Language acquisition is one of the primary reasons students study abroad (whether it's to study Herman Hesse in the original German or to ask someone to dance salsa is your own motivation.) Language schools can be affordable and in some cases even cheap, they are also more flexible than your typical study abroad experience, and they can provide you with an intensive language immersion experience.
Wherever there is a language spoken there is a teacher conjugating verbs for foreigners. Language schools are as varied as languages themselves. Some schools adhere to proven pedagogies and teaching methodologies; other schools consist of a guy, a building and a few local housewives offering intensive language training.
What is one to one instruction?
One-to-one language instruction is an intensive and challenging language acquisition format. Imagine spending the day, just you and your instructor, conjugating verbs, practicing vocabulary and telling stories. There's no sleeping in class; in fact you can't even daydream. You don't have to wait your turn to practice dialogue and you don't have to be embarrassed asking rudimentary questions.
However, don't discount group instruction. There are many benefits to learning language in a group setting. Group instruction may provide a more rigorous instruction pace, fellow students to meet and learn with, and it's usually much more affordable.
Can I earn college credit?
Before considering the credit option, you should determine why you want college credit. If you are trying to satisfy a core language requirement at your university, you may discover that a proficiency exam may satisfy that goal without the additional tuition fees. If you do study a language abroad, many language schools are affiliated with U.S. universities. Many U.S. universities have their own Centers for International Students abroad where you can take language classes approved and organized by an American school. They'll also provide you with a transcript as well as a higher ratio of Ph.D. instructors. The crucial item to remember is that it doesn't matter who provides transcript proof, if you were taught by a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school, or how well your umlaut pronunciation is if the study abroad advisor at your home institution doesn't accept those credits - so check with them before you leave!
Should I use a U.S. Language Placement Service?
At first glance you may be skeptical as to the credibility of someone who lives in San Francisco but can reserve your space in a school in Chimaltenango. In many ways these agents and organizations provide a great service. Typically their fees come from the schools, so you pay nothing or next to nothing for their service. They can also provide you with orientation information in English before you go. It is usually in their best interest to connect you with a quality school, as they may hear from you when you return home. However, you can always find language schools on your own in advance on the web, or in-country by showing up at their classroom door.
Photo by Jeff Booth