School’s in for the summer
How would your children react if you told them they were going on a French course in the holidays? John Clare’s weren’t keen, until they arrived in class.
A vacation with homework. To the average middle-school student it might sound like a nightmare. But for lifelong learners who wish they’d paid more attention in “Spanish for Beginners”—or for anyone looking for extra insight and access to the country they’re visiting—a foreign-language holiday can add les mots justes that separate a mere trip from a truly meaningful overseas experience.
These days, learning a foreign tongue often involves much more than vocab quizzes and verb conjugations. Jay Jamieson, accreditation services manager for the Canada Language Council (CLC), says language instruction used to adhere more strictly to the “here’s your text and we’re gonna go through it” model. Now, he says, many schools are “starting to carve out more of a niche … for travelers wanting experiences that are unique and different.”
That new niche includes experiential learning—several of the French schools on the CLC’s accredited list, for example, offer skiing or golf as part of the curriculum….
In Montezuma, Costa Rica, La Escuela del Sol has taken experiential language learning to new extremes: This seaside center offers surfing, yoga, and fire dancing instruction to complement its Spanish language classes.
Still other international language schools cater to a slightly slower-paced lifestyle. Gérard Chartrand, who, along with his wife Marianne, founded the Coeur de France École de Langues in the fabled winemaking region of Sancerre, said the school and the area are places for people to sample some of the finer things in life. We’re used to visitors who are interested in wine, gourmet food, etc. For accommodations, students can choose from Coeur de France’s three luxury apartments in a restored 17th-century mansion (which also houses the school).
Alex Anderson, a retired American investment banker, has been visiting Coeur de France annually for about eight years with his wife, Rebecca. They typically stay for two or three weeks at a time, rent a house near the school, and walk to their private French lessons at the chateau each morning, picking up croissants and French newspapers on the way. Alex says he likes to play golf in Sancerre the afternoon. “It’s a great way to meet French people. And it’s easier to have meaningful conversations than if you’re meeting in a store. You can talk about your families, and what you do.”
Chartrand says those kinds of real, personal interactions are part of the reason he and his wife chose the smaller, village setting of Sancerre for their school. Often, in a major metro area like Paris, says Chartrand, students “try so hard to learn French, and then they go to a café and try it out on a waiter—who answers in perfect English.”
By contrast, says Chartrand, most of the waiters in the Sancerre cafes will actually help correct visitors’ grammar and pronunciation. The local bistros, wineries, and goat-cheese farms thus become a kind of living language lab for eager Francophones-in-training.