What to Know Before You Register for Language Classes in Italy

What to know before you attend Italian language school

Grandmother with granddaughter rolling fresh pasta dough
Grandmother with granddaughter rolling fresh pasta dough. Jupiterimages / Getty Images

You have a trip planned to Italy, and of course, one of your goals is to learn more Italian. Besides just talking to strangers on the street or reconnecting with family, you'd like to have a more structured experience -- one that combines immersion with studies.

If you're looking for that, you're going to have plenty of Italian language schools to choose from depending on where you're traveling.

Here is a list of factors to consider before you enroll in class.

How Much Does It Cost?

A total-immersion language course in Italy is usually less expensive than taking a vacation for the same amount of time. For example, an intensive (30 lessons/week) four-week program at Eurocentro Firenze costs $1495. This includes full tuition, homestay accommodations with your own room, and breakfast and dinner. It would cost at least that much for a one-week vacation package tour. What’s more, if you already have accommodation planned and you just need to take classes, it will be much more reasonable. For example, a one-week group class in Orvieto costs around 225 euro.

Where Is It Located?

You'll hear about a lot of schools that are located in Florence, Rome, and Venice, for obvious reasons. Not everyone enjoys the year-round crush of tourists, though, so investigate schools in smaller towns such as Perugia and Siena, along the coast, and in Sicily. I've also heard wonderful experiences about students who have gone to places like Perugia, Orvieto, Lucca, or Montepulciano.

You'll be less likely to meet anyone who speaks English too, which will prove to be very beneficial for your Italian.

What's Available?

Where is the school located and how easy is to reach? Is there a cafeteria in the building or places to grab a quick bite nearby? What condition is the building in? Is it handicap accessible?

In more advanced schools, you’ll often find a multimedia center, a library, a computer lab, an audio lab, and a private movie room to watch Italian films. However, these amenities aren’t necessary to have a rich and authentic experience.

What’s The Staff Like?

Before you register for classes, chat with the staff or check out their Facebook page. If you’d like, you can ask about the credentials of the instructors. What types of degrees do they have, what is their level of experience, and where do they come from? Are they comfortable with all levels of students? Do they participate in the cultural events after classes end? Will they offer extra help after class for those who request it?

Are There Cultural Activities?

Check to see what each school offers and if there are any extra fees for participating in these activities. Many schools plan lectures, parties, movie screenings, and other special events that can be just as enriching linguistically as learning grammar in class. Some schools also schedule optional courses such as painting, cooking or weekend excursions at an additional charge.

Is It Accredited?

Find out if the course counts for college credit or if it serves as a prerequisite to the CILS exam.

It may not matter initially, but if you decide later that you want to prove your proficiency in the language (i.e., for a job requirement or to enroll in an university program), it's better to know beforehand what your options are. If you're unfamiliar with the CILS exam, you can read a first-hand experience here and here.

Where Will You Stay?

Ask the housing coordinator about homestays, an option in which you live with an Italian family during the program. It's a great way to learn the language and have a chance to exchange a bit of culture. This option may also include meals and can lead to lifelong friendships. If there aren’t homestay options available, it’s likely that the staff will know about the best nearby apartments for students to rent.

What Is The School's Reputation?

Before you make a decision, read reviews online, ask your friends and question students who have already taken the program, so you feel confident about your decision.

Many schools also have a list of former students who have volunteered to respond to email to talk about their experiences at the school. This can be an invaluable and inexpensive way to find out what the teachers, the city, housing, and classes are really like.