Choosing an Italian school is never easy especially when you want to choose the right schoolfor you. The first questions you need to ask yourself are : Are you looking for the best school or the cheapest school? What factors do you need to take into consideration when choosing the school? And just how do you know if the school is a good school ? When planning a study trip, knowing the answers to these questions will mean you avoid any horrible surprises when you arrive in Italy.
The length of time a school has been around is a good indication of the quality of a school. If a school has many years of experience, having successfully resisted local competition, it means that they know how to do their job and that many students have returned to the school year after year or they’ve recommended it to friends.
A low quality school could last maybe 5-6 years, and a maximum of 10. Therefore if a school has more than 10 years of experience, you can be sure there is a good reason for it and take it as a sign of high quality.
One of the most important points you need to consider when assessing the quality of a school as a whole, is by looking at each individual sector and how well it runs. From the teaching team, to administration, to bookings, marketing and accomodation, at a good quality school all of these jobs will be undertaken by a qualified person dedicated to each specific task meaning they are able to offer an efficient and good quality service.
Unfortunately all too often a school may put one person in charge of many departments and that can be a clear sign that a school is more interested in saving money than providing good service which can only be of deteriment to the student booking their study stay with them.
3.Competent steady staff and teachers.
Having qualified competent staff who work under the best contractual conditions is a sure sign that you are studying at a serious school that takes its responsibilities to its employees seriously, directly influencing the teaching taking place in your lessons. Stability and professionalism towards its staff create a recipe for a happy working environment.
Unfortunately many schools in Italy take on teachers without the appropriate qualifications and without the necessary training only for the busy season and therefore have a high turnover of staff. These teachers do not receive fixed contracts and can be paid cash in hand, creating an unstable situation for the teacher that can only negatively reflect the teaching carried out in that school. So try to ascertain whether the teaching team of the school you choose is made up of qualified, fully trained teachers with experience at that school and who are offered good, contractual working conditions.
One aspect of a school that can so easily be checked to verify a school’s quality: their accreditations. An official recognition by a third party that the school is able to deliver the service it offers and has met strict crtiteria laid out by the relevant important governing bodies. Schools are proud to display their certificates on site and on their websites.
Good quality signs for Italian language schools are:
- Recognition by the Ministry of Education – in Italy the ‘Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione’ (Presa d’Atto)
- Agreements with the Università per Stranieri in Perugia or Siena
- Agreements with universities that award Masters for teaching Italian as a foreign language (for example the University Ca Foscari in Venice for their Master ITALS)
- Being part of recognisable Italian associations (for example, ASILS and EDUITALIA)
- Being part of international associations (for example, IALC, EAQUALS, etc)
Make sure that the school has a clear insurance policy to cover any eventualities such as damage to property and people, both during learning activities and for extra-curricular activities organised off of the school premises. This too, is an essential service that should be included in your price and otherwise would be an additional cost to you and should be considered when comparing the cost of various schools.
6.A Director of Studies .
Such a simple point that can clearly divide a serious school from its competitors. Having a Director of Studies means having a professional figure and point of reference for all matters of the teaching process taking place at the school. That person not only leads and guides the learning process of each individual student and assists the teaching staff but is also available to discuss your individual progress, to advise on how to improve and to discuss any matter concerning the school’s teaching methods.
The Director of Studies is also responsible for carrying out entrance tests to assess your level on arrival at the school, enabling them to find the right class for each student, not just from a grammatical point of view but also from a communicative one. A Director of Studies oversees your personalised learning journey and well-being while at the school and therefore should be an indispensible person present at the school you choose.
The method that a school uses is another thing to take into consideration as there are many approaches to teaching languages. A method that is heavily grammatical or using a translation method is surely best avoided as lessons based around tedious grammar explanations are unlikely to teach you anything that you couldn’t easily study at home from a grammar book. So we must ask ourselves: why would you spend money to attend a lesson in which you go over the same things that you could find in a book or even more easily nowadays on the internet. All you need to do is search for Italian grammar on the web and you will find an explanation of any aspect of Italian grammar.
Therefore, agreeing on this point, we need to consider what do we consider to be good teaching methodology? If it is not grammar, what is it ? A good method is a communicative method based on the development of your linguistic skills, meaning that it is a method that stimluates the student and their skills until their language learning changes from passive to active. This will then allow the student to truly underastand and know how to use the structures they have learnt and not just know them theoretically.
As with any other serious profession, you cannot pretend to be a teacher. Becoming a language teacher, requires not only studying and attending training courses but also specific university level qualifications.
Unfortunately many schools do not prioritise the quality of their teaching and for various reasons or to save money take on someone to teach on the basis of being Italian and not because they are qualified or experienced as a teacher. Being fluent or a native speaker of a language does not make you a teacher.
Make sure that the teachers in the school you choose are qualified teachers, otherwise you could just find an Italian friend and achieve the same results. The moment that you decide to invest your money in your learning, it is fair that you get the best. Don’t ask for less.
9.Social and cultural activities.
A good school should not confine its learning to the classroom and should be interested in offering you additional opportunities to improve your linguistic skills and a chance to get to know more about the country through its culture, food, arts etc. Make sure the school offers a daily activities programme including activities like: films, seminars, games, excursions, aperitifs, debates etc.
A school that really invests in its students and values the quality it offers, should not only offer you these extra activities but also offer them free of charge, without any additional cost to the student, unless they require extra transport costs for going further field, in which case a contribution could be expected to be made. Otherwise, activities offered through the school should be included in the cost of your stay, after all they make up part of your learning. So, ask yourself :
- Does the school offer a social activity programme?
- If not, change school, there are better ones around
- If it does, but you must pay for them, find another school
- If it does, and the majority are free, you have found the right school
All of the above factors contribute to the final price you pay and it is rare to find a school that offers all of these postitive points. Rare, but possible. So let’s go back to our initial question: Are you looking for the best place to learn Italian or the cheapest? After reading this and understanding the importance of all the aspects to consider, what do you think ? Quality has a price so before enrolling at a school, check what’s included, remember our advice and be sure just how you are spending your money.