At the end of December wrote to me Christine Maher (http://tattsi.com). She has been last summer in Siena for 3 weeks to study Italian at Dante Alighieri. About her memories from that time she wrote on her blog. In her mail she asked me to write here (http://justvisitsiena.com/) a reviewing what it is like to travel in Tuscany (specifically in Siena) and study Italian. Couldn’t answer ”no” of course 🙂 So below I want to publish Christine Maher’s photos and text.
”A Review of Scuola Dante Alighieri in Siena
Looking to take a trip to Italy? Have you always wanted to learn Italian? Consider going to language school. Siena is an excellent place to study. It is small enough to be walker friendly yet large enough to have all the amenities of a major metropolitan area. Siena offers visitors the quintessential Tuscan “la bella vita.” At the same time, it is home to many universities which makes it quite a student-friendly and contemporary town. Last summer I spent 3 weeks studying intensive Italian at Siena’s Dante Alighieri School.
I am an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in Philadelphia. I chose to go to Italy for 2 main reasons: to improve my Italian and to better understand what it is like to be a second language learner. Choosing a language school was a daunting task. Taking a long trip overseas is a big deal. It’s not someone I could afford to do every year so I wanted to make the most of it. Having more time meant I had to stretch my budget further. Doing a google search I discovered there are literally thousands of options in every city or town in Italy. Dante Alighieri received great reviews online as well as personal recommendations by my teachers at the America Italy Society in Philadelphia.
After going through the planning process and the experience, I have 5 reasons why language school in Siena, particularly Dante Alighieri could be a great travel option.
1) It’s surprisingly budget friendly
The price of language schools can vary wildly. One week at Dante Alighieri starts at 165 Euros for 15 hours a week (roughly $225) but I have seen prices twice or even three times that amount at other schools. As for living arrangements, there are several options and the 2 most popular are apartments (private or shared), or a stay with a host family. I had my own private room in an apartment I shared with one other Italian university student for 20 Euros a night (about $27.00). For roughly the price of a nightly stay at a hostel I had my own bedroom, bathroom and shared kitchen.
For 3 weeks of language school plus 3 weeks in an apartment I spent 960 Euros (I took the 20 hour a week intensive courses so they were 180 Euros). (about $1,300).
A 10 day tour to Europe is normally anywhere from 2,200 to 3,000. I spent the same amount of money for 3 weeks of classes, my flight and the apartment.
2) It’s easy to make friends
Just like a group tour, studying at a language school gives you a built in circle of friends. People who go to language school come from many different continents, a wide variety of age groups, and have different reasons for learning Italian. Some are there just because they love the language. Others are there because their company sent them for work purposes. Whatever the reason, everyone shares a love of the culture and language.
3)It gives you some structure but also plenty of freedom
In language school your mornings are occupied by classes and if you want to get the most out of your time studying, you have to spend time doing homework. If you love Italian the time flies because the classes are enjoyable. Homework can be completed in a bar drinking your favorite espresso beverage or at the school lounge. Spend your afternoons and evenings exploring museums, watching movies under the stars, or having drinks or dinner with your classmates.
On the weekends there are plenty of places to visit via bus or train like Rome, Florence, Perugia, Assisi or Pisa, and countless hill towns within a few hours. If you want to opt out of crowded cities there are busses to the beach or vineyards for wine tasting.
4) ”Non sono una turista, sono una studentessa”
You get to live like a local in an apartment or a home stay which means you get to really experience living in a place (not just visiting).
At Dante Alighieri, the teachers encourage you to practice your Italian by telling the locals, “Non sono una turista, sono una studentessa.” (I am not a tourist, I am a student). Siena is full of tourists and the locals are used to speaking English to cater to an American crowd (or as several admitted, because they enjoy practicing English.) The thing is, going to language school allows you to be more than a tourist. You are a resident looking for an authentic experience who can converse with the locals. Give it just a week and the bar tender will know how you like your coffee, the pizza guy will enjoy your daily chats about foreign politics, and you will be asked directions by tourists in Italian. You can shop for local food, cook your own meals and save money by not having to eat out. Your Italian will improve rapidly because you will be getting the balance of structured class instruction with the freedom to use your Italian in a natural environment.
5) Dante Alighieri is a great school!
Since I am a second language teacher, I know about what makes a language class work. At Dante Alighieri the teachers take a very interactive approach. They are great at explaining new concepts while allowing the students many opportunities to read, write, listen and speak. The teachers are professional, encouraging, and always well-prepared. The lessons are fun and there is plenty of variety. The school sponsors plenty of extra events outside of class like wine tastings, movies and lectures. They are free or low cost. The building is beautiful and centrally located with colorful, clean rooms and just a 5 minute walk from the Piazza Il Campo.
As always there are possible Drawbacks.
1) You certainly can come to Dante Alighieri (or any language school) with no prior experience in the language you are studying. This is probably not the best use of your time however, unless you can spend at least 6 weeks there. That way you will really feel like you have made progress and reach a new level. If you would like to study a language in another country and you only have a couple of weeks, you should probably have a basic knowledge of the language before you arrive.
2) Most people can’t take more than 1 or 2 consecutive vacation weeks. Flights are expensive making it difficult to take the trip often. If your time is limited you might want to see as many places as possible. Following the same morning schedule may not be for you
If you are excited by the idea of studying Italian in Italy, you will probably enjoy language school. If you want to stay in an ideal city that is not too large yet has plenty of opportunities for culture and cuisine, Siena is a great place. Scuola Dante Alighieri will provide you a wonderful learning experience.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact Christine at cam2540@gmail. Also here is the link for Scuola Dante Alighieri:
Happy Language Learning!”