1. Identify Your Goals
Most people who are hunting for foreign language schools abroad share the same goal: to become fluent in another language. Fantastique! What are some of your other, more personal or professional goals, though? Perhaps you want to become more independent and responsible, and think stepping outside of your comfort zone will help. Or maybe you’re already super independent and self-sufficient, and just want to focus on traveling and having great adventures while learning another language. Whatever your goals are, make sure they are jotted down somewhere before choosing a program so you’re not disappointed after!
2. Decide on a Program Type
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the types of foreign language schools and programs available. There is no wrong way to learn a language (unless you’re only speaking your native language and wondering why you’re not learning anything), so do your research and pick the program and language schools based on your goals, schedule, lifestyle type, and financial situation.
Most language-learners take the route of participating in a study abroad program for a summer, semester, or year. Doing a program with classes and a homestay already set up for you has a ton of benefits, plus having fellow students around your age means an instant support system (and built-in travel buddies). Even among study abroad programs there is a ton of variation, so pick the right one for your goals. Some allow students to enroll directly into the university while others have designated language classes taught exclusively for foreign students, so choose whichever type you think will allow you to learn the language better and immerse yourself.
Another popular option is just to take classes directly at a private language school. Most cities around the world are littered with foreign language schools, and they focus on providing more or less crash courses in the local language. Fluency is the name of the game here, so be prepared to spend several hours every day in the classroom drilling down grammar and vocab. Most of the time, all you’re paying for is the classes themselves (not all the bells and whistles that come with doing a study abroad program), so this route can be a lot cheaper and you end up more fluent in the end.
This version is more a la carte than doing a set program, so if you want more control over where you will be living, how you will be living, and any other outside-the-classroom choices, you’re probably better off just enrolling in a language school rather than a study abroad program. Be aware that there are pros and cons to this route – with a program comes extra support built-in, such as visa assistance, international health insurance, and an on-site program director to help you with anything else. Read the fine print with language school options to make sure you’ll be striking your right balance between support and freedom!
3. Choose the Location
Now the fun part! Where in the world are you going to go? For certain languages, the options can be pretty limited…you wouldn’t go anywhere but Norway to learn Norwegian, right? For most languages, though, you will have tons of options on where to go and how long to stay. If you’re trying to learn a popular language like Spanish, think back to what your goals are and which region will help you best accomplish them. When you have the choice between Spain and pretty much all of Central and South America, it’s ok to be picky!
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on this at the same time…just because France is where the French language originated and the go-to choice for most doesn’t mean it’s the only place to learn it! Usually picking a country that is a bit less obvious will give you a better language-learning opportunity and oftentimes allow you to pick up a third or fourth language without trying! Why go to Italy to learn Italian when you can pick Switzerland and study Italian, German, French, and Romansch at the same time?
4. Finalize the Deets: Duration and Cost
When it comes to learning a foreign language abroad, we have one piece of advice: stay for as LONG as you can. Trust us…not only are you sure to fall in love with your host country and never want to leave, but if you want to really learn a language, you have to give yourself time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the spread of the Italian language! A week or even a month just won’t cut it when it comes to language-learning (although something is always better than nothing), so if you have the option to go for a semester or year, DO IT.
There are price benefits that come with staying for longer, too! Why pay a few thousand dollars to study at a language school for two weeks when you can pay a little bit more to stay for an entire semester? The significant price breaks can come into play when you go from a semester to a year…do your research and calculate what’s really worth it!
Beware: Red flags at foreign language schools
There is a common saying when it comes to meaningful travel: “Not all programs are created equal.” This is especially true for foreign language schools abroad, and there are a number of red flags, or “oh-no-nos” to look out for when selecting your program:
Is the program significantly more expensive than other ones in the area and you can’t seem to figure out why? Don’t be tricked by the fancy websites/Instagram accounts and over-the-top testimonials – these companies are usually just looking to profit off of foreigners or first-time travelers who didn’t do their research. The cost for a language school or even a full study abroad program should not be bank-breaking expensive…you’re there to learn how to read and write, not skydive!
Does the program feature more out-of-classroom time than in-classroom time? Most language schools and study programs will build some type of immersion into the local community in the curriculum, which is super great (and necessary!) if you want to become fluent. But, if a program seems to fixate on the “excursions” and “tours” rather than learning grammar, then look elsewhere. You didn’t become fluent in your native language by hiking for two weeks and only listening to a tour guide speak it, so you can’t expect to learn a second language without those dreaded grammar classes, either!
In the end, choose the right foreign language schools for YOU
At the end of the day, picking a route to learn a language is a very personal choice, so select what you think will be best for you. How to choose the right language school abroad isn’t an exact science, so feel it all out! Nobody knows you like you do, and with the amount of options that are available today, there should be no issues finding the perfect language situation. Be sure to read reviews, reach out to program alumni, and compare programs and foreign language schools side-by-side. Then, pack your bags! Bon voyage, gute reise, buen viaje, or however you want to say it— have an adventure of a lifetime!