Family: Speaking in Tongues

Immersion programs merge language with culture.

By Lisa Armstrong

From the September issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

While simply traveling abroad makes you a more enlightened global citizen, you can deepen the experience through language immersion programs that offer cultural excursions. These four provide a range of activities and stays with local host families. Note: Rates listed below are for a family of four.

France › At Coeur de France, families enjoy the rich medieval history of Sancerre, a village in France’s wine country, without even leaving the school. The 400-year-old La Thaumassière château houses both families and French classes. Parents take either group or individual classes, and children can have one-on-one instruction. In the afternoon, families spend the day in the French countryside, including visits to vineyards, farms to sample goat cheese, and the Loire River for fishing and kayaking. Back at the château, kids learn to make crêpes suzette during hands-on cooking classes. Two-week family packages from $6,385.

Costa Rica › Spanish Abroad‘s location in Tamarindo on the Pacific coast means that after morning language classes, the whole family can enjoy a range of beach activities—surfing lessons, swimming, volleyball, boat rides—in addition to birding and zip-lining tours in the rain forest and visiting the monkey park and aquarium. Families live with a host family or in two-story bungalows grouped around a swimming pool and within walking distance of both the school and the beach. Children should be seven years old to participate. A summer language camp is available for families with children ages five to 12. Two-week program with host family accommodations from $3,225.

China › Cactus Language teaches young adults (and families) Mandarin Chinese classes in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian. Along with morning classes, each school offers a range of afternoon activities, including dumpling-making and calligraphy (in Shanghai), and visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (in Beijing). Weekend day trips include a visit to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and the Great Wall of China. Two-week program in Beijing with host family accommodations from $4,140.

Ecuador › Though the PUKA INTI Spanish School holds most of its courses in the capital city, Quito, families can also take classes in other locations, including the Amazon jungle. There, parents and kids stay at a lodge or with a host family in the town of Tena. Classes are followed by activities that include rafting, visiting a local shaman, and viewing rescued animals in a refuge. The school also offers excursions to the Galápagos Islands. Two-week program with accommodations from $1,320.

What do you think? Would you enroll your family in a language immersion program that pairs learning with cultural excursions? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  1. Enrique Medina
    September 15, 2011, 7:30 pm

    Dear Lisa,

    I think to do any tour around the world having cultural conection with local people, customs, is much better than the regular tours because interact with locals having the new experiences not only in the tours also sharing with the local family activities as shopping in the local markets that we have in Cusco which is a unic very tipical, colorful and we can see exotic produts, working the land with the locals and diferente others, ofcourse spanish and quechua (Inka Language still spoken) lunguage classes .
    Iknow very well what the tourists like because my father was one of the first tour guides in the region, i’ve got involved in tourism all my life.

    we really want to work with you becasue we love our land our World and Nature you have to know our Religion is nature as for the Inkas was.

    Only one country has everything the planet has to offer. culture, all the microclimates, all the regions, every type of animal, they are all here, in Peru.