It doesn’t take much more than a Google search for “Italy” to get completely absorbed in fantasy.
You can lose yourself for hours in dreams of leaning towers, amphitheaters and enough cattedrali (cathedrals) to make up for all the times you ditched Sunday School.
While seeing Italy’s top destinations is a must in any life well-lived, these cities aren’t always the best for learning Italian.
It’s easy to be lured away from the difficulties of study when there’s fast food in every square and English is even spoken by the street vendors.
To get a truly authentic immersion experience, you have to lose yourself in the natural wines, musty cheeses and vast olive groves of the Italian south, and there’s no better place to get lost than in Sicily.
Why Italian Immersion Is the Best Way to Learn
We know you’re thinking, “I have to fly halfway around the world to learn Italian?”
But let’s get one thing straight—immersion is the best way to learn Italian. Here’s why:
- Complete immersion means you’ll be surrounded by Italian language and culture 24/7.
- Learning a language this way recreates the conditions in which you learned your first language. This leads to more natural and quicker adaptation.
- Immersion forces you to think and live in Italian. You’ll be able to use what you learn right away and get instant feedback from sassy locals.
- Through immersion, you’ll experience every aspect of Italian culture first hand, from the delicious food to the roller coaster of Italian politics.
In short, immersion is the best way to turn Italian from a study to a lifestyle.
Sicily is kind of like the Superman of Italian regions. It has a distinct and instantly recognizable identity, yet for some reason, no one can pin down exactly who it is.
It’s known for its rollicking traffic and buzzing city streets just as much as it is for its quiet and traditional rural lifestyle that hasn’t changed much in centuries. It’s also known for being fiercely independent, yet no one would deny that at its core, Sicily is quintessentially Italian.
All these things make Sicily an enigma in the eyes of the Italian mainland, but they also make it a perfect place to learn the language.
The variety of lifestyles and locations in a relatively small area means that you can experience a lot of Italian in one go.
Want to wander through citrus groves and hang with shepherds? No problem. Want to haggle with clamoring fish vendors and fly through Palermo on a Vespa? You’ll be right at home. And if you want to do both, that’s cool too.
Sicily is a place where racing and relaxing, antique and modern and high mountains and emerald bays meet to raise a glass.
The Sicilian Way: Getting the Most out of Your Italian Immersion Experience
Sicily is truly the gem of the Mediterranean. In fact, it’s hard to find any place in the world that can give you history, ethnic cuisine, culture and epic natural sites all packed so close together and yet remain so staunchly unique. But because of Sicily’s isolated wonders, it’s developed a distinct personality.
Here are few things to keep in mind to help get the most out of your Sicilian immersion adventure.
- Be a “yes man” (or woman). If a local offers you something, say yes! Refusing their generosity can be insulting.
- Put away the mandolin. Many Italian stereotypes come from Sicily, but Sicilians don’t really appreciate being portrayed that way. Try not to reference popular stereotypes from TV or movies.
- It’s Cosa Nope-stra. Don’t bring up the Mafia! This is very important, as it is a sore spot for many Sicilians. If a local brings it up, feel free to ask a few general questions. Otherwise, it’s quite rude to mention.
- Sharing is caring. Act as a bridge between your community and theirs, stay open-minded and always be ready to raise a glass! Salute! (Cheers!)
- Speak up! To really get the most out of Sicilian culture, you can’t be shy. Sicilians are a boisterous and talkative bunch, and they’re going to want to know everything about you. Sicily is all about community, and once you’re a part of it, you won’t be able to walk a block without a friendly chat or an invitation to lunch.
5 Excellent Schools for Learning Italian through Immersion in Italy
Sicilia Italian Learning School is the prime choice for students who want to combine business with pleasure in Sicily’s biggest metropolis, Palermo. This city was once the playground for Europe’s rich and famous, and its sprawling villas and brazen residents prove that it’s still as vivacious as ever.
The Sicilia school offers a unique mix of lessons and sightseeing as part of their cultural holiday experience, which guarantees to give you the push you need to get you interacting with the local culture.
You’ll spend about four hours a day in class (all levels are available in group or individual options) and in the evenings you’ll enjoy a range of social or tourist activities like boat trips, guided tours and cooking courses.
If you think that too much fun will get in the way of your studies, don’t bat an eye. All Sicilia’s teachers are native speakers, and the school has been accredited by the University of Siena, the most prestigious university for Italian studies in the country.
Halisaclub has a passion for history. They’re known for infusing their courses with a love of their home city, Palermo, and its traces of Arabic, Norman and Baroque antiquity. As a result of this passion, they offer a wide variety of unique courses that go far beyond just language learning, such as Sicilian folk culture, Sicilian cuisine and Italian Opera.
And there’s another amazing thing about Halisaclub. You’ll be having your lessons not just in the heart of Palermo but also in a quaint fishing village out of town. This split between busy streets and tranquil harbors isn’t done to foster a love of public transportation but to allow students to get the full Sicilian experience.
Is your love for Italian too strong for a short course? Well, you’re in luck. Halisaclub offers long-term courses as well. Who knows? Maybe you’ll never leave!
This school, located in the heart of ancient Syracuse, must have one of the most beautiful locations of any school in the country. Syracuse in southern Sicily boasts ancient ruins dating back long before the Roman period, as well as pristine beaches and enough city life to keep you on your feet. Chiacchiere is located right in the central peninsula within a stone’s throw of the sea and the Temple of Apollo.
The sights and sea breeze aren’t all Chiacchiere has to offer, either. This school is known for its conversational method. The word chiacchiere in Italian means “to chat” and that’s exactly how the courses are designed.
You’ll learn by living and conversing in Italian with your classmates and around town. You’ll even visit a local market where you can practice your skills before cooking a typical meal and eating together Italian family style. If you’re looking for something extra special, they also offer Italian cooking and photography courses, as well as courses on literature, art and wine.
Trapani is a city surrounded by emerald waters and majestic islands arching out of the sea like mammoth whales. If you’re looking to get away from it all but still want to keep your brain from turning to spaghetti, come to Trapani and take your Italian lessons on the seaside at Scuola Virgilio.
This is one of the most accommodating schools on the list, and it’s one of the only family-friendly language centers in the country. Normal intensive courses are offered as well as courses for children, teens and seniors, so there’s no reason not to turn your next holiday into an educational adventure for the whole family.
If you’re into excursions, the school organizes trips to natural parks and historic villages nearby. And if the sea is your one true love, you can even take your Italian lessons on a boat!
Do you tear up every time you see a classic Italian film? Maybe you’re just looking for a little slice of Italy with mule-drawn carts and little old nonne (grandmothers) laughing from their windowsills. Then Ragusa is your perfect destination.
This quaint, little town is largely untouched by modern influence and tourism. So while you may not find much luxury and nightlife, the homemade food (the region is famous for chocolate, oil, wine and cheese), fantastic Baroque architecture and kind, caring people are sure to provide an unforgettable and authentic experience.
Ibla! tries to mimic the town it calls home in its language teaching style. They focus on local heritage and small class size as a way to build community within the school and beyond. They even offer a Sicilian dialect course!
Courses are kept to a maximum of eight students to ensure personal attention for everyone. If you feel that’s still too many, you have the option to choose to study with a smaller group or individually.
After the lessons, Ibla! organizes trips to get students acquainted with the region, which contains UNESCO sites and natural wonders like Sicily’s southern beaches and the volcanic Etna.
In order to see the real Sicily, you have to learn the language.
Finding a balance between paste (pastries), panelle (traditional chickpea fritters) and your studies might not seem easy, but keep your eyes and ears open and you can do it! Just take it from the locals:
Cui cerca, trova; cui sècuta, vinci
(He who seeks, finds; He who perseveres, wins!)
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