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 provide some real advantages to the traditional study abroad program. 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 the 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.
As the editor of GoAbroad.com, I receive thousands of e-mails each month. I have compiled some of the questions I've received over the years concerning studying languages abroad.
What is the best and easiest language to study?
There is no best language, or even easiest; your personal motivation dictates what you should study (back to the Hesse/salsa reasons, among others.) That said, Spanish is one of the most affordable languages to learn. It is also a very important language for Americans. Spanish is also easier than some languages because of its general grammatical and phonetic consistencies. French and Italian are also popular among college students. Chinese is also a great language to learn, though students should be committed - in addition to the typical challenges of language study you'll need to consider tones and written characters.
How are language schools flexible?
Most language schools allow you to tailor a program to your needs. Many schools start every Monday; at some you can start anytime. Classes range from small groups to one-to-one instruction.
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.
Finally, 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.
Where is the best place to study Spanish?
Your destination should be determined by your goals. There are many Spanish learning meccas including Antigua and Xela, Guatemala; Quito, Ecuador; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Sevilla, Spain; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. One thing is certain, anywhere you go you will find other foreigners to speak English with. The real challenge will be to immerse yourself in the local culture, stay with a family and try to make some local friends. It will do wonders for your Spanish.
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 and can provide a transcript for an additional fee. 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!
Can I learn a language in a month?
No, but you can begin to learn a language. You are still learning English everyday. Your language acquisition will depend upon your teacher, school, commitment, and length of study. Most students will develop confidence, which is the most important tool for language learning. You will feel more comfortable speaking, listening and trying to communicate in your new language.
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.
Can I work and study at a Language School?
Many English teaching opportunities will provide you with a local language instructor during your spare time. This is particularly popular in China, Taiwan and Korea. There are also other unique language study combination programs including volunteering and language study or adventure sport and language study.
Should I study a non-traditional language?
You should study a language because you want to use it. But if, when you get home, nobody you know speaks Urdu, it might be a challenge to keep the skills you've learned fresh. Sometimes, however, an exotic language can be like a gift to yourself, not some utilitarian "Donde esta el bano?", but a language studied purely for it's beauty and challenge. You may want to travel to some pretty far-flung locations, and speaking with the locals there might be worth the work even if you never speak it State-side again.
However you choose a school, be sure to pack your patience and flexibility alongside the sunscreen and camera. You'll not only be seeing the world, you'll be able to understand what the world's saying.
Advantages of One-to-One Instruction:
- Your conversation level will improve enormously. Your speaking confidence will increase as well.
- You'll have an opportunity speak informally with a native everyday.
Things to Consider:
- Your learning is dependent upon the quality of your instructor.
- Your tongue will be tired from speaking a foreign language so much.
Good Bets for Spanish Language: Spain
Some Good Bets for Spanish Language: Latin America
Good Bets for U.S. University Language Programs
Good Bets for Placement Services
Unusual Language Study Programs
- When signing up at the language school, request that your instructor be changed each week. You are insured a variety of instructors and won't necessarily be stuck with the first instructor you are assigned, regardless of their teaching ability. There's no guilt or hurt feelings.
- You'll become very close to your instructor. Be considerate of their culture; certain questions and dialogue topics may be off limits.
- The teacher gets paid whether you learn or not. It is up to you to insist that the teacher is constantly challenging you. It is very easy to spend your days taking walks with your language teacher. Chilling at the local cafe interspersed with local language conversation may not give you the most language instruction for your buck, quid, or euro.
Unique Languages and Locations
- Educasian offers a work and study program in China .
- Adelante Spain provides an internship in Spain with language study.
- Ecole des Trois Ponts offers French Language and Cooking in Roanne, France
- CET offers Volunteer Internships and Vietnamese in Hanoi, Vietnam.
- Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound school teaches Spanish in the jungle.
- Sana'a Institute for the Arabic Language offers classes in Yemen
- Wisma Bahasa offers Indonesian at Yogyakarta
- Patong Language schools offers Thai language instruction