Kenya.

All things considered, Italy, China, Spain, France, the UAE, and Germany are all good candidates for destinations if you want to learn the most popular languages abroad. But, there are some hidden gems that might provide even more value to the experience of learning a foreign language abroad.

  • Singapore. Tradition, modernity, multiculturalism, Chinese lessons, and chic design all rolled into one. There’s no lions in this Lion City, but plenty of other attractions outside of the classroom.
  • México. Believe it or not, Mexico isn’t just violence and drugs. In Oaxaca, you’ll find everything your heart could desire: mountains, beaches, colonial cities, happy people, tamales, and great Spanish classes, for a fraction of Spain’s prices.
  • Canada. If the Eiffel tower seems a bit too foreign or far-away to learn French abroad, Canada might work out better. Friends are easy to find among all the lumberjacks, tree-huggers, and beavers (and some real people too)…and you can even resort to English for emergencies.
  • Morocco. Learn Arabic abroad in a cost-efficient place while riding across the Sahara on camels in your downtime. For extended weekend trips, the question will be: Europe? Africa? Middle East?
  • Switzerland. Pretty much right in the middle of midland Europe (and the Alps, adventurers!), you can take your pick of Italian or German in Switzerland. Either option comes with postcard views.

STEP 3: FIND A PROGRAM

Not all language schools abroad are created equal. And that’s great, because you can use the differences to your advantage and pick the language program abroad that best matches what you are interested in. Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing a language program abroad:

Schedule. Evening classes? Day classes? Three hours a day? 12-hour day immersions? Twice a week, Monday to Friday, weekend classes? There are a lot of options, so pick the language program that works best for you. If you’re on vacation and attending language school is just an additional perk (good hobby!), you’ll probably want your weekends free. If you need to learn an entire language in three weeks (good luck!), don’t skimp out on hours.

Most language schools are flexible with the arrival of new students and offer new spaces on a weekly basis, but some of the bigger, more-organized institutions do require you to sign up in anticipation, so check the flexibility of start dates. Usually, you can renew your involvement on a weekly basis.

Class Size. As a rule, the greater attention given in smaller classes is very helpful for language learning. However, some people do prefer the anonymity of a larger student environment. Then there’s also the possibility of one-on-one tutoring. Your choice of language school all depends on your goals. Private language classes offer more possibility for practice and the ability to move at your own rate, however the class atmosphere (and all of the mentalities, questions, and input that comes from them) is great for mingling.

Extra, extra, extra! Check what is included in your language program, and ask yourself if you’re interested. For example, many language schools offer cultural components so students can get to know the traditions and lifestyles of the country (ex. dance classes, museum excursions, cooking demonstrations, field trips, weaving demonstrations, etc.). While some people enjoy these, some people prefer to tackle the country solo.

Regardless, a good thing to look out for is the possibility of a language exchange. The best way to master a foreign language is to speak and interact with a native. Many language schools have a network of students/teachers already set up, so you’ll be able to meet up and teach your native tongue for half an hour, then converse in their language for the other half. Not only is this a great alternative to private tutoring, but you’re sure to make a few friends along the way!

Price. This factor is mostly calculated from a mixture of the above factors. Most internationally-acclaimed language schools abroad with fancy websites will charge more and seem more professional, but do not discredit hand-made websites. Often times, it is in the smaller, less-famous language schools that true personal interaction takes place and a new family is born. Search for a good value, but don’t miss out by saving every penny or confuse expensive sign-up costs for quality.

STEP 4: COMMIT & GO!

It might seem that picking a language, a country, and a school were the tough parts, but remember: you still have a language to learn! And it’s not always gonna be une part de gâteau. You need dedication, enthusiasm, time, and a little sprinkle of magic.

Here’s some additional tips to help you successfully learn a foreign language abroad:

  • Practice with a native. There’s no better teacher than a native. Take advantage of this while abroad and make new friends, talk to strangers in the street, chat up the cashier, or say hola to the post man. Interact with as many people as possible, in as many situations as possible. Then, have some good heart-to-heart conversations as well.
  • Incorporate it into your life. Surround yourself with the new language until you’re dreaming in it. Listen to music, switch the language on your electronics, read books, label your panty items in the new tongue (sticky notes are great friends).
  • There’s life beyond the subjunctive. Once the Big Kid grammar rules come into play, don’t freeze or frown. It’s important to know when to use the subjunctive or conditional, but always focus first on basic communication. The rest will come with practice. Don’t freak out.
  • Read. A lot. Out loud. Consistently.
  • Do your homework. If you’re spending time and money on a class, make the most of it. Be sure to review class notes, memorize new vocabulary, complete assigned homework (extra credit as well), and study a bit. This way, class time can be used for learning even more.

Most importantly, have fun with the experience! Whatever the language you choose to learn abroad, don’t forget to learn the traditions, cultures, and tastes of the people. It’ll make things taste better and will explain a lot of things, even some of those pesky grammar structures. In bocca al lupo!

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