We all know that immersion is the best way to learn a language, so taking lessons overseas is a priceless experience. Lessons are enhanced by being able to converse with native speakers, and the learning and practice will continue long after official class time ends. Unfortunately, we all can’t afford to spend a summer in Barcelona perfecting our Spanish. If you consider the cost of living in addition to the cost of lessons (group lessons even), then one month might eat up your budget.
For the budget conscious language student, I propose a different approach – one a little more off the beaten path. There are some amazing alternative locations around the world to pursue budget language study, places that offer rich cultural experiences and new perspective on a commonly-spoken language. From Central America to Central Asia, here are five alternative spots for language study around the world.
Study Spanish in Guatemala
It might be a place that focuses on Latin Spanish, but you can get your Spanish language study in Guatemala at a fraction of the cost of Spain. Guatemala is quite backpacker friendly, and you’ll find that most of the major tourist stops will be armed with language schools galore where you can study for as little as a week, or however long you plan to stick around.
Why Guatemala? Guatemala is still cheaper than Mexico, and the Spanish is going to be a bit more pure. Having a population that is scattered across mountains and jungles, many Guatemalans grow up speaking a regional Mayan dialect as their first language and don’t learn Spanish until they reach school. Because of that, their Spanish is more by-the-book with far fewer regional differences.
Typical Course & Cost: Tuition for study in Guatemala will be one-on-one for an intense, immersion program. Expect to pay in the $4 per hour range outside of Guatemala City and Antigua, and weekly accommodation rates will vary from $20 a week.
- If you’re taking 20 hours of lessons per week for 12 weeks, your fees will be near $960.
- Basic, student-style accommodation for the duration will average $240, not including food.
- Total cost for 3 months of language study in Guatemala will be around $1200, plus the cost of meals and daily expenses.
Study Russian in Kyrgyzstan
Many people haven’t heard of this tiny former Soviet Republic, but those who have can attest to its unique beauty and culture. You may have to travel to the middle of Central Asia to get here, but when you consider the money and headaches saved from bypassing study in Russia, then it’s a definite winner.
Why Kyrgyzstan? Russian is one of the official languages in this country with a large amount of people in the large cities speaking it as their main language of business. Just like with the Spanish in Guatemala, you will find that the Russian in Kyrgyzstan is more by-the-book as many of the Kyrgyz people may not speak it until they enter school. The country is cheap to live and travel in, and the entry requirements are much more relaxed than the other Central Asian countries.
Typical Course & Cost: Tuition for study in Kyrgyzstan will be one-on-one for an intense, immersion program. Expect to pay in the $4 per hour range in the capital city of Bishkek, and accommodation can range from $200 to $400 per month depending on your needs.
- If you’re taking 20 hours per week for 12 weeks, your fees will be near $960.
- Basic, student-style accommodation for the duration will average $660.
- Total cost for 3 months of language study in Kyrgyzstan will be around $1620, plus the cost of meals and daily expenses.
Study Portuguese in Brazil
If there is anything you can do to stay away from studying a language in Europe, you will most likely save yourself some money in the process. Brazil is a South American alternative to Portugal in getting your Portuguese lessons well underway. On top of that, you can experience an environment of beaches and jungle, and the famous Carnival happens there every year.
Why Brazil? Brazil has a rather large population with a number of large cities lining the coast. Because of that, you can stay outside of the major cities (Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo) to save a bit of money, but not really feel as though you’ve traveled to the middle of nowhere in order to do so. Once you get there, you can explore the Amazon jungle or even make it down to the glorious Iguazu Falls.
Typical Course & Cost: Private lessons in Teresopolis, for example, can run in the $9 per hour range depending on the exchange rate. Expect to pay around $200 per month for simple studio accommodation.
- If you’re taking 20 hours per week for 12 weeks, your fees will be near $2160.
- Basic, student-style accommodation for the duration will average $600.
- Total cost for 3 months of language study in Brazil will be around $2760, plus the cost of meals and daily expenses.
Study Arabic in Tunisia
For studying Arabic, something like the United Arab Emirates might sound pleasant, but after a few months in that country with intensive language courses, you just might have to take out a loan. A cheaper option for immersion would be to study in Egypt, but that seems too easy. I’ve decided to make Tunisia the alternative location for budget Arabic studies.
Why Tunisia? Tunisia is a country in northern Africa that speaks Arabic as its official language. Being so close to Europe, you have a number of fun travel options at hand for before, after or during your studies. Plus, the history of Tunisia goes back to the Roman times, so you’ll have plenty to learn about besides your Arabic studies in the process.
Typical Course & Cost: At the Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages in Tunis, you can take a one-month intensive course (100 hours) for just $415. If you break that down, it costs about $4.15 per hour of Arabic lessons. A month in a homestay with 2 meals a day will run $300.
- If you’re taking 20 hours per week for 12 weeks, your fees will be near $1000.
- Homestay accommodation for the duration with 2 meals will average $900.
- Total cost for 3 months of language study in Tunisia will be around $1900, plus the cost of daily expenses and lunches.
Study French in Senegal
Not many people would think to travel to West Africa to improve their French, but I beg to differ. French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and many African countries have inherited the language from a time of French rule. This route is for the more adventurous soul, but studying French in Senegal can save you money and give you life experiences you’ve maybe never imagined.
Why Senegal? French is the official spoken language in Senegal, so you can experience the immersion program while spending time there. Being in the north part of West Africa, you don’t have to worry about being too close to some war-torn neighbors to the south. Overall, you can save heaps of money over the option of doing an immersion in France.
Typical Course & Cost: I found a program run by the ACI group at the Baobab Center in Senegal that offers extremely budget language and culture studies. Expect to pay less than $3 per hour of private language lessons. For a nice, private accommodation, the rates appear to be in the $500 per month range, but the homestay option (which includes board) is less, coming in at $475.
- If you’re taking 20 hours per week for 12 weeks, your fees will be near $720.
- Homestay accommodation with board for the duration will average $1425.
- Total cost for 3 months of language study in Senegal will be around $2142, plus the cost of daily expenses.
>> Search for cheap flights to Senegal and learn about more places outside of France to embrace French culture.
The Value of These Courses
All of the courses above, except for that in Tunisia, lists the prices for one-on-one language study. Just doing a quick search for individual lessons in France brought me to the price tag of 50 Euro per hour, which is currently near $65 USD. So, when you consider that you can pay $3 per hour for a lesson in Senegal, the savings for such intensive lessons can easily cover the cost of your plane ticket getting there, and then some.