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Vacation in Translation: Why You Should Try a Language Study Trip

Delving into the culture through language is another way to adopt slow travel

spinner image fluenz attendees visiting a local market
Going on excursions, such as to a market, is a part of the Fluenz experience.​​
courtesy of Fluenz

In a hotel rooftop lounge in Mexico City’s tony Polanco neighborhood, I hesitantly begin a speech in freshly learned Spanish to more than 20 fellow adult students and teachers. “Yo voy a México para aprender español. Pero no me gusta estudiar. Y entonces, magia!” This translates to: “I go to Mexico to learn Spanish. But I don’t like to study. And then, magic!”

The speech is my final exam of sorts, the conclusion of a weeklong travel language immersion program with Fluenz. I’ve spent the week mixing twice-a-day Spanish classes with cultural tours around Mexico City. The “magic” of this program has been its ability to combine a fun and useful language course with an equally enjoyable and educational vacation.

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Such language study trips have been growing in popularity across Latin America and Europe, particularly among older adults and retirees interested in learning a language after 50. Language trips also embrace the slow travel concept of deeper and more meaningful visits to foreign countries.

The pandemic boom of new language learning technologies and online classes has translated post-pandemic into an increase in demand for in-person foreign study trips. Lingua Service Worldwide, StudyTravel and Fluenz aim to fill that demand.

So how do you decide if a language study vacation is right for you, and where are some good programs you might want to try?   

What is a language study vacation?

The basic concept of a language study vacation is to travel to a foreign country for a week or two, splitting time between language classes and cultural tourism activities.

These short-term language programs are mainly targeted at adults (some designed for those 50-plus) with customized courses and group excursions. “We speak to many students 50 and over who want to pick up a language they have studied in the past,” says Cleo Grim, travel adviser for StudyTravel, a Netherlands-based language agency. Students have long-held interest in the country and language and “would like to share this passion with like-minded people” in these programs, Grim says.

Everyone from beginners looking for basic travel phrases to conversational speakers seeking to polish their fluency can enroll in these programs. One 72-year-old woman in the advanced group of my program wanted to improve her Spanish to better appreciate the Mexican soap operas, or telenovelas, she habitually watched at home in New York.

A language study trip will typically add an itinerary with museum and market tours and immersive activities like cooking or dance classes. 

How much language can you realistically expect to learn in a week or two? In my case as a Spanish language novice, my study trip gave me a foundation for grammar and sentence structure, along with some essential travel phrases. It was fun to test out my new sayings in town during my visit. My real-world practice made me more focused in the classroom and provided inspiration for further study.

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European language study trips for older adults

Europe is a major draw for language study trips, but the continent is awash with hundreds of language schools. To help sort through the many options, it’s best to go through a language school–focused travel agency, or to check with a certification organization like International House World Organisation or the International Association of Language Centres.

spinner image students putting the finishing touches on a paella in nerja spain
Lingua Service connects Americans with European programs. Here, women put the finishing touches on paella in Nerja, Spain.​
Escuela de Idiomas Nerja

Lingua Service Worldwide is a Connecticut-based language school travel agency that connects Americans with European programs. “Our value is that we have a long-term relationship with these schools. We take good care vetting their programs, personally visiting them over multiple years,” says director of operations Leo Rodriguez. Lingua helps coordinate payments, bookings and travel details.

Since the pandemic, Rodriguez says he’s seen an increase in 50-and-over Americans traveling to Europe for these programs who “really want to learn the language.”

One of Rodriguez’s recommendations is the Maláca Institute in Málaga, Spain. It is based in the Club Hispánico, an “executive style” residency with bar, restaurant, swimming pool, and nearby golf and tennis. Program activities include Spanish cooking and dance classes, and tours of markets and historical sites. The two-week program costs about $840 for the language and activities, plus $520 to $1,400 for lodging, depending on room and season. Meals and airport transfers are not included.

Lingua Service also recommends Italian courses in Florence, Milan and Rome at the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. These similarly priced courses come with cultural, craft and wine-tasting excursions included in the one-to-two-week “La Dolce Vita” programs for 50-plus travelers.

Accommodations for these classes are in homestay programs rather than hotels.

“Some seniors hesitate to do homestays,” Rodriguez says, “but as most of the hosts are also 50-and-over and retirees, if you want to have someone local in your own age group to meet and learn from, you should really choose this option.”

When staying with a Spanish family, “you will literally find yourself thinking in Spanish by the end of even two weeks,” says student Bill Valentino, 76, who has done multiple study trip homestays through Lingua Service since he was 65.

StudyTravel offers “Golden Age” programs for adults 50 and older, with classes in France, Spain and Italy. These programs are “designed specifically for the needs of older students who like to dive into a new culture while learning a language,” says StudyTravel’s Grim, with “teachers specialized in working with this group of students.” Pricing for these two-week programs ranges from about $700 to $1,200 for classes only, with lodging beginning at about $500 for a host family stay.

spinner image teachers and students of fluenz
Fluenz students and faculty members pose together in Mexico City.​​
courtesy of Fluenz

Latin American language immersion programs

The Fluenz program I attended is an example of an upscale language study trip in Latin America. Based in Mexico City, Fluenz Spanish immersion programs are also offered in seven other locations across Mexico, Colombia and Costa Rica, with six new destinations coming in 2024.

Fluenz features a personalized teaching curriculum, boutique hotel lodging, meals and exclusive tours. At $6,535 for the week, Fluenz isn’t cheap, but it is inclusive of most meals, airport transfers, tours and private instruction. My Mexico City program included a private evening tour of the National Museum of Anthropology and expert cultural lectures paired with mezcal tastings.

These are not traditional rigid rote memorization classes. “We recognize the brain changes after about age 12,” says Fluenz cofounder Carlos Lizarralde. “So we’ve designed a nonlinear teaching style to overcome typical roadblocks adults may have with foreign languages.” The average age of Fluenz students is about 50 years old.

I concluded my weeklong program with a head full of Spanish grammar and phrases, a deeper appreciation for Mexico City, and a strong desire to further develop my newfound skills.

So whether your language interest is in French, Spanish or Italian, and your travel desires focus on Europe or Latin America, now may be a good time to research and book a language study vacation. It’s never too late to learn, or too early to start planning.

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