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Language Study Abroad

Choosing a Language School

How to Pick the Right One

If you’re planning to attend a language school, choosing the right one among the many available may be your most difficult task. You should do a self-assessment before beginning the process. It is too easy to choose a school based only on a location you think might be fun or on the recommendation of someone who attended a school. These are not bad starting points, but first you must do your own homework.

Styles of language teaching have changed during the last few years. There has been a growing recognition that learning a language is not a simple conjunction of grammar and conversation practice. Language acquisition is improved greatly through practical interaction with both the body and mind. Many schools now offer crafts such as ceramics, weaving, culinary arts, and dancing as part of their curriculum. These changes are timely because our understanding of the human memory and the impact of emotions on retention and recall demonstrates that language acquisition is closely tied to using the body, especially the hands, and the mind together.

Some questions that are keys to deciding which school to attend are: What is your purpose for learning a specific language? Will you use your language for your career, or are you learning it as a hobby? Are you acquiring the language as a useful tool in travel or to communicate with new members of the family? You must choose a school that can be responsive to your precise needs.

Once you have some clarity about your reasons for learning a language, you should assess your ability or desire to mix with people of different ages. Many language schools have more than 90 percent of students who are 18 to 30 years old. No matter what your age, a good mix of age groups will enhance the quality of your experience and ensure that different ideas enter the mix of learning.

Many times a commercial school takes the easy route and skews its conversation classes to accommodate the needs of a bar or club clientele, teaching bar slang and a few swear words as well. While it is popular to believe these things create rapport, the opposite is really true about language acquisition: the purer the language and the more clearly it is spoken, without dialect or argot, the more people will be able to communicate with you, and the more you will be able to communicate with the majority of people.

Therefore, the best school may be different for each learner, but the best schools for actually speaking the language will provide an array of opportunities to engage people in their communities and to engage you in interaction with local people. The first step is to open the website of a few schools and look at what they offer in order to identify the schools that have crafts, volunteer opportunities, and “meet the people” opportunities.

The next step, which is to determine the exact costs for a week, month, or several months, is somewhat more difficult. Very often a monthly rate is quoted without detailing what is included. Another variable that has a big effect on what you will spend is the cost of materials. Some schools may include basic materials and others may have significant charges for them. After your initial investigation try to make direct contact by e-mail and sometimes by telephone. When contacting language schools worldwide try to find more than one e-mail address on their website and apply to both for information. Very often the “contact us” e-mail address is either set aside or not responded to regularly.

Last, but definitely not least, most schools provide alternatives for accommodation ranging from homestays to apartments for rent. I recommend asking the school about conditions of cancellation from either a homestay or an apartment if it does not meet your needs. I also recommend flying a day early to your destination and having a look at the proposed accommodation before you put down a month’s first payment.