So, you want to take a language course abroad – what now? With so many options to pick from choosing a language course abroad can seem a little daunting. How do you know which school and course is right for you? What may be right for one person may not necessarily be right for you, so it’s useful to do a bit of research beforehand. Make sure you get off on the right footing by following our quick guide to 10 things to look out for in a language holiday.
For some people, where you study is more important than the school itself. You can learn a language in a huge variety of locations – beach, city, mountains, jungle – which will often determine what else there is to do outside class, so you can gear your language holiday towards your passion for surfing, shopping or even zip lining. Your choice of location may also affect the accent and dialect of your chosen language, so if you’ve previously only been to Spain, be aware that you may lose your ‘zeta’ in South America and need to swap ‘tú’ for ‘vós’ in Argentina.
2. Class Size
Language classes can vary in size from 1 or 2 students (Individual Course) to 4-8 students (Mini-Group Course), up to approx 12 students (General Course). It is up to you which learning environment will benefit you most. The smaller the class, the more you usually have to pay, as classes will focus more on your specific needs and interests. For some students, especially those with limited time in which to learn the language, this is worth the extra cost. Those who have more time and want to meet more people will enjoy the popular General Course option – and if you want the best of both worlds you can always go for a Combined Course.
3. Time of Year
Language schools are usually open year-round, but holiday periods, especially Easter and Summer, tend to get very busy – both in the school and location. University and college students often spend a couple of months studying at a language school during their summer holidays. Older students may prefer to study outside these periods when, depending on the location, it can also be a more agreeable temperature plus less touristy. It’s also worth bearing in mind that larger cities in Europe such as Seville and Florence often empty during the hot summer months, when savvy locals escape to the coast to cool off.
4. Student Age & Nationality
It’s usual to find a mix of many different ages and nationalities in a language school. Some schools promote heavily in certain countries, giving a higher percentage of say Japanese or Swiss students, while others, by nature of their location, courses or pricing, attract a particular age group. If student demographics are important to you it is easy to gain this information before booking.
5. Language Teachers
All teachers at any language school should be both qualified and experienced in teaching their native language to foreigners. If the specific teaching criteria and school’s accreditations are important to you, for example if you are working towards a specific qualification or are a teacher yourself, you can check these in advance.
6. School Facilities
For some people a language course is just a small part of their holiday abroad, and as such it may not be too important what facilities the school may or may not have. For others, access to facilities outside class plays an important part in their language learning and general social experience. In this case it is worth checking whether your preferred centre has facilities such as a multi-media centre, library, language laboratory, computer room, café, garden, sports or leisure facilities, etc.
7. Client Feedback
Schools and agencies will usually give you an accurate description of your chosen location, but there’s nothing like reading first-hand feedback from other language learners. This not only attests to the quality of a school but also to the agency you may have booked your course through. In some cases you may even be able to contact past students to chat things through. But at the very least, by reading past feedback you will gain a better feel for a place and be able to work out whether or not it is right for you.
8. Price / Value for Money
Some language courses are naturally cheaper than others, for reasons ranging from the size of the location itself, the presence of competitor schools nearby, the quality of on-site school facilities, class size, the country’s economy, etc. Working out what is important to you will help to choose a course that suits your budget and requirements. It is in cases like this that using an agency rather than going directly to a language school can be very helpful, as you will receive impartial advice and come away with what’s best for you.
Where you stay during your language course can affect your experience as a whole and the people you interact with during your stay, so it’s worth checking the options. For some people staying with a local family is the best way to immerse in the language and culture, while others yearn for independence and prefer a hotel or private apartment. Some locations offer shared apartments and student residences which vary in size and facilities, but will normally be shared with other students from the language school.
If you’re short on time or simply looking for a hassle-free trip, a city or town location will usually provide the quickest and easiest transfer from the airport to your accommodation. If you’re feeling more intrepid and don’t mind a connecting flight or bus/train travel, then a more remote location may be worth the extra effort for some stunning natural scenery and fewer crowds. This is good if you have time more time or want to add a language course onto the beginning of a longer trip.