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Language Study in Italy

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Italian

After living for a month as part of an Italian household and studying at the university for foreigners in the historic city of Perugia, Italy, I am convinced that anyone, young or old, can learn to speak Italian in Italy and do it on a budget.

I chose L’Universita per Stranieri di Perugia for its month-long course that starts on the first of every month. The course is offered at five levels, beginning to advanced. I registered by mail and paid tuition and fees prior to starting class. At about $180 for 90 hours of class time, the cost was about $2 per hour.

The quality of instruction varied during the 21 hours of weekly class time. One outstanding instructor kept the class so busy talking—about Italy and about her life and ours—that the hours flew by. She cheered us on as we used our growing command of Italian to bridge the gaps among our various ages, nationalities, and occupations.

The university classrooms are in an historic palazzo, and from my classroom window I looked out on an Estrucan arch and the remains of a wall built over 2,000 years ago. The ancient walled city has kept much of its medieval character; streets too narrow for automobiles wind through blocks of connected stone houses. My class schedule left plenty of time to explore the small but historically significant town and the nearby cities of Todi, Deruta, and Assisi.

Agencia Periscopio, a school-recommended housing agency, offers the option of renting an entire apartment, sharing a flat, or rooming with families. To maximize my cultural immersion, I requested a room in an Italian home. An elderly widow and her adult daughter took me in, along with two college-age girls, one Turkish and one Japanese. I ate my main meals in local restaurants, but during my morning coffee and yogurt in the kitchen I practiced my Italian with other household members.

At $300 for the month plus a $36.50 supplement for use of the kitchen, my housing costs were high compared to those of other students, but La Signora was gracious and kept an immaculate and quiet household—with women silently padding about the halls and everyone asleep by 10 p.m.

Tips: High in the hills of Umbria, Perugia can be cold in March, the month of my visit, and because of the high cost of fuel the heat is rarely turned on. It’s better to go in late spring or early fall when the weather is warmer and the crowds of tourists have not yet arrived. Also, if comfort and privacy are important for you, the luxury of a private apartment may be worth the extra cost. Several classmates told me of small apartments with kitchenettes that were advertised privately for around $365.

Proximity to the school is essential. If you can’t find a place you want through one agency, ask the school to recommend another. Or wait until you arrive in Perugia, stay in a hotel for few days, and search for your ideal situation. The Hotel Priori is centrally located and reasonably clean. The local classified publication, Cerco e Trovo, sold at newsstands, lists apartment rentals.

The APT tourist office at Piazza IV Novembre will provide a list of rooms rented on a weekly or monthly basis. Finally, crowds of prospective landlords gather daily in front of the school, willing to offer you a place to stay . . . and maybe a window into Italian life.

Visit: Universita Per Stranieri, Perugia.

For a booklet listing other universities for foreigners in Italy visit the website of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura.