Montalpulciano

How to choose the right Italian School for You

Choosing the right Italian School for You

So you’ve decided that you’re going to spend some time in Italy learning the beautiful language of Italian. There really is no no substitute to being fully immersed in the language to really improve your abilities (or quickly learn some handy phrases if you’re a beginner). Imagine starting the school day with a cappuccino and a cornetto (Italian croissant), having a pizza lunch in a piazza after class and sipping a glass or two of vino (wine) in a small enoteca in the evening. There’s really no comparison!

Now comes the tough part. How do you choose from the 60+ Italian schools and find the right spot for you?

Unless you know someone with first hand experience, trying to decide where to go can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many options to choose from. When I was researching different schools, I focused on a half dozen criteria to help narrow down the search (after months and months of deliberating!). The first thing you need to do is ask yourself …

Why do you want to study Italian in Italy?

Asking yourself this simple question can help narrow down your options. Some schools or at least the city or town are going to be better suited for you depending on your reasons for making the trip in the first place.

  • Have you always wanted to live (even for a short time) in Florence, Rome, Venice, Sicily, Verona, [insert small, unknown Italian town here] and adding on language classes sounds like something fun to do? Then go to your dream location! Taking time off to fly to Italy and invest the time and money to attend a language school for many people is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Why not go to the city or region you’ve always wanted to visit and select a school in that area.
  • Are you studying because it’s part of your degree and you’re more interested in sightseeing than spending a lot of time learning or studying? If this is the case, you’re best off looking for a school in a larger city with lots of things to do, or at the very least, a city that works as a transit hub so day trips are easier if you want to explore outside the city.
  • Are you looking to fully immerse yourself in the culture, avoid speaking English / your native language and really want to get the most amount of improvement out of your time in Italy? Then consider a small town with minimal tourists (the locals are more likely to speak with you in Italian) and minimal distractions. This option provides the best opportunity to fully immerse yourself and feel more like a local.

Now that you’ve figured out why you’re embarking on the trip, here are some more ways to help narrow down your options.

Piazza in Lecce
Lecce, the beautiful “Florence of the South”, located in the Southern Region of Puglia.

Large City vs Small Town

The comments below are generalisations and may not be applicable 100% of the time but will serve as a guide of what to expect. 

City or Large Tourist Town

Pros:

  • Lots of sightseeing opportunities outside of class hours
  • Larger cities tend to have better transport connections, increasing your day trip options
  • If one of your main goals is to try as much Italian food as possible, there will be more food and restaurant options. I’d love to say I have tips to ensure you can fit in your clothes after multiple weeks in Italy, but I don’t! 🙂
  • You’re more likely to find a larger school with a greater number of students, increasing the likelihood you’ll meet students with similar interests. This made a big difference to me when studying in Lucca as it led to spending lots of time outside of class practicing Italian over lunch and dinner with fellow students.

Cons:

  • More locals tend to know English In larger cities, so you may not have as many opportunities to practice your new found skills outside of class. While a generalisation, busy locals catering to tourists day in and day out may have limited time or patience to help you with your Italian (and I can’t say I blame them!).
  • If you’re looking to learn as much as possible, sightseeing, on your own or with non-Italian speakers, might lessen your opportunities to practice speaking in Italian. At the very least, lots of sightseeing options may be a distraction if your main goal is to improve your Italian as much as possible.

Small Town

Montalpulciano
The Southern Tuscany hilltop town of Montalpulciano

Pros:

  • More likely to ‘feel like a local’ in a shorter period of time.
  • More likely to meet people with limited or no English, therefore your common language will be Italian, however limited yours may be. With no opportunity to speak English, you’ll be forced to use and improve your Italian.

Cons:

  • Depending on the size of the town and your class schedule, you may find yourself bored after awhile if there are limited sightseeing opportunities.
  • Small towns may have limited transport connections, limiting day trip options without renting a car.
  • You’re less likely to find non-Italian food options or variety in terms of cafes, bars and gelaterias if you think you may tire of Italian food (unlikely, but still a considerations!).

Large School vs Small School

Large School

Pros:

  • With more students to place in a variety of classes, you may have a better chance of being placed in a class with students at a similar knowledge level to you
  • Depending on the school, there may be more variety of after class excursions and activities
  • There may be more learning options at larger schools such as learning Italian while cooking, walking, painting, etc. All schools will be able to provide a list of course options either on their website or upon request
  • More students means there’s more of a chance you’ll meet fellow students you want to spend time with outside of class hours
  • A larger school may have more administrative resources
  • Larger schools are more likely to accept credit card payments compared to bank transfers or cash payments for smaller schools

Cons:

  • Class sizes tend to be larger, reducing one on one time with teachers. As a compromise, you can always add on private lessons in addition to the group classes. Registering for private lessons eliminates this entirely.
  • At a larger school you may have less personalised attention

Small School

Todi
Piazza in Todi

Pros:

  • Schools tend to be (but not necessarily) smaller, with the likelihood that class sizes may also be smaller. In the small Italian school in Todi, the class sizes were limited to a maximum of 4 students, whereas the class size at Lucca Italian School was capped at 10. The opportunity to ask questions decreases with the class size
  • More likely to have one on one attention when competing for the teacher’s time with smaller class sizes

Cons:

  • With less students, smaller schools may place you in a class where the students’ language abilities are quite different, meaning you’ll be working with content that is too easy or too difficult. Though many schools say that if the students’ capabilities are too different a new class will be formed, there’s not much you can do about it if this isn’t the case. This may also be true for larger schools at times when they are very busy.
  • Less students means you’re less likely to meet fellow students with similar interests.

Coastal vs inland

I’m throwing this in as a bonus consideration as both schools I attended were inland (Lucca in Northern Tuscany and Todi in the Umbrian hills). If your idea of studying with afternoons lazing by the beach if your idea of a good way to learn, then consider the handful of language schools in coastal towns. I honestly can’t think of a better place to study than on the beach!

I hope you found the above tips helpful in your search for the best Italian school for you. From my experience, your fellow students will have a significant impact on your time studying Italian in italy, so hopefully you’ll get lucky and meet an amazing group!

Polignano A mare
Polignano A Mare in Pulgia

Buona Fortuna!

Some helpful links:

  • For a collection of blog posts from my time studying at Lucca Italian School click here.
  • For my review of the Lucca Italian School click here
  • For a collection of blog posts from my time studying at Todi Italian School click here.
  • For my review of the Todi Italian School click here

I'd love to hear from you. Add your comments to the discussion below!

%d bloggers like this: