If you’ve been studying Italian for a while, you are probably considering coming to Italy to improve your language skills.
Or maybe you have never studied Italian and want to begin doing it with a language course in Italy. No matter if you find yourself in one situation or the other, choosing the best Italian city for a language course is always quite tough.
The city where you’ll stay will deeply impact the outcome of your experience: if you do not like the place, you might have a hard time with the language as well. If you are not happy, you may end up not liking the topic you are studying and finding yourself in a situation where you just want to pack your bags and go home.
Since coming to Italy is probably not something you can do that often and since maybe the one to Italy is the language trip you have been dreaming for a while, you have to carefully plan it in advance if you do not want to be disappointed.
Since I have been in the same situation, when I had to choose language courses abroad to improve both my English and my German, and since I know Italy quite well, I decided to help you with this tough choice.
I have put myself in the position I was when I had to make such choice, listed all the topics I considered back in the day when I had to pack my bags and leave for a language course, and applied them to Italy and the Italian life.
The result of this work is a list of things you should consider when picking your course and here they are.
1. The size of the city: big or small?
Is it better to stay in a big or in a smaller city? Well, it depends on what you like and who you are. Big cities have a lot to offer but can be quite challenging. Small towns have a more relaxed vibe but it can definitely be boring sometimes.
If it is your first time in Italy, if I were you I’d choose a smaller city, where you can get used to the new culture and new life in a more relaxed and easy way. For example, Rome is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world, but it is huge, traffic is terrible, public transport can be a mess – which means that, unless you live right in the center of the city, it can be challenging sometimes.
Naples can be equally challenging, while – if you really want to live in a big city – Milan can be a good choice for you: it is a big city, but public transport works well and it’s just easier to get used to the city and find your way around. Less charming than Rome, but definitely easier to get accustomed to.
However, if you don’t mind living in a smaller city, you have a lot of options. Florence, Bologna, Genoa, Turin, Venice, Palermo, Padova, Catania, Verona, are mid-sized cities, ranging from 1,100,000 inhabitants in Turin to 234,000 in Padova. There you can find yourself at home quite easily, but still have plenty of things to do and to discover.
Then you can choose definitely smaller towns and experience what it means “vivere in provincia” (to live in a provincial town), something which is quintessentially Italian.
If you choose una città di provincia, a smaller town usually in the countryside, you’ll feel at home in no time. You will get to know your neighbors, the owner of the nearest bar or the local panettiere (baker) very quickly and you will say “ciao” to a lot of people in just a few days.
Italy is full of little lovely provincial towns, so you really have plenty of choices. Cities like Lucca, Pisa, and Siena in Tuscany, Como, Mantova or Pavia in Lombardy, Viterbo in Lazio, Aosta or Trento up north or Lecce down south: you really have endless options.
Just keep in mind that life in a small provincial town can become somehow boring very quickly, so if you are someone who likes always having something to do, new places to discover, exhibitions, a big choice of bars and restaurants, these cities might not be the perfect choice for you.
2. The location: which is the most convenient?
Are you coming to Italy just to study Italian or to do some sightseeing as well? If you want to visit a bit of the country, make sure to choose the place you will be staying in carefully.
Italy is quite big and it might take some time to go from one place to another. On the other hand, many interesting places are near one another, making it easy to visit quite a few of them without traveling too much.
If you decide to stay in Florence, for example, you can easily reach Rome in 1 hour and a half, with a fast train, while Venice and Milan are just two hours away. This means that, if you want to stay in one place and see a bit of the rest of the country, choosing a city like Florence makes it easier for you to do so.
Keep in mind that fast trains connect big cities only, so if you stay in a small provincial town, it might take you a while to reach other places. If you want to be able to move around easily and do not want to rent a car, make sure to check Trenitalia website before booking your place: by checking train schedules, you’ll be able to see how long it takes to get to the places you’d really love to see.
If you choose one of the two big Italian islands, Sicily and Sardinia, don’t forget that you’ll find yourself a bit secluded and won’t have many chances of visiting other places – unless you hop on a plane.
However, if you want to spend your language course vacation in one of these two amazing islands and still want to be able to see something more of the country, keep in mind that there are many low-cost airlines connecting them to the mainland and they often are pretty affordable and convenient, so you may want to check that too.
3. The climate: hot or cold?
As I told you before, Italy is a big country and the climate can change significantly from north to south. So, if the weather plays an important role in your well-being, be careful and plan accordingly.
If you come in the summer, you will find hot weather more or less everywhere. You’ll have milder temperatures up in the mountains, obviously but in general you’ll experience really hot days. Big cities can even be unbearably hot in the summer, so pay attention to that if you can’t stand the heat.
Spring and fall are lovely most everywhere, but while up north the weather can be chilly and lean a bit towards winter, down south you’ll be able to experience glorious summer days and 30° weather even in April or October.
Moreover, in the south of Italy, winters are quite mild and temperatures hardly ever fall below zero, while in the north it can be freezing cold most of the time.
So, if you really can’t stand the heat, choose to stay somewhere in the north of Italy in either Spring or early Fall, while if you fear the cold, you can choose a southern location more or less all year round.
4. The number of language schools in the area: what is best?
If you are choosing a place where you can practice your Italian and dive deep into both the language and the culture, I would definitely recommend to avoiding locations with Universities for foreigners like Siena and Perugia because you may end up spending time with fellow English-speaking guys and won’t be able to really experience the language.
Choose those places only if you feel a bit insecure about being in a foreign country all alone and feel the need of having other foreign students to help and support you.
But if you really want to dive deep into the culture and soak in the Italian culture, choose a lesser-known place with just a few Italian language schools: by doing so, you’ll be sure to have more opportunities of speaking the language and being forced to use your skills “to survive” because nobody speaks English – something that happens quite frequently in Italy, to tell the truth!
5. The school where you will study: what to consider?
Anyway, after taking into consideration the climate, the location, the size of the city you’ll be living in, don’t forget to pay attention to the quality of the language school you are choosing. If you are in Italy to learn the language, a good school is a vital starting point and may even compensate for some faults of the place you choose.
For example, if you end up being in a boring provincial town, but the school you have chosen is good, they probably will organize activities for you, day trips, ways to keep you entertained and learn at the same time, making you enjoy the experience at best.
Therefore, when choosing the language school where you’ll be learning Italian, make sure that they have qualified teachers, small classes, and even one-to-one lessons – they can be a great complement to a group lesson, especially if you want to examine a specific topic in-depth – and that they also have extracurricular activities to help you mingle with Italians and experience daily life and culture (a day at the market or learning how to make pasta from an old Italian lady, for example).
Well, I hope this was not too overwhelming and will help you choose the best Italian city for a language course. If you still have questions or need some more information, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you.