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What is a language holiday? A definition

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Definition: a holiday or vacation in a country whose language you are learning, where a part of each day is spent learning the local language in an actual language school. The remainder of your time is spent immersed in cultural and social activities which serve to embed your learning and give you the opportunity to practise the language in real life contexts.

Language holiday definition

Language holiday or regular holiday?

Many people will try and learn a little of the language of the country they are visiting, purely because this helps make the everyday situations easier to deal with. Typically, you might learn phrases to say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Thank you”, “Please”, and maybe some language to cope with a taxi ride or buying souvenirs in a shop. So if you’re using language in the country on a regular holiday, how does that differ from a language holiday?
It’s all about your intentions. If you go to a country with the prime intention of relaxing on the beach, discovering cultural riches or tasting fine food, then that pretty much sounds like a regular holiday. If, however, your main objective is to come back from that country with better language skills than when you came, then that’s definitely a language holiday. Here, we’re mainly talking about booking a language holiday where you attend a language school. Your language course will typically last about 3 hours a day, Monday to Friday, which leaves the rest of the time free to join in with other activities, or just do your own thing.

How to book a language holiday

Language holidays are organised in a different way from a regular holiday. Rather than being organised by a tour operator or famous brand travel company, most language holidays are organised by the language school where you will take your lessons. This is generally the case even if you book your language holiday via a local agency. The school will organise airport transfers, book your local accommodation, schedule your lessons in the right class for your language level, and even provide excursions alongside other international students. Given that their responsibility extends way beyond simply providing a classroom and a language teacher, you can see why it’s important to make your choice of school carefully.

How to choose your language school

More often than not, you start (and possibly end) the process of choosing your language school by looking online. Whilst Google and similar search engines will do a fairly good job of selecting appropriate schools, it is also worth thinking carefully about what is important to you:

Quality of your language school

It’s important to find a school where the quality of the tuition is recognised by that country’s national accreditation scheme. Some schools go beyond the minimum to be quality assured by other external agencies, or work as part of a group of schools whose prime focus is quality of provision. This is good, because such schools will share best practice around the world, and will be more likely to be at the cutting edge of teaching methodology. This doesn’t just mean a school with interactive whiteboards and interactive resources. It’s also about teaching approaches which have been proven to work well with your age group, which are sensitive to different learning styles, and which connect the syllabus to the local area.

Good logistical capability

Once you arrive in the country, and depending on your current language level, you will need to feel that the school has a good logistical grasp of all the component parts of your language holiday. You will often have to look quite carefully through a school’s website to understand how well they do this. The classic service for a language holiday includes being met on arrival, having your accommodation and lessons all booked, and offer a range of social activities and excursions.
Lessons will run at specific times during the day, and there will be a social programme to show you many of the cultural highlights of the city or town, and there will also be the opportunity to meet and converse with other locals and international students.
The important question is whether your language holiday will feel cohesive, connected up and ‘seamless’. So whilst you should be interested in the component parts, it’s also important to check with the school the quality of their logistics, which glue these parts together. So, where will the airport pick up people be standing at the airport? Will they know which terminal you’re arriving at and will wait if your flight is delayed? Will the accommodation provider be expecting you? How will you find the route between the accommodation and the school? Do you have enough time to get between lessons and social activities?

A good range of language holiday accommodation

If language holidays are all about maximising both language acquisition and having a great holiday experience, then the accommodation plays a critical role. One popular option is a host family. Not only a great way to start to understand a country from the inside out, host families are also a very low cost form of accommodation. The term ‘host family’ is a catch-all term for staying in someone’s home. In fact, it might be easier these days to consider it to be a bit like Airbnb. It could be the home of a single person, a small or large family, there may be pets, you might essentially have your own apartment within a home, or you may be sharing a bathroom with others. If you go for the host family (or ‘homestay’) option, don’t hesitate to specify your requirements, e.g. “I’m a vegetarian, I’m female and want to stay with a single female, I don’t like dogs but I love cats”. Whilst this might make it hard work for the school (and the fewer requirements the better), it will ensure you don’t get awkward surprises when you arrive.
Schools also have great connections with local hotels, apartments and all the hybrids in between (e.g. Aparthotels, backpackers’ lodges, shared apartments). Schools frequently secure discounts on behalf of their clients too, by block-booking spaces in advance.
Regardless how busy you get on your language holiday, your accommodation will be your base whilst you’re away, so we recommend you look carefully at the options available.

Language holiday excursions and activities

Language holidays are a great way to connect quickly to the culture of the country, of which language only plays a part. Meeting local people is another big piece of the puzzle, but understanding what local people treasure and show their pride in is really special. Language schools reveal a lot about their culture and their country’s culture by the activities and excursions they put on for their students. This could be anything from cookery classes, to party nights, to exploring amazing historical monuments, or hanging out for a barbeque in a cool part of the beach where only locals go. Having a look at the social programme will tell you quite a lot about the school and its target demographic. Whether you’re hoping for bars and parties, quiet culture and heritage, cerebral activities or energetic action sports, you should be able to find a school to match your social needs.
This is only the start of the story. Language holidays are as rich and varied as the country themselves. We hope this has been a useful starter guide!