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Low-cost language schools abroad

The careful use of travel to acquire fluency in a foreign tongue
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

“Of course you don’t get our business. Of course we don’t send you our orders! You don’t speak our language!” Such words of reproach from a normally courteous European surprised even the speaker, stirred some long smoldering resentment, led to further indictment. “It isn’t that we’re asking you to engage in technical discussions with us. But at a simple dinner party you can’t carry on the most routine conversation with the lady on your left. You Americans take the cake!”

Why, among all the achievers of the world, do the overwhelming number of Americans fail to possess a second language? Or a third?

Sheer indolence is a first explanation. Torpor. Thoughtless indifference, largely stemming from unpleasant, subconscious memories of uninspiring language courses at ol’ State U. Mistaken smugness (“they all speak English”). And failure to make the proper use of travel opportunities. Since languages can be acquired with surprising ease in situations where you are “immersed” in them, the mere decision to travel solo, unaccompanied by English-speaking spouse or companion, can yield the most remarkable results. When that vacation trip is further pursued at a European language school, in an off-season period when the tourists have fled and all you hear is one foreign language, at breakfast and in classes, on television and at the movies, in restaurants and bars, one language unendingly—the results are astonishing indeed. You speak!

This year a great many bright Americans will enhance their cultural perspectives, careers, and lives by pursuing short language courses overseas, partially funded by European governments. They will achieve fluency, or near-fluency, in one of four major European tongues—French, Spanish, German, or Italian—at schools whose glorious traditions, European settings, and remarkably low costs provide the greatest of travel pleasures in addition to instruction. Most of the schools share common features, of which the most important is the timing of one-month classes to begin near the first of each month; schedule your applications and arrivals accordingly. Most will provide you with lodgings in the homes of private families, where you’ll again be immersed in the local language. State-operated schools are usually considerably cheaper than private ones, without a loss of quality or intensity. Schools in secondary cities will send you to cheaper accommodations than those in famous ones: thus the families with whom you’ll stay in Perugia will charge a third of what you’ll pay in Florence.

FOR FRENCH

Ancestor to all the great European language schools, founded in 1883 to advance French culture and the French language to all the world, is the powerful Alliance Francaise. Directly funded (in part) by the French Foreign Ministry, it operates low-cost French language schools in more than 138 nations, but its soul remains in a great gray building on Paris’s Left Bank, at boulevard Raspail 101, steps away from the trendy cafes, art galleries, and way-out boutiques of the busier boulevard St. Germain.

In the large stone courtyard of the giant school, teeming with Egyptian caftans, African turbans, Canadian blue jeans, the atmosphere may be international but only one language is spoken: French. And French is spoken at every moment and exclusively throughout the day, in the very first class you attend, in the on-premises cafeteria where you take your meals, at theatrical performances and lectures in the school’s auditorium. You are in class at least two hours a day in most programs, then in earphone-equipped language laboratories for supplemental practice, then at near-mandatory social events—yet you pay from 248 Euros (US$220) per 16-day session, plus a registration fee of 46 Euros ( US$41), quite obviously subsidized, for all tuition, and house yourself in any of dozens of inexpensive Left Bank hotels clustered in this section of the Latin Quarter. The school can also provide accommodations through its “Homestay Program,” which includes housing with a French family, plus breakfast and dinner. One month for a single is 857 Euros ( $761). Dorm-style accommodations are available from 473 Euros ($420).

Alliance Francaise classes can also be taken in half-sessions lasting just eight days. For rates, simply cut the above prices in half. An application should be made at least six weeks in advance. For further information and forms, write: Alliance Francaise de Paris, boulevard Raspail 101, 75270 Paris CEDEX 06, France. Visit Alliance Francaise on the Web at www.alliancefr.org

FOR ITALIAN

Choosing from a score of major, Italy-based language schools, the clear consensus of the experts (I’ve spoken with three) favors the Dilit-IH school in Rome, the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci which has branches in Florence, Rome and Sienna and the Instituto Italiano in Florence.

A member of the reputable International House organization, Dilit-IH has been teaching foreigners to speak Italian since 1974. Each year, about 1,600 students from more than 50 countries come to Dilit-IH (the biggest concentration of students - about 18% - are German). The Group Intensive Courses are taught in two, three, or four week segments throughout the year and provide between 15 and 30 hours per week classroom study. The less intense intensives (15 hours per week in classroom) are priced at 242 Euros ($215) for two weeks or 434 Euros ($386) for four weeks. The next level (20 hours a week) is 315 Euros ($280) for two weeks, 569 Euros ($506) for four weeks, and for full immersion (30 hours a week) you’ll pay 429 Euros ($382) for two weeks or 770 Euros ($685) for four weeks. There are also non-intensive classes offered (five hours per week) that cost 445 Euros ($396) over a 12-week period. An enrollment fee of 39 Euros ($35) is required for each program. Homestays can be arranged through the school for between 300 to 483 Euros ($267 to $430) per month depending on accommodations and meals included. For more information, either visit the schools Web site at www.dilit.it or write to Dilit-IH, via Marghera 22, 00185 Roma-Italia (phone: 011-39-064462593, email: info@dilit.it).

Located in the heart of Rome, a block away from the Coliseum, Istituto Italiano offers four categories of month-long classes, for students of all levels: Intensive (90 hours in four weeks), Combined (60 hours of class 30 individual hours in four weeks), Holiday (60 hours in four weeks) and Individual courses (intensity and frequency to be arranged). Classes are small, up to 12 students, but on average only six or seven, and teaching duties are shared by two teachers per group. Prices range from about 150 Euros week ($134) for the intensive up to 250 Euros ($223) for the super intensive. Accommodations with a private family average 275 Euros ($245), but the school can also place you in apartments shared with other students, independent apartments or hotels if you’re willing to pay a bit more. Courses are year-round. For more information write to Istituto Italiano, Via Machiavelli, 33 -00185 Roma, Italia, (phone: 011-39-670-452138, Fax: 011-39-670-085122, e-mail istital@uni.net, Web site: www.istitutoitaliano.com).

The largest of the three institutions is the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci with branches in Florence, Rome and Siena. Unlike the other two schools, it is possible to take a shorter course of only two weeks, in which you cram 30 lessons per week into six days (Sundays are off). For real go-getters, there’s the Intensive Plus Course, four hours of group language training, plus two hours of private tutorial per day. Rates for these two courses are 390 Euros ($340) for the Intensive and 560 Euros ($463) for Intensives Plus. Da Vinci also offers four-week classes that average 500 Euros ($438) for standard instruction (20 hours per week). For housing add an average of 15 to 34 Euros per night, or 195 to 442 Euros per two-week stays, depending on type of lodging and meals included. The school also offers classes in Art History, Cooking and Art. For further details, write to Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, Via Brunelleschi 4, 50123 Firenze, Italy (phone 39-055-290-305, email scuolaleonardo@scuolaleonardo.com, Web site: www.scuolaleonardo.com).

And for a list of additional language schools in other Italian cities, contact the Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Ave., New York, NY 10021 (phone 212/879-4242, www.italcultny.org), or one of its branch offices: in Washington, D.C., at 1717 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, D.C. 20036 (phone 202/387-5161, www.italcultusa.org); or in Los Angeles at 1023 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024 (phone 310/443-3250, www.iicusa.org). Alternatively, contact Louise Harber, Foreign Language Programs, P. O. Box 903-5935 SW 64rth Ave., South Miami, FL 33143 (phone 800/282-1090, www.flsas.com), who represents several such schools in Italy, and can also arrange for you to study Italian at schools throughout Italy.

FOR GERMAN

The influential world role of German commerce and culture (one out of every ten books on earth is published in German) lends continuing importance to German language study. Germany’s own government provides instruction via its Goethe Institutes, of which more than 140 are found in 70 countries, and 18 are maintained in Germany itself. The latter are marvelously diverse, in both large cities (Munich, Berlin), university towns (Gottingen, Mannheim), and idyllic countryside locations (Prien and Murnau in rural Bavaria).

If you’ve the time for an eight-week course, you can make your own selection of a Goethe Institute (and city) from the 18 available. Busier people able to devote only four weeks to it have a choice of 11 locations including: Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber (that perfectly preserved medieval village on the “Romantic Road” near Nuremberg, most of calendar year), Prien (an hour south of Munich on a beautiful lake in Bavaria, most of the calendar year), and Boppard (in the Valley of the Lorelei, along the Rhine, from October to June). Two-week courses are also available in larger cities such as Munich, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt.

If you opt for an “intensive” course you will be given up to 18 hours of language instruction per week (Monday through Friday) for two, four or eight weeks. The “super intensive” program doubles the amount of classroom time, and is also offered in two to eight-week sessions. Prices vary widely, according to length and type of program and location. For example, the Intensive eight-week program in Prien starts at 2,155 Euros ($1,918) for tuition and accommodations (in either private or dormitory lodgings, price based on double occupancy). If you want to study in Berlin, that same program will cost 2,495 Euros ($2,220), and only private accommodations are available. The four-week regular intensives range from 1,315 Euros ($1,170) in Bonn down to 1,195 Euros ($1,063) for Rothenburg. And the superintensives double the tuition part of the costs, bringing the price up 3,400 Euros ($3,025) for most four-week programs.

For further information and application forms, contact one of the individual Goethe branches in the U.S. (such as the one in New York: Goethe House, 1014 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028 (phone 212/439-8700). For locating a branch or finding general information, go online to www.goethe.de/eindex.htm or call 888/4GOETHE. A U.S.-based branch will then forward your completed form to the Goethe Institute you’ve selected.

FOR SPANISH

Salamanca is the place. Emphatically. Without a second thought. It is the heart of Old Castile, where Spanish is noble and pure, untainted by the Gallego accents of the Northwest, the Catalan of the East, the assorted dialects of the South.

Its monumental University of Salamanca (dating from 1226) is one of the world’s oldest. Together with similar medieval academies in Padua and Bologna, it developed an early tradition for attracting international students, and that reputation—even stronger today—has a wholesome impact on language studies there. Because students are from dozens of countries scattered from Japan to Yemen, the only common language among them is Spanish. You either speak it or suffer muteness.

Though Salamanca is only 2 1/2 hours from Madrid, it is no Madrid in cost: 18 Euros ($16) a day is more than enough for room and two meals at scores of guest-accepting private homes. And tuition at the private language schools is as low as the University of Salamanca’s, enabling you to study one-on-one with your teacher, or in small groups of seven or eight, for as little as you’d pay elsewhere in a class of 20. I like, for that reason, an intensely personal school called Salminter (Escuela Salmantina de Estudios Internacionales), which charges only 406 Euros ($361) per month for four hours of instruction, five days a week. For more information, contact salminter@helcom.es.

Dominant among the other all-year-round private schools is the Colegio de Espana, whose intensive four-week course starting at the beginning of every month (four hours daily, in classes limited to 15 students) costs a remarkable 345 Euros a month ($307), or 376 Euros ($335) for five hours daily, and as little as 16 Euros ($14) a day for room and board with a Spanish host family. Weekends, its students travel by short bus rides to Avila, Segovia, and Valladolid, though the older adults among them (like me on previous trips) scarcely budge from a sidewalk cafe seat on the historic plaza Mayor—barred to traffic, and like a baroque drawing room, except out-of-doors. Churches and museums with the near-equivalent of Goyas, Velazqueses, and El Grecos are short steps away.

When people ask why I don’t prefer the more accessible Spanish language schools of Mexico to those of Spain, I answer diplomatically that Mexico is Mexico, but Spain is ... well, Spain.

For applications or further information on the Salminter school, write or phone Salminter, calle Toro 34-36, 2nd floor, 37002 Salamanca, Spain (phone 011-34-923-211-808 or visit its Web site: www.eurart.es/emp/salminter/). For the larger Colegio, contact Colegio de Espaòa, calle Compania 65, 37008 Salamanca, Spain (011-34-923-214-788). For enrollment in Spanish language courses at the equally reputable Colegio Miguel de Unamuno in Salamanca, write to Avda. Reyes de Espana, 25-27, 37008 Salamanca, Spain (phone 011-34-923-212-055, www.colegiounamuno.es).

If, on the other hand, you would prefer to pursue your language studies in Madrid, you would do well to contact the Domine Escuela de Espaòol, calle Joss Abascal 44, 1 dcha., 28003 Madrid, Spain (phone 011-34-91-442-8333 or 011-34-91-442-8355), highly recommended to me by several recent visitors there, but costlier than the Salamanca schools.

For those who can’t or won’t “cross the pond” AmeriSpan offers Spanish language programs for people of all ages and aptitudes in Spain as well as Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela and most other Spanish-speaking countries. Prices begin at $275 for one week of classes, accommodations and no meals. Class sizes range from one-on-one to a maximum of four students. In addition, most programs offer a variety of extra activities such as Latin dance classes, cooking classes, fiestas, visits to local areas of interest and much more. Visit www.amerispan.com or phone (USA & Canada): 800-879-6640 Fax: 215-751-1986 E-mail: info@amerispan.com . Address: P.O. Box 40007 Philadelphia, PA 19106.

OTHER OPTIONS

Languages Abroad offers language and cultural immersion programs in over 50 countries and in 30 different languages taught by qualified, native speakers. The programs offer a choice of tuition, accommodation, optional cultural activities and travel arrangements. The programs are ideal for students looking to improve their skills and marketability in the academic world, for business people with assignments in foreign countries or, just for fun, as a learning holiday. Phone 416/925-2112 or toll free 800/219-9924 (or send an e-mail to info@languagesabroad.com) for more information or visit www.languagesabroad.com.

Eurocentres courses range from two to 36 weeks for basic and intensive courses in 12 countries and in seven different languages. Prices start below $1,000 for a two-week course, including room and board (although prices will vary greatly depending on location and time of year). In addition, holiday programs (which include leisure and sport activities), and one-semester to full-academic- year programs are available. All classes have between 12 to 15 participants and there are classes for all levels of students. Eurocentres schools use audio, video and computers to aid in the mastery of a new language. At the completion of your course, you are issued an Eurocentres Certificate with details your overall competence at the end of the course and the skill level you have attained. Almost 80% of Eurocentres participants choose to stay with a family while studying abroad. This both saves money and lends insight into the culture and life of that country. Host families provide a comfortable room, a place to study, breakfast and evening meal daily. Those who opt not to stay with a family are assigned accommodations in either furnished apartments or local hotels. Visit www.eurocentres.com or contact the U.S. office of Eurocentres (101 N. Union St., Ste. 300, Alexandria, VA 22314, phone 703/684-1494, e-mail alx-info@eurocentres.com) for more information. You can also contact any branch of student travel giant STA Travel (www.sta.com).

Finally, The Institute of International Education provides a Web site, entitled the IIE Passport: Living and Learning Abroad which has listings for over 4,000 academic year or short-term study abroad programs. The site is highly user friendly, providing users with dozens of criteria fields including country, field of study, US accreditation status, language of instruction (over 26 offered), format of classes (seminar, lecture, studio etc), price of program among various other major variables. For more information visit www.iiepassport.org, call 212/883-8200, or write to: Institute of International Education, 809 United Nations Plaza New York, NY 10017-3580.