Am I Too Old to Learn a New Language?
No, You are Just the Right Age.
"I'm too old" is a common objection we hear when talking to prospective travelers about language immersion trips. It's a widely held misconception that simply isn’t true. Adult Study Abroad programs programs are compelling, fun, and inexpensive. The number one misconception (especially among American adults) about language immersion courses, is that these wonderful opportunities are limited to college students and young gap year travelers. This simply isn’t true.
Adults between the ages of 30 and 75 have been the fastest growing segment in language travel for the past five years. While the most common age group remains the 18-29 year olds, this is rapidly changing. European adults have had this figured out for a while now. It is common for working Europeans to spend part or all of their hefty vacation allotments visiting a neighboring country to learn the language, meet people, and experience new cultures. North Americans are finally starting to catch on to this idea too, and there has never been a better time to go.
Why should I book a language immersion vacation (instead of a cruise, resort or guided tour)?
Language travel is unique, more fun, more fulfilling, and a better value than the alternatives. Here are five reasons why language travel is superior.
Authentic, meaningful travel.
Rather than racing around with a guidebook, checking places off your to-see list, or staying cooped up in a resort, wouldn't you rather spend quality time somewhere, meet real people, and see how they live? If not, you can probably stop reading right now. If this sounds like a fun experience, than language travel might be for you. There is no better way to experience a culture in a limited amount of time, than through an immersion experience. From your professors, your host family, and people you'll meet in cafes and in the street practicing your new language skills, you'll gain insight into the way daily life works in a foreign place, not just see what the tourism board wants to show. If my personal experience is telling, your worldview may change slightly, you'll become more empathetic, and you may just gain a new appreciation for things you've previously taken for granted back home. And, in case you are wondering, you'll still have plenty of time on the beach, if you want it.
Bring something home.
Instead of trying to overstuff your suitcase with knickknacks and souvenirs, why not bring home the useful skill of being conversational in a foreign language? Not only will it allow you to confidentially take on future travel challenges in foreign lands, it will really impress your friends and loved ones. Even if you can't use your new language at work, or in your daily life, the next reason on the list should be motivation enough to tackle this challenge.
Expand your brainpower.
People who learn a second language delay brain aging and dementia, and show better cognitive abilities. Don't believe me? Check out these articles:
Meet great people.
One of the greatest things about enrolling in a language immersion course, is that the school serves as a gathering place for interesting people embarking on similar journeys. From day one, you'll have a network of friends and supporters in your classmates and teachers, which will help to alleviate the inevitable sting of culture shock. This serves to provide access to a wealth of insider information from locals, on where to go, what to do, and what to avoid. Almost all of my most memorable traveling experiences started with a simple coffee and a conversation with a classmate or a local. None of my most memorable experiences (at least positive memories), started in a resort, or with an idea from Lonely Planet.
Language travel is less expensive.
It's true. No matter how you slice it, language travel is one of the most economical ways to travel. Host family and shared apartment lodging starts as low as $160 per week in many locations. Most resorts and hotels cost about that much for a night. A Standard 20 Spanish program costs around $300 USD for a week including materials. That's less than the cost of Rosetta Stone software, and it actually works! Three weeks of study in an immersion program is equivalent to almost a full semester of college Spanish, which would cost at least $900 at a public university (in the US). Even without factoring in time-value, or the intangible benefits of learning a language abroad, from native speakers, language travel is a better deal.
What type of program should I choose?
For most adults, the general language courses will be the right choice. These are listed on LanguaTravel as Standard 20, Intensive 25 or 30, or Private 1:1. For the first two choices, classes are taught in small groups, and the number refers to the number of lessons each week. Lessons are 45 to 55 minutes long depending on the specific school. The third choice, as you can probably guess, refers to classes taught in a one-on-one format with a language teacher. These courses are sold in blocks of 10 and 20 one hour lessons per week. The main difference with the 1:1 courses, is that the student gets more undivided attention, and also more speaking time. The drawback, is that the student also misses out on the benefits of group class, as outlined below.
If you are looking for a little something extra in addition to language courses, or need to learn specific vocabulary or occupational language, LanguaTravel also offers specialty courses. While exploring a school destination on the LanguaTravel site, navigate to the Specialty Courses tab to view the options for a particular school. In addition to family courses and age-specific courses, you can also find Occupation Specific Courses and Language + Activity Courses. Examples are listed below:
Professional Language Courses
- Spanish for Business
- Spanish for Medical Professionals (doctors, nurses, dentists)
- Spanish for Teachers
- Spanish for Lawyers / Attorneys
- Spanish and Volunteering
Language + Activity Courses
- Spanish and Scuba Diving (Mexico)
- Spanish and Hiking (Spain)
- Spanish and Gastronomy (Spain)
- Spanish and Cooking (Mexico)
- Spanish and Surfing (Spain)
- Spanish and Surfing (Costa Rica)
- Spanish and Tango (Argentina)
What type of accommodation should I choose?
If you want the most complete language immersion experience, we recommend staying with a local host family. This provides myriad benefits, including experiencing the culture firsthand, hearing native vocabulary, getting extra language practice, and enjoying local meals (which are included in the price).
In most destinations, we also offer shared apartments, and deals with local three and four star hotels. At some locations, we also offer private studio apartments, or dormitories in student residences. Private rooms are available with every option, but common areas and kitchens are shared unless you choose a hotel or private studio. It is important to decide if you prefer to live with roommates, or alone (or with a partner), when deciding between non-host family lodging.
Do I need to enroll in a course specifically designed for my age group?
No. We actually think people learn best, and have a more positive experience, when they share a class with students of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.
Most adults prefer to learn in a mixed group with students of varying ages. We recommend this arrangement as well. Why is this better? For starters, because of the small class sizes in language immersion programs, each student truly brings something unique to the group and the atmosphere of the class. More diverse learning styles and word-views at the table, result in more dynamic lessons. Students of differing ages tend to pose different questions and run into different challenges. Synergy often results as everyone plays to their strengths, older students help younger students, and vice versa.
As part of my job, I attend classes at our partner schools each year. Last spring, I was enrolled in a B1 (high intermediate) Spanish course in San Sebastian, Spain for three months. That class was one of the most productive and engaging I have been in, due in large part to the diversity of ages and backgrounds of my classmates. We had Nan, a Catholic nun from Thailand who was 54, James, an Australian teacher in his late 20s, Li, a Chinese expat in her late 30s, Janie, an attorney from San Francisco in her 40s, and Sarah, an 18 year old Chinese university student. Each student viewed the new material each week in a different light, with a different perspective. By seeing how others learned faster than I did in some areas, I was able to adapt my own learning style. Conversely, when others struggled in areas I found easier, I was able to help them, and further solidify my own knowledge through teaching someone else. Furthermore, the group formed a tight bond, and continues to keep in touch to this day.
That being said, if you are still set on being in a class(es) with only other students of a similar age, there are several age-specific programs offered throughout the year in various destinations.
RECOMMENDED AGE SPECIFIC ADULT LANGUAGE COURSES
30 - 40 years
50 years + (retirees and seniors)
Can I bring my family?
Yes, of course. Families are another of the fastest growing groups in the language travel industry, and schools around the world are designing programs, camps, and courses to accommodate them. There are a few different formats for family language learning trips. The best fit for your family will be determined by your goals, and the ages of your kids. We will be following up with a separate blog post specifically on this topic next week.
If I am older and want to be around mostly other students my age, when is the best time to travel, and to what destination?
This depends. If you only want to be around other students in a very specific age group, for example, 50 plus, then it is recommended that you enroll in a “Master Class”, limited to students aged 50 and older. These courses are held in the low-seasons (Fall, winter, and spring) If you simply want to minimize your exposure to the 18-25 age group, you should enroll in any of the general language courses, and try to avoid traveling in June or July. The summer months are predictably when the most university and junior level students enroll, because they are on break. We also see a large number of families during this time, so if you have kids, it can be an ideal season.
As far as destinations go, as long as you are avoiding June, July, and spring break, you'll be alright. Destinations that tend to trend towards older adults tend to be in smaller towns rather than large cities. As you might expect, towns with famous beaches, or known for nightlife, attract more twenty-somethings. If you are having trouble narrowing down your destination, send an email to email@example.com and they can help you through the process.
What about extracurricular activities?
In addition to language classes, each language school employs an activities director in charge of organizing fun things to do after class and on weekends. Each week, a school will offer a mix of free activities, as well as some requiring a small fee. Schools organize weekend getaways and excursions to notable places in your area. If you'd rather explore on your own, your school's activities director is a great resource to get you pointed in the right direction. Example activities include:
- Cooking classes
- Dance classes
- Movie nights
- International potlucks
- Wine tastings
- Language exchanges with locals
- City tour and orientation
- Museum visits
- Excursions to neighboring cities
- Hiking, biking, surfing, skiing etc.
Hopefully I've been able to eliminate one more excuse for why you're putting off booking a language immersion vacation. If that didn't convince you, anyone who mentions this post (and managed to read this far), will also get $100 off any trip booked through LanguaTravel in 2015 (minimum 2 weeks course + accommodation). If you have any questions, or would like to get started booking your own trip, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.