Part One: Selecting The Best Language School For You!
The Best Way To Learn A New Language
I hopped on a plane heading for Guatemala knowing that complete immersion is my best chance to fulfill my aspirations of learning Spanish. I had pre-scheduled my language classes and arranged airport pickup through a reputable organization, so when I arrived in Guatemala all I needed to do was focus on was my education. I learned a lot throughout this experience and I am happy to share my knowledge to help support others in their quest to converse in a new language.
If this is your first time taking conversational language classes in a foreign land, I know how daunting it can feel. I want to help set you up for success so you can tackle the language immersion experience, with efficiency and enjoyment.
How Do I Select The Best School?
Do your research online. You need to first define “the best” school, based on your individual priorities. For example, the more formal education and years of experience the teachers have, the more you will pay for their teaching skills. School’s located in larger cities will charge more because overall, the cost of living and running a business in this location will be greater. Is it a priority for you to study somewhere easily accessible and centrally located? Look to language schools in smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns to help you keep costs down. It will also minimize the opportunities to speak your native tongue therefore strengthening the immersion experience.
Inquire with your contact at the school as to whether the school and/or homestay is located in a safe area. Make sure you specify in your conversation what safe means to you, so you know what to expect. If you are uncomfortable where you are living, you won’t be able to concentrate as well. Safety should always be your top priority.
Keep all of your email correspondence with the schools you have contacted during your research. Retain your personal record of what services you were offered in exchange for tuition fees. Ask every question that comes to your mind after you read the company’s FAQ page online. Don’t commit until you know exactly what the expectations are.
There can be a drastic range in price from one school to the next for the cost of tuition and home stay. (For more on choosing between self-arranged vs. homestay stay tuned for Part III.)The time of year you choose to study also impacts prices so keep this in mind when booking your dates. Shop around and attempt to negotiate the prices down from the fee posted online. Many schools recommend studying for a minimum of three weeks. I agree, if it works with your schedule, the longer you spend maintaining your studies in an emersion setting, the better.
Example of Cost Breakdown
My first Spanish experience I went to Celas Maya in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I committed to 2 weeks of classes, 5 hours per day with homestay (including 3 meals a day, 6 days a week) at a cost of $155US per week. In Antigua Guatemala, I studied with Academia Antigeña Español where I was able to negotiate the price down to a weekly fee of $75US (for a 3 week commitment) for 20 hours of classes, (4 hours per day). I elected not to do a homestay as I had alternative arrangements.
Before committing to the classes, request from the school administrator, to work with a teacher who can also speak your native tongue. I found that there is added value in having someone who can translate when you feel completely lost with the conversation. In my first week of classes, my teacher, who did not speak English was unable to answer my question because she didn’t understand them.
What Time Of Day Should You Book Classes For?
Typically schools offer cheaper classes in the afternoon but I would recommend studying in the morning even if you are not a morning person. Keeping costs down was a priority for me as well but in the end, you get what you pay for. My teacher had a 4 hour class with another novice student before me every day and many days I could tell that by the time the afternoon rolled around she wasn’t very enthusiastic about chatting with me.
Another factor to consider with respect to cost is whether the school provides access to wifi (and if so, during what hours). Also ask if water is free (if you are studying in a country where you must rely on bottled/filtered water) and if free coffee/tea is provided as these are factors that will also impact your budget. Ask what materials the school will provide. Will they provide you with worksheets or will you need to photocopy them yourself. Most schools prefer that you have a text book of your own to reference grammar rules but this is not mandatory.
Read reviews written by students on the schools you are examining. Good language schools will post student testimonials on their website.
The tips in this article laid out the most important questions you must consider when preparing to select a language school. In the second of a three part series, we will provide readers a clear picture of how conversational classes are structured. It is important to note that structure is unlike language courses offered in high schools and college environments. We want to help you maximize your learning inside and outside of the classroom. Stay tuned for next week’s article: “How to make the most out of your language classes”