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Italian language courses

Learn Italian in Italy

If you are looking for an intellectually-stimulating holiday, want to get closer to Italian culture, or are looking for something a bit different, why not study Italian on a language course in Italy? There are language schools in most Italian cities and many smaller towns where you can learn Italian as a beginner, or improve your Italian. Schools and study centres usually cater for a range of levels, can arrange accommodation and offer a sociable experience.

At most schools you will encounter a healthy mixture of fellow-learners, including students, holidaymakers and foreigners who've just moved to Italy. A course can be a rewarding social experience as well as an opportunity to learn more about the Italian language and culture. Teachers will be natives, usually locals, and will be able to give you good advice on the local culture, activities and restaurants. Schools often organise social or tourist activities for their pupils, such as guided tours, cookery classes and excursions. Classes will generally take up just the morning or just the afternoon, meaning that you can spend plenty of time relaxing, sightseeing or socialising.

The most common teaching method is immersion, where teachers will only speak Italian, so it is possible to make good progress, particularly if you already have a grasp of the basics. You can usually book any length of time from one week upwards, but many schools' courses spend two weeks on each level of Italian, and you will certainly benefit more from staying a fortnight or longer.

A big advantage of taking a language course is that they are ideal for people travelling alone - camaraderie springs up between students, and you are rarely short of a new acquaintance to dine or explore with. A solo holiday can become a cheerful and lively learning experience.

In addition to established year-round schools, there are also seasonal courses aimed principally at summer holiday-makers. These are often residential and in attractive tourist destinations.

Learning Italian in Rome - a personal experience

When I attended an international language course in Rome, I found myself in small classes (up to 12 students) with a mixed and friendly bunch of people from all over the world - the greatest numbers were from Germany, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, but I also had classmates from Mexico, Croatia, Ireland, Holland and Brazil. Ages ranged from 18 to about 60 (my school, like many others, also ran special classes just for the over-50s), with civil servants, nuns and opera singers among the class. Students mixed and socialised before and after class, taking breaks in a nearby bar or gelateria, in shared apartments and on the trips organised by the school. You could sign up for extra activities - some free, some at additional expense - such as guided walks, evening meals, trips to Pompeii or Umbria and cookery classes. The social life was great, with many students getting together in groups to visit Roman restaurants or to host small parties, or exploring the city after class in pairs or groups. Courses each lasted a fortnight, with changeovers of students every two weeks, and much exchanging of email addresses.

The total immersion teaching style is a shock at first (teachers will only speak in Italian, even to beginners), but it soon seems a natural way to learn. Teachers were skilled at explaining and miming, and it doesn't take long for learners to forget their nervousness and stumble over new phrases. Learning is accelerated as students are encouraged to stretch themselves, talking Italian as much as possible, and you progress much faster than you could hope to do learning in your own country. In six weeks my Italian progressed from basic tourist phrases to a conversational level, and it only takes a week or two to make a significant difference to your ability.


Choosing a language course

Read all the information you can about your chosen school/course. How many students are there in a class? What teaching methods are used? What levels does the course cater for? Will the school organise your accommodation (and if so, is this the right option for you; you may prefer more independence or more luxury)? Are out-of-school or cultural activities organised?

If you have enough time to learn some basics at home before you travel (try a teach-yourself book), you'll have a head-start when it comes to the everyday practicalities of life in Italy. If you are staying with locals, want to interact with Italians or just feel more confident in class, a smattering of Italian words and phrases will go a long way. You may even be able to enter an intermediate language class, and make greater progress.

Internet searches are a good way of discovering a range of language school options in your chosen destination. Word of mouth is even better - if you know anyone who has studied Italian in Italy, ask them about their experiences and if they would recommend their school.

The following is a brief selection of options, including a directory, which might be a useful starting point. These are offered as suggestions only; I have experience of only one of the businesses.

> In Molise - In an attractive rural region that's hardly known outside Italy, In Molise is run by an Anglo-Italian and offers summer Italian study holidays in a little historic town. Off the beaten track, its aim is to be more like an integration into the community than a standard language school. As well as learning Italian there is emphasis on getting to know Italian life, chatting with the locals over hands-on cooking sessions, workshops with artisans, village excursions, film screenings and more.

> Torre di Babele - The language school I visited years ago in Rome, Torre di Babele offers language courses at every level, all year round. The school also runs culture courses, classes for the over-50s and teacher training. You can book accommodation in shared flats or home stays through the school. Since it is located in Rome, though, some students may want to make the most of the holiday potential by choosing their own, more central, B&B or holiday flat (see Where to stay in Rome).

> Dante Alighieri - Courses in Siena, Viterbo and Ischia.

> Scuola Leonardo da Vinci - with schools in Rome, Milan, Florence and Siena.

> Il Sasso - An Italian language school in picturesque Montepulciano, in Tuscany.

> Istituto Venezia - Intensive, weekend and longer-term courses (3 months) in Venice and Trieste.

> Arca Bologna - Language and special interest courses (opera, cookery, cinema) in Bologna.

> ASILS - For a more comprehensive list of Italian language courses, the website of this Association of Schools of Italian as a Second Language is a helpful research tool.


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