As with anything, the key to learning as much as possible when you’re doing a course is to practise as much as you can. For this reason, staying with a host family whilst you study is generally considered to be of most benefit linguistically. Eating and socialising with your local hosts will mean not only that you have to speak the language, but also that you will pick up more vocabulary from them.
Living in an authentic local environment also means that you are likely to learn more about the cultural norms and traditions of the country that you are studying in. You will probably be introduced to the host family’s friends and acquaintances, and taken along to any local events or festivals that take place whilst you’re there.
People who take students in to their houses are usually very friendly and hospitable, and as a result, many students end up staying in contact long-term with their hosts. These days it’s easy to stay in touch via email, telephone, Skype and continued contact gives you a great way to keep your language skills up to scratch as well.
Some schools offer residence accommodation, especially throughout the summer, and this too can be a good option for anyone keen to make the optimum progress during their stay. Normally there will be other foreign students studying at the school staying there too, and any communication will usually be conducted in the language you’re studying.
When it comes to choosing what type of accommodation you’d like, there are some ‘social’ type factors, largely relating to the kind of person you are, that you should consider.
If you are a very independent person, for example, you might perhaps be better suited to staying in a private apartment or a residence so that you can come and go as you please and can eat wherever and whenever you like.
Similarly, if you value your privacy and don’t always feel like being sociable you may be better off in private, self-catering accommodation. That said, host families are used to accommodating lots of students and are usually very willing to give you space and to respect your privacy if it’s obvious that’s what you prefer.
Normally schools will do their best to match you to a host family that they think will suit you well, and it’s always wise to specify at the outset if you have any specific requirements or wishes.
Language schools attract students from all countries and ages, and it’s worth also bearing in mind that (during the summer especially), specific school residences can sometimes be lively! Students are always asked to respect their surroundings and fellow students, but residences with lots of young students in particular can sometimes be a little noisy during the busy periods. For this reason, we don’t tend to recommend student residence accommodation for anyone older than late-twenties, although obviously the option is open to everyone.
There’s not really any hard and fast rule in terms of how host family accommodation compares to self-catering accommodation options. It can depend on the popularity of the place you have gone to, the time of year, and whether you’re willing to share a room, to name but a few factors.
Staying with a host family often gives you good value for money given that your meals are usually included in the price, but equally, if you’re willing to live frugally and cook cheap meals for yourself there are also some very cheap residence options available.
Generally speaking, private apartments tend to be the most expensive accommodation type, but do have the benefit of ultimate privacy if this is something that is very important to you.
Other points to remember
When you come to choose the type of accommodation you’d like, there are a couple of other points that it might be useful to remember.
Firstly, availability with all accommodation options is better the earlier you can book. Leaving your booking to the last minute, especially in peak season, can sometimes mean that you have to take whatever type of accommodation is left, which might not have been your initial choice.
Secondly, you should make sure that the people at the school are fully aware of any special requirements that you might have when you make your booking. If they know about these from the outset they can normally organize your accommodation accordingly.
Whilst schools will always do their best to house you as close to the school as possible, it’s worth remembering with host family accommodation that you may be placed somewhere that is a bus or metro ride away from the school. Your host family will give you detailed instructions on how to get to school, and may even take you on your first day, though.
Although most host families will be very accommodating towards your needs and your culture, it’s important nevertheless that you respect their way of life, including their house rules and their routine for mealtimes. For example, if you can’t make dinner one night because you want to meet up with classmates it’s important that you remember to let them know so that they don’t cater for you when they’re preparing the meal. It’s true that the family will be ‘hosting’ you, but it’s important to build a good relationship with them, and of course this is a two-way thing. You should make sure that you’re polite and respectful, and that you don’t make a mess or help yourself to food and drink without asking first – unless they tell you otherwise.
Lastly, if you’re new to the place you’re going to, it might be worth organising an airport transfer via the school for when you arrive. Normally this is included as part of the ‘host family’ package (except with English courses), but you might have to pay extra if you’re staying in a residence or apartment.
Cactus offers language courses all over the world at a variety of levels, and for varying lengths of time. Please visit the Cactus Language website for further information on locations, prices and how to book.