Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Intensive Language School Right for You?


{Just outside my language school in Heidelberg, Germany after a World Cup soccer game.}

As most of you know from having read my love story, I attended an intensive language school in Heidelberg, Germany the summer of 2010. It was one of my favorite life experiences and something I will never forget! I’ve received a few emails here and there about studying German and so I thought I’d put a post together that threw my two cents in about the private language school experience. I wanted to give you guys more than a single perspective, so I’ve enlisted the help of two very lovely ladies: Lisa from L!$@’s Life and Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos. 


What is the point of going to language school?

The most obvious answer to this question is, surprise surprise, to learn a language….but there is so much more to it than that! When I first went, I signed up for an intensive (M-F 9:00 to 2:30 every day) language course in a four week period. This was the most eye-opening, whirlwind, exciting four weeks of my young life! If you’re looking for more than just a vacation, an alternative could be putting down roots in a city for a month or two while taking the time to learn the language and befriend the people. In that short period of time, being completely immersed, I went from understanding no German at all to being able to communicate in every day situations…sometimes poorly, but the improvement was undeniable. The lessons I learned there went deeper than education alone. Sad but true fact, and I truly don’t mean any offense by this: Americans, especially young Americans, have a tendency to live in their own little world. When I was in Heidelberg, completely out of my element, for the most part the only American in my class, speaking broken German and improvised sign language to new friends from Spain, Italy, Morocco…let’s just say the lid was blown right off of my “little world,” and I realized just how much I needed and wanted to learn about the world I live in.


My friends from Spain, Switzerland, and Italy in Heidelberg Germany at the World Cup Finale.

Should I go to a private language school or do a study abroad program?

This entirely depends on you. If you’re happily working your way towards a degree in a university that offers study abroad programs that keep you on track for graduation, I think choosing a study abroad program would be a no-brainer. However if you’re less focused on the grades and more interested in the language and cultural experience, I would have to say a private language school is the way to go. These schools tend to have small classes and can be relatively inexpensive, depending of course on where you are and the intensity of the pace at which you’re learning. You’ll be sure to find people from all over the world, their to learn the language for a vast variety of different reason.

Where can I find a private language school that’s right for me?

Try I found my school through this website, it’s free and lets you compare and contrast different schools your desired area! Click here to check it out.

Where should I stay while in language school?

This of course depends on the situation you find yourself in and your personal preferences! Living in Germany now, I obviously just stay at home and go to language school during the day. In Heidelberg I shared a small apartment with an American friend about fifteen minutes away from my language school which the school provided for us. Staying with host families is also quite common. Lisa from L!$@’s Life can explain a little bit about her experience with a host family:

“I went to Japan for a 5-week intensive language program at the end of last year for 2 units towards my university degree. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I don’t know why, but over those 5 weeks I changed so much. I stayed with a host family while I was there. In general it was a good experience, but sometimes trying to fit into a different family can be hard. I tried though. We had some good laughs…some of which I expect were at my expense, as I couldn’t always say what I wanted. They liked to take me shopping a lot and they even took me for my first (and probably only) Onsen experience (A public spa; male/female separated).”


Lisa and her host sister in Japan.

What would my schedule be like at language school?

This of course depends entirely on your language school. If you find a school you think is right with you, ask them what a typical student schedule with be. In my experience, the workers there are more than accommodating!  Here is what Lisa says about her schedule:

”Each day I would wake up around 7-7:30 get dressed quickly, eat some breakfast if I had time and then race out the door to catch my 40-50min train into the city where I studied. We started at 9am each day and would go to either 2:30pm or occasionally 12:30pm. Classes alternated between things covered in the 2 units, such as speeches, group projects, as well as formal and practical exercises in Japanese. We also had self-study time to go over things we needed to or do our homework for the day. Sometimes I needed to stay extra after class to study because it didn’t come as easily to me as some of the others.”

My German language school schedule was very similar to Lisa’s. Almost every day after class, I would go on adventures with my friends, try out new food, or go swimming at the HUGE community pool there!

At the pool with my friends! Dear goodness this makes me miss summer.

How much should I study outside of class?

It goes without saying that the more you study, the more you’re going to learn. However, different approaches to studying work for different people. This is what Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos has to say:

“Hi everyone!  I am Megan from A Suitcase and Stilettos and I am currently an American living in Norway.  By definition, the Norwegian language should be easy to learn as it is Germanic, similar sentence structure, and several of the same words, right?  Disclaimer:  Norway has like 500,000 different dialects.  Well, not quite that many, but there are a lot, which makes learning the language quite a challenge for a foreigner!  I began in language classes about a month and a half after arrival and am very glad I did!  My language class is only one day a week, which works well for me because it gives me a week at home to study and improve on my own...and to use what I learn in class on the 'streets' throughout the downtime.  I study a lot at home...and I mean A LOT.  My boyfriend, who is Norwegian, and I only speak Norwegian at home...and when he is not here during the days, my time is spent studying and writing.  I would say I probably study like 3 hours a day if not more (and that does not include conversation with the boyfriend).  The classes introduce me to new findings and my instructor is always there to help, but I would say the class itself is not where I learn...home is where I learn.  But the class continues to keep me motivated and I would definitely recommend an intense language course to any foreigner residing in a country other than their home!”

Megan and I have very different studying “styles,” for lack of a better term. I’ve found it works much, much better for me to go to class every day and study a limited amount each day at home, because I’m am a not very self-motivated person. Think of the way that you succeed best in regular school, it’s safe to assume you’ll do well in language school if you follow a similar routine.


How do I make the most of my language school experience?

  • Don’t speak your native language. It’s tempting, but fight it. I promise it will be worth it.
  • Be outgoing! Introduce yourself to those in your class and establish out-of-class relationships.
  • Do the homework. I noticed a significant speed in my improvement once I started really buckling down on my assignments.
  • Make an effort to live like the locals, especially if you’re just visiting the country you’re studying in. Shop where they shop and eat where they eat. Lisa made an adorable chart with her reactions to Japanese food!



    なべ (Nabe)– one pot dish with noodles

    Love it! So good and I had it a few times with my host family

    やきそば (Yakisoba) – kind of like a Japanese stirfry

    Pretty good. I actually tried some with octopus – very rubbery

    おこのみやき (Okonomiyake) – cabbage pancake with bacon, topped with mayonnaise & Okinomiyaki sauce.


    I ate it SOOOO MUCH! :D

    こんにゃく(Konniyaku) - essentially a jellified plant

    I nearly vomited while trying this…the texture is what got to me!

    オムライス (Omuraisu) – An omelet encasing rice with your choice of sauce etc on top

    Had this at a restaurant with my host family…Loved it! Delicious!

    Mister Donut

    Not the best donuts I’ve had…but they were ok.

    Mos Burger

    Amazingly delicious! Get the Mos Burger first time.


    My favourite coffee place where I only drank iced or hot chocolate. It was my go to place!


If you’ve been bitten by the travel bug and want to experience life in another part of the world, I highly encourage you to consider attending a language school abroad! I can say from experience it’s something you’ll never forget.


wildchild said...

I went to language school in the south of France this past summer for 2 months and LOVED it. If you have the time (which, in college, you do) why the heck not?! One of the best choices I ever made :)

Lena said...

This is REALLLLYYYY helpful! My husband and I are currently working through the paperwork to move ourselves to Switzerland [my country of duel citizenship ... fingers crossed that he gets a visa!!]. Our German is pretty basic, so we've been contemplating language school. I'm thinking yes, especially after reading this.

Megan said...

Very helpful piece!! Once I get my links page up and running I'm def putting this on there.

I think these language programs are simply as good as one makes them. If you want to learn, you will...point blank!

eighteenthofmay said...

This has definitely made me tempted to go to language school! I was kind of thinking about staying with my German friends and doing a three week course in the summer, and now I kind of really want to!

Say :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...