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Great Wall of China (Jook Leung/My Shot)
TravelTraveler Magazine

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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