by Steve Sutherland
One of the best ways to enjoy Italy is to spend some time at one of its many language schools learning a little Italian. This allows you to enjoy some of Italy's beautiful regions and towns much more intimately than you would if you just passed through on a tour. Learning the language will help you to get a better understanding of the culture, help you to make Italian friends and possibly even open up a future career path.
There are so many language schools in Italy and this makes it a little difficult for prospective international students to choose. The school that you select will have a huge impact on your experience in Italy, help to determine how fast you pick up the language and influence the kind of social and cultural activities you take part in. As a student you will be spending a fair bit of money on a language course and accommodation so it is worth doing some in-depth research to ensure that you make the right decision.
As with any kind of business there are good language schools and bad and you need to know how to identify those that are among the best. Just because a school spends a lot on their marketing and manages to reach out to you with their advertising it doesn't necessarily mean that they are a great school. In this article, I have set out three methods that you can choose to find the schools that offer the highest standard of education, care and service.
The best way to learn about a schools reputation is to hear from somebody who has recently studied there. If you don't know anybody personally who can refer you to a reliable course provider then it is worth having a look online for reviews and feedback. You can find reviews for Italian language schools scattered all over the Internet on a variety of websites.
While most of the reviews and comments that you read online are likely to be real you should remember to allow for some bias. Some schools will encourage students to leave reviews on certain sites before they finish their course and students will feel embarrassed to say anything negative. In the worst case scenario you could get school owners arranging for fake positive reviews of their school to be posted online, or even fake negative reviews of their competitor's schools.
Look at the requirements for posting a review on each of the sites that you look at. Some sites will let anyone post while some will ensure that the person posting the comment has in fact studied at that particular school. Use common sense as you read these reviews as you can sometimes smell a rat. There is a great article at Consumerist.com on how to spot a fake review.
Most countries that receive a lot of language students have a language school association. Schools wanting to join such an association have to agree to comply to a high set of standards. This offers the consumer some degree of protection as they can expect that member schools will operate professionally and that the association will take any complaints seriously. Schools will proudly display these logos as 'trust symbols' on their websites.
The main association for Italy is ASILS and you can visit the English version of their site here. ASILS is comprised of just over 40 institutions from all across Italy. On their site you can see the kind of 'Quality Guarantees' that you get with these schools. For example, all instructors at ASILS schools must have the appropriate qualifications to teach, including a university degree. Other guarantees are made about how these schools market themselves, their premises, management, class sizes and more.
There are great independent schools too that don't choose to join such an association. However, I would have to say that going with an accredited school would reduce your chances of being dissatisfied with your overall experience.
Most prospective language school students are not aware that there is an awards ceremony for language schools held annually in London. This event is organized by Study Travel Magazine, a monthly publication for language travel agents from around the world.
Agents submit their vote for the best schools in a number of categories that include Star Italian Language School. If agents are highly recommending these schools then you know that they have found them to be professional in their business dealings. It is also likely that these agents are getting positive feedback from the students that they enroll with these schools.
Check out the latest winners here. You can see the shortlisted nominees for 2012 and previous years in the Italian category. Winning schools will often mention this on their websites too.
For more tips on choosing the best language school for your needs and how to save money on your booking check out Language School Secrets guide. This free PDF guide tells you how to enroll the right way and how to find the best value for money when you book.