There are several criteria by which to judge an Italian language program in Italy besides how close the school is to a good pizzeria or gelateria. Here is a list of what to consider to help choose the classes that are right for you. One thing to remember: if you arrive at school only to find it doesn't meet your expectations, most schools have a refund policy (another factor to consider).
Is It Worth It?
A total-immersion language course in Italy is usually much less expensive than taking a vacation for the same amount of time. For example, a super-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.
Consider The LocationThe majority of schools 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, less-heavily visited towns such as Perugia and Siena, along the coast, and in Sicily. You will be less likely to meet anyone who speaks English too—so you can practice your Italian more often!
What Type of Facilities Are AvailableInquire about the amenities. Where is the school located and is it easy to get to? Is there a cafetaria in the building? What condition is the building in? Is it handicap accessible? Is there a library, and if so, is it open at night and/or weekends? More advanced schools have a mediateca, or multimedia center, with a library, computer lab, audio lab, and private movie room to watch Italian films.
What Is The Staff LikeAsk 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 (important in some cases because everyone has an accent)? 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 ActivitiesCheck to see what each school offers and if there are any extra fees for participating in these activities. Many schools plan lectures, parties, films, and other special events that can be just as enriching linguistically as learning grammar and usage in class. Some schools also schedule optional courses such as painting and cooking or organize 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 matriculate in a university program), it's better to know beforehand what your options are.
Where Will You StayAsk the housing coordinator about homestays, an option in which you live with an Italian family during the school program. It's the ideal way to learn the language, practice your lessons, and have a chance to exchange a bit of culture. This option may also include meals, and can lead to lifelong friendships.
What Is The School's Reputation
Post a message on the About Italian Language forum, ask your friends, question students who have already taken the program. 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.