The Best Language Summer Programs for High School Students

Learning another language will benefit so many aspects of a person’s life.

It makes a student more attractive to college admissions officials, aids employment, betters memory and cognitive flexibility, and opens the door for life-changing cultural exchange opportunities. 

However, as any student of another language will tell you, language acquisition is equally parts thrilling and rigorous. Depending on which language one seeks to learn, it can take roughly two years of dedicated study to attain proficiency. 

But there are some things that can speed up this process. One of the most tried and true strategies for transforming a language learner from an intermediate speaker to a fluent one is the chance to immerse oneself in the language they are studying. 

And luckily for high school students, there are dozens of outstanding programs designed to transform language learners into fluent speakers. 

Many students will take language courses during the school year, but a consistent language study schedule, with active study every week, is perhaps the most important factor in one’s transition from intermediacy to fluency, according to language experts. 

As such, students who want to learn another language and experience the richness of another culture will likely be looking towards their summers for a chance to not only keep up with their language study but to take advantage of those free months to do some adventuring along the way. 

In this list, we will be breaking down 10 of the best language summer programs for high school students in the country—in no particular order. 

When making this list, attention was given to the diversity of languages offered by each program and each program’s affordances and reputation. 

As such, these 10 opportunities for language learners will benefit the speaker significantly on their road to fluency.

Columbia Edge (New York City, NY)

Columbia University Hall
Beyond My Ken, Columbia University Earl Hall from north, CC BY-SA 4.0

Many universities offer university-level language classes that high school students can enroll in. 

And Columbia University’s language programs were ranked #2 in the country by, and based on that ranking, Columbia is perhaps the #1 school for foreign languages in the country out of all universities which offer language classes to high school students. 

Through Columbia Edge, a pre-college summer program offered to high school students, one will have access to the same language classes as Columbia University undergraduates. 

Columbia offers instruction in Spanish, Russian, Latin, Hindi-Urdu, French, Arabic, and more. 

Not only will students have the chance to study at one of the world’s most prestigious universities in New York City, but this program will also count for college credit, giving students a leg-up when applying for college. 

Concordia Language Villages (Minneapolis, MN)

The Concordia College Language Villages represent one of the oldest programs of its kind in the United States.

Established in 1960 thanks to the innovative teaching methods of Concordia College faculty member Gerhard Haukebo, the language villages combine total language immersion with language instruction to aid in one’s understanding of their language of choice. 

The villages themselves are located in Bemidji, Minnesota, and they bring roughly 10,000 people each year to their several sites. 

Each village represents a different language, and everyone within that village exclusively speaks the language being taught. 

Along the way, guests from other nations instruct students, cultural activities are enjoyed, and students have a passport that allows them to explore other villages. 

With 15 different languages offered, the Concordia Language Villages represent a chance to experience the kind of immersive learning which catalyzes language acquisition without having to navigate the often overwhelming experience of visiting another nation where English is not widely spoken. 

Each village has its own language, and when students become a citizen of that village, they’ll leave with an abundance of experience speaking the language in a day-to-day setting alongside native speakers. 

Middlebury Language Schools (Middlebury, VT)

Middlebury College
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Middlebury’s first summer language school opened in 1915, and since then, it has served as a gold standard for summer language programs. 

Because of the program’s reputation and tradition of excellent language instruction, it stands in the unique position of having collaborated with a variety of research teams to analyze the effectiveness of its teaching methods. 

On their website, they list 9 peer-reviewed studies which analyzed Middlebury’s programs to demonstrate that their teaching methods have an incredibly high track record of helping students transition from one language skill level to the next (i.e. intermediate to advanced). 

As such, Middlebury is unique in that its curriculum is focused on its evidence-based effectiveness. 

Through a combination of rigorous coursework, immersion exercises, and cultural activities, Middlebury has been able to develop a system that they claim will lead to greater language proficiency benefits than a study abroad language program of the same length or an entire year of undergraduate classes. 

With 13 languages to choose from, one can rest assured that the data supports the notion that they’ll leave Middlebury far more knowledgeable than when they entered.

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (Multiple Locations)

This program is funded by the US Department of State and has the intention of assuring Americans have cross-cultural ties and the linguistic skills necessary to explore those ties most thoroughly. 

NSLI-Y allows students to study language abroad through merit-based scholarships, meaning that this program is both selective and prestigious. 

The focus of NSLI-Y is on critical languages in the US—those languages which are both essential for America’s relationships worldwide and which don’t have an abundance of language learning resources dedicated to them in the states. 

With 8 languages to choose from, students will participate in a 6-8 week summer program in a host country. Languages available through the NSLI-Y include Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Korean, and more. 

After language instruction for about 5 hours a day in their host nation, students will then have the chance to explore their host country through a variety of cultural activities.

University of Chicago Summer Language Institute (Chicago, IL)

The University of Chicago is another prestigious institution that offers a variety of language courses that high school students are able to take advantage of prior to their time in undergrad. 

The best example of this comes in the form of their language Summer Sessions. With over 19 different summer language institute courses in over 10 languages, UChicago’s program is not only prestigious but incredibly thorough. 

UChicago expresses that this program is primarily intended for undergraduate UChicago students or professionals but that they accept high school students into their program on a limited basis. 

As such, an acceptance into this program communicates that UChicago has judged a student to be “academically advanced.” This, therefore, is a significant honor.

This program allows students the opportunity to study abroad in a variety of host countries as well, though programs have been conducted online in recent years.

EF Summer Abroad (Multiple Locations)

EF offers a wide range of language learning courses abroad, with classes ranging from 2-50 weeks in length. 

As such, there will be ample opportunities for those interested in EF to curate their ideal summer language learning experience. 

EF courses come in three varieties. 

One can take intensive coursework, which is more immersive, general courses which mix leisure time in one’s host country with language immersion, and basic courses, which allow students to focus on the basics of a language while enjoying plenty of free time. 

This is one of the EF Summer Abroad program’s most incredible affordances—one is truly free to design the program that is just right for one’s individual needs. 

There are over 12 locations across the world that host EF programs, and they teach about seven languages.

Greenheart Travel (Multiple Locations)

Greenheart Travel has over 13 different destinations for its language study abroad programs for its summer program alone. 

Some of these are high school exchange programs that place students with a host family/institution in a foreign country, and others are traditional language courses abroad. 

Usually, for each language location, students can choose between various locations within the country to customize their summer abroad experience further. 

The fact that the majority of Greenheart’s language summer abroad programs allow students to live with a host family represents a unique affordance of this program. 

The chance to experience a domestic setting with those who speak one’s language of study is a unique experience for language acquisition. 

On top of this, it represents a chance to develop incredibly close friendships with those one lives with while abroad. 

AFS Study Abroad (Multiple Locations)

AFS offers roughly seven different summer language locations each year. AFS has a primarily global reach, with campuses ranging from Kenya to Scandinavia to Japan. 

This program has been in operation for 70+ years and has partners in over 45 different nations.

AFS puts a particular focus on social impact, meaning that, alongside language courses, students will learn about and practice volunteer work relevant to the specific issues facing one’s host country and region. 

The social impact curriculum that AFS uses was developed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy, meaning that AFS’s social impact curriculum meets the highest standards of education regarding how to analyze social problems and how to work to mitigate them. 

As such, students leave this program not only with language skills but as skilled global thinkers.

Travel for Teens (Multiple Locations)

Travel for Teens offers roughly 7 study abroad language programs each summer. 

The components of these programs vary depending on the location of the host institution and the language being studied. 

Some programs, such as their Costa Rica program, focus on completing community service during the language study program. 

Others, such as their China program, will focus more on learning the Chinese language while also learning critical aspects of China’s history while visiting historically relevant sites. 

Programs range from less than a week to just under a month in length. 

The main host nations of the Travel for Teens program are Spain, China, France, and Costa Rica, but the primary locations for their summer programs are constantly in flux. 

Indiana Summer Language Workshop (Bloomington, IN)

Admission into this program represents an excellent opportunity for language study and a prestigious accolade. 

These workshops can occur both at Indiana University and at study abroad locations. Importantly, these classes, whether study abroad or domestic, count for about a year’s worth of college credit received for just two months. 

This program, therefore, is a wonderful way to study a language abroad while gaining a leg up during the college admissions process. 

Indiana offers four main categories of coursework through its summer workshops. 

Firstly, they offer immersion workshops, which are domestic courses where students pledge only to speak the language of study for the duration of the program. Indiana offers Arabic, Russian, and Chinese domestic immersion workshops. 

They offer online summer courses in over 23 different languages. 

Third, they offer study abroad summer language programs for Chinese and Hungarian language learners at present. 

And finally, they have supplemental courses such as regional studies, dialect classes, and cultural training. 

These make Indiana’s program robust and a rich opportunity for any language learner.