Language Learning Overseas

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By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter

language-learningConsider my husband. An avowed “non-linguist” who has always found learning foreign languages torture roughly equivalent to the rack, he was understandably less than enthusiastic when I suggested that we spend the month of August taking an intensive Czech course in Prague.

He agreed to it, but I think only because we were moving to Prague and he knew that it would be a long stay if he couldn’t ask for a beer and the bathroom.

Whole Lotta Czech

Fast-forward to the end of August and the end of our course. Not only did my husband learn a whole lot of Czech in very little time in his Beginners class, but he also had a wonderful time. Really!

His class got very close (being thrown into a sea of the unfamiliar will do that), and we both made many new friends from around the world while learning the notoriously difficult Czech language.

It was a great month. And it was my husband who practically insisted that we sign up for evening classes once our summer course was over.

Take it from my husband: A language holiday is not an oxymoron. Sure, you may have to get up a little earlier than you normally would on vacation, and you may spend a little more time in a classroom than you have in a while, but the trade-off of getting inside a foreign culture through language is well worth it.

The author teaching English in a classroom in Taiwan. The real money, though, is in private tutoring, she says.
Teaching English in a classroom in Taiwan. The real money, though, is in private tutoring, she says.


To begin the process of finding a program that will be perfect for you, first answer these questions:

What language do you want to learn?

Maybe you need Spanish for work or you’ve always dreamed of being able to watch French films without subtitles. Or you want to learn the language of your ancestry. Choosing a language is a critical first step.

Where do you want to learn it?

Okay, so if you want to learn Japanese you have to go to Japan, but ask yourself if you want to study in bustling Tokyo or quiet rural Japan. Learning a language in a major city has the advantage of offering a full spate of cultural activities, museums, restaurants, and other big-city attractions, often included in the price of the course.

However, courses in smaller towns may offer a deeper immersion in the culture and a more intimate experience. The choice is yours. If you’re studying a language spoken more globally, your choices are even broader. You can learn Spanish, for example, in either Europe or the Americas, depending on your preference.

Or choose the French of Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, or La Belle France herself. Again ask yourself what size city you want to study in and what atmosphere you’re seeking. If it’s beaches you want, Montréal may not be your best choice for French language study.

How long can you stay?

Language holidays have always been popular in Europe, where savvy Continentals know that brushing up on Italian is easier to do in Rome than in Oslo, and generous vacation time means that finding a month to study Chinese in Shanghai is easy.

Now that language holidays have become popular with Americans, many schools are adapting their programs to fit the shorter vacations of U.S. residents. Most advise that you stay at least two weeks, but shorter programs are available. Decide how long you have and research schools based on what they can offer you in that amount of time.

A classroom at Malta Lingua.
A classroom at Malta Lingua.

How much can you spend?

The good news is that language holidays are almost universally inexpensive when compared with other types of travel, even in traditionally “expensive” countries.

For example, you can spend two weeks in Italy, with homestay and partial meals, for around $650, depending on the region. Other areas will be even more affordable.

Language holidays in Latin America can start at around $200/week, with homestay and meals!

Once you have narrowed your choices, you can look around at individual schools and programs. Now you’re ready for the next steps:

Research your options

Your first stop should be to search GoNOMAD’s ALTERNATIVES LISTINGS of language schools around the world. Other Internet resources include general search engines (like Yahoo and Excite). Also try Transitions Abroad Publishing at for their extensive language school listings.

Decide what kind of instruction you want

Schools normally offer small-group or individual instruction. Small-group instruction will help you make friends immediately and may make a beginner feel more comfortable. Individual instruction can mean rapid progress for a dedicated student; every answer must come from you alone!

Decide which method fits your learning style better and choose. Also, remember that individual instruction is generally a little more expensive.

Decide what else you want to do while you’re there

Most schools will not abandon you after your lessons are done for the day. Check with the school to see if they have activities that interest you, whether that means simple city tours, Flamenco lessons, Tuscan cooking classes, volunteer opportunities or out-of-town excursions. And don’t forget to ask what is included in the price of your course.

Decide where you want to stay

Most schools offer the choice of a homestay, hotel room, or apartment. Homestays are usually the most inexpensive option — and they force you to use the language you’re trying to learn. Many people I know have said that their homestay was actually the most valuable part of their experience.

Research the school

Ask schools for references from past students and for information about their teachers.
Past students can tell you what to expect from a school and can be your best source for information about making the trip. Knowing who teaches the courses can help you decide which school will be the best for you. For example, if a school offers only native speakers who don’t speak English, it may not be the best option for a beginner.

Make your choice!

Once you’ve settled on the school for you, check to see what visas, inoculations, and equipment you’ll need. Book your transportation, grab your backpack, and get ready to have fun and learn at the same time. If my husband can enjoy learning a foreign language, anyone can!

Although I still don’t know if I’ll be able to convince him to do the Swedish school in Upsaala this summer…