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How to Choose an Italian Language School in Italy

Top 10 Questions to Ask

Dining and speaking Italian in Italy to hosts
The author enjoying food, wine, and conversation in Italy.

"I've made you something really special for lunch," Mario's mum said, kissing me on the cheek. "I hope you like horse."

Being a strict vegetarian, I was less than thrilled that a horse steak was being served in my honor, but also knew that if I refused she would have caused a "brutta figura."

I looked for my boyfriend to get me out of this situation, but he had already gone, lugging our cases from his polished-to-perfection Alfa Romeo. As lunchtime approached, I was getting less and less hungry.

Of course, had my Italian been better I would have known that horse had never been on the menu. I had mistaken cavolo (cauliflower) for cavallo (horse).

That of course is a minor example of problems that can occur when you are trying to immerse yourself in a new culture but don’t speak the language.

Admittedly, Italy is stunning. From the brick-red rooftops of Tuscany to the dazzlingly white villas of Sardinia, you could spend several months simply immersing yourself in your glorious Technicolor surroundings.

If you don’t speak the language you are missing out on the real experience — the people. It is like watching a film but with the sound turned down.

Even if you do speak some Italian before you visit Italy, enrolling in a language school is the best way to become accustomed to the sing-song sounds of the language.

The rolling hills of Tuscany in Italy
View of Florence
You may wish take your Italian classes in the country to enjoy the varied pastoral beauties. or in the many great towns and cities of Italy to enjoy the cultural centers.

Choosing from Hundreds of Language School Options

Type "learning+Italian+Italy" into a search engine and a bewildering number of pages will come back at you listing hundreds of options. So just how do you go about choosing the school that is most suitable for you?

First of all, you need to make a list of your objectives: are you after holiday Italian or real qualifications? Do you want a formal school where you will be given a paper qualification at the end of your studying or would you prefer a relaxed, informal environment where you learn by doing? Are extra curricula activities important or would you prefer to spend your time as you choose? A home-stay program is also worth considering. By living with your teacher for the duration of your course, you will have the advantage of expert tuition throughout the day. For example, see the Greenheart Travel Language Exchange Homestay in Italy programs which provide Language Homestays in Italy for your language immersion experience.

Once you have decided upon your objectives, you can start your search for a language school. The first thing to do is consider your preferred location. The tourist haunts of Rome and Florence have far more language schools than small towns buried in the Ligurian hillsides. While this means that you will have more choice about the type of school you choose, you will also be mixing with far more English speakers. And it follows that the more Italian you do speak, the more it will improve.

Apart from scrolling through the listings on Google, for a good starting point try TransitionsAbroad.com's directory of language schools in Italy, from country to city schools around the country, many with cultural activities.

Talk to Language School Directors for Course Details

Before choosing a course, however, it is vital that prospective students speak to a school director, check out the Facebook reputation and look at reviews (though with a cautious eyes, as reviews can be biased in many ways). Take into account the following general considerations:

  • Facilities Available: A good school will have lots of facilities: Italian-language books, WiFi, access to a computer lab, perhaps a list of links to helpful resource and video websites to improve your language skills. But don’t forget to check other things too: where is the school located and is it easily accessible on foot and by public transport? Is there a bar or "mensa" (canteen) on available at the school where you can eat lunch? (Probably not if it is a small school.) If not, are there bars and restaurants nearby where you can eat well on a budget?

  • Lesson Length: Another point often overlooked is the teaching time: In some schools, an hour is exactly 60 minutes. But in others, the lesson hour may only be 40-45 minutes long. Even if the schools insist on providing you with a complete package, ask for the hourly rate so that you can compare. Classes over an hour generally result in losing your attention unless combined with some other cultural activity.

  • Where to stay: Do you want to live in an apartment with other international students, in home stay with a family or bed & breakfast? A good school should be able to provide you with lots of different options. Remember, if you are in a family, you will be forced to speak Italian. While this can be a more scary option for some, it also means that you will be practicing real Italian all the time, meaning that you will be getting a better return on your money.

  • Cultural Activities: Ask about the cultural program and whether it is an optional extra or integrated into the course. You need to know if you will be paying for a service you do not want. If this is your main priority, then find out if the cooking or sailing lessons or pottery classes are given in Italian or English as this will make a difference to your language progression. Immersion programs have proven to be an excellent way of learning more about the culture while improving your language skills at the same time.

  • The School’s Reputation: If the school is reputable, it will be delighted to provide you with the contact details of former students who have already taken a course at the language school and point you to reviews of the school from graduates. Talking to former students either on the phone or via email can be invaluable. And it is a way to ensure that you can find out what the teachers, classes, city and housing are really like from someone who has been there and done it before you. It also proves that the school has nothing to hide and is proud of their students. If the language school is reluctant to do this, you need to ask yourself why the reluctance?

I started learning Italian nine years ago in a highly academic setting that wasn’t conducive to my learning needs. My progress was slow because I mistakenly thought that a university would offer a higher standard of education. It was only when I sought out a friendly but professional teacher who insisted on teaching me over aperitifs at the beach that my Italian began to improve.

There are no hard and fast rules on learning Italian, but you do need a school and teachers that suit you and your personality.

And if you do that, the chances are that it will be the school that is right for you.

Top Ten Questions to Ask:

  1. How big is the class and the school?

  2. Can I get extra help if I need it?

  3. How much experience do teachers have and do they speak languages?

  4. Will I be in a group according to my ability?

  5. Will there be lots of other English speakers there?

  6. What is the attitude of the locals towards international students?

  7. Does the school offer the facilities I want?

  8. Will I be treated as an individual or just a number?

  9. Is there a good social/cultural program?

  10. Is my gut instinct positive?
Related Topics
Language Schools in Italy
Living in Italy: Resources and Articles
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Study Italian in Italy: A Language School in Orvieto for Serious Italian Learners
Study Italian at the Athena Language School in Lanciano, Italy
Learn Italian Near the Beach in Italy
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Study Italian in Perugia, Italy
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