In September and October 2023 I spent three enjoyable weeks at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, Italy. It’s an excellent choice to learn Italian in Rome. Read on for a review of Scuola Leonardo da Vinci Roma.
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Why Learn Italian in Rome
Rome is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for good reason. It’s crammed with fascinating sights. However, it can also be expensive, crowded, and stressful. Public transportation and accommodation are a challenge.
The city offers so many layers of history and culture that it’s well worth doing an extended stay, though, combined with an Italian language course in Rome. After four weeks, I barely scratched the surface of what Rome has to offer.
If cost is an issue, consider Italian classes in other cities like Bologna, Perugia, or Siena. These smaller cities are cheaper for course fees and accommodation. You can still visit Rome during your trip on Italy’s excellent, reasonably priced rail network.
The Roman dialect, romanesco, is similar to standard Italian and not too difficult to decipher compared to the napoletano or siciliano dialects, for example, which are really separate languages that even Italians from other regions don’t understand.
I was impressed with how kind and patient most Romans remained despite the mass tourist invasion of their city. Speaking with locals in Italian often elicited warm smiles.
When to Study Italian in Rome
With the intense heatwaves of recent years, I’d avoid summers unless you have no choice. September 2023 was still hot and muggy with some 90°F/31°C days but more bearable. Popular sights like the Colosseum and Vatican were overcrowded even into October, however. Low tourist season would be the winter months from January to March.
I’m considering returning in October next time to beat the heat. Spring is also a good option.
Choosing an Italian Language School – Rome
I started with the list of Italian schools in Rome accredited by ASILS (Association of Italian Schools in Italy). ASILS certifies the quality of its members and is a good way to discover some of the best Italian language schools in Italy.
Next, I read school reviews on Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and language course booking sites. Scuola Leonardo da Vinci seemed to have the most consistent positive feedback. When I emailed them with questions, they responded quickly and helpfully.
As an advanced student, I liked that Leonardo da Vinci was large enough to always offer a C1 advanced course. I was impressed that they publish a podcast and develop their own course textbooks.
Leonardo da Vinci also offers optional culture courses on cinema and art that interested me. (I didn’t end up doing an extra course this time because of my travel schedule and because I was so busy after class with sightseeing and homework. I would consider it on a future visit. I would also consider their program La Dolce Vita, which features excursions and cultural activities focused on food and wine. This course was originally limited to students 50+ but now is open to all ages.)
Fun fact for fans of Eat Pray Love (affiliate link): Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, studied Italian at Leonardo da Vinci during her stint in Rome. Read a hilarious excerpt from the book about her humbling experience learning Italian. The school even occasionally offers Eat Pray Love-themed walking tours of the locations of the film.
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci – Roma
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci – Roma is in the city’s historic center on the picturesque Piazza dell’Orologio. It’s on the first floor (American second floor) of a historic building that also houses the Belize embassy to the Holy See.
Around the corner is Bar Amore, a friendly cafe with inexpensive, tasty food and drink where students gather during breaks.
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci has several other branches in Florence, Milan, Turin, and Viareggio in Tuscany. With their Giro d’Italia option, you can even move between cities, taking courses of a week or longer in the locations you choose.
One of my priorities was that the school offer cultural and social activities. Scuola Leonardo Roma organizes several cultural activities per week: walking tours, aperitivo outings, wine tastings, picnics, etc.
They also provide an orientation and cocktail de benvenuto (welcome drink and snacks) to new students every second Monday.
The school publishes updates to the activities and other recommended events like local festivals on their WhatsApp group.
Honestly, compared to other language schools I’ve attended, the activities were a little lackluster. The organizer is doing the best they can, so there may be other issues like staffing shortages.
I attended three walking tours, each time with a large group of 30+ students, that were a bit disorganized. Other students noted the tours felt perfunctory and were sometimes led by a teacher who just read from printed notes. I did enjoy very much an outing for aperipizza.
However, other schools I’ve attended in the past have offered creative small-group activities like cooking classes, weekend excursions, or dinners in locals’ homes. I had read there was a weekly tandem exchange with Italian locals, but this wasn’t offered during my stay.
Some students joined excursions when there was extra availability with the Dolce Vita program, which focuses on cultural experiences. Next time, I will inquire about that.
While the activities were a minor weak point of the school for me, Rome is so full of sights that I had no trouble staying occupied. And you can attend other language exchanges outside school to meet locals, like this one recommended by a fellow student.
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci Review
I signed up on the website for a three-week intensive Italian course with 4 lessons a day, 20 lessons per week. It’s important to note that lessons only last 45 minutes, so 20 lessons are in reality only 15 classroom hours.
I waited to take the placement test until a couple of weeks before my trip, since I was still studying and improving my Italian. The test is multiple choice without a written portion. I placed into the C1 (advanced) class.
Leonardo da Vinci has classes in both the morning and afternoon. Which schedule you are assigned depends on your level, the number of students, and availability of teachers. They try to accommodate your schedule preference whenever possible.
The school notifies you about your schedule the Thursday before classes start on Monday. The first week I had a morning class from 8:30-11:45, with a 15-minute break at 10 am. I prefer mornings as it’s when I focus best, so it was perfect.
My second week, the C1 class was switched to afternoons, 12-3:15 pm. This time didn’t work for me, since it divided the day and greatly limited time for sightseeing before or after class.
I decided to move to the C2 class in the morning instead. I was a little worried about not being ready for such an advanced class, but it was fine, and I enjoyed the focus on discussion and cultural topics rather than grammar.
Daily class sizes ranged from 5 to 11 students. Not everyone attended every day.
Both my C1 and C2 teachers, Daniela and Ida, were excellent. I appreciated the emphasis on verbal communication practice, which is what I needed. Class activities were often gamified, with teams in friendly competition against each other.
Leonardo da Vinci has its own excellent series of textbooks, included in the price of the course. We used the textbook extensively in the C1 class. I loved the book’s focus on cinema and Roman culture, like interesting historic neighborhoods to explore. C2 technically has a textbook, Nuovo Progetto 4, but we used handouts instead to focus on specific advanced readings and grammar topics.
The C1 and especially the C2 level attract highly motivated students. I really enjoyed meeting my classmates from diverse countries in Europe and the US, Australia, Argentina, Korea, and China. Typically, students from the US, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina have Italian origins and want to reconnect with their roots or even immigrate to Italy.
My fellow students were mostly culture aficionados like me. Class began with everyone recounting what they’d done the day before. I often picked up invaluable ideas for what to see in Rome and surroundings. My classmates also shared tips on Italian books, movies, and podcasts.
I also appreciated the diversity of student ages, which ranged from teens to 70s. Leonardo da Vinci seems to attract a more mature demographic, and I was pleasantly surprised to meet quite a few other 50+ women traveling on their own.
I truly enjoyed my studies at Leonardo da Vinci language school and would definitely return for more C1 or C2 classes.
Accommodation in Rome
Accommodation in Rome can be a bit of a nota dolente (sore point). It’s hard to find reasonably priced, central accommodation.
Leonardo da Vinci offers diverse accommodation options. I inquired about a family homestay, since it’s more economical and offers Italian practice. I wanted something in walking distance of the school.
According to the school, rooms are assigned in a roulette formula among the available accommodations. They can only provide the address about 10 days before the check-in date. On average, it takes around 40 minutes to reach the accommodation from the school using public transport (bus or metro). They will do their best to accommodate your preferences if possible.
One student who lived in a shared apartment provided by the school in the suburbs reported a frustrating commute in the mornings due to the unreliability of the buses, which ran up to 45 minutes late. Getting to class at 8:30 meant a very early start.
Living near a metro station is ideal, but at just three lines, Rome’s metro system is the smallest in Europe. It covers only a limited area.
To be in walking distance, I decided to get an Airbnb apartment instead of a homestay. However, Airbnb options in the historic center were prohibitively expensive. Even six months out, budget options in walking distance were scarce, but I found a reasonably priced apartment near the Vatican a 25-minute walk from school.
While my neighborhood was filled with souvenir shops and tourist restaurants and lacked somewhat in charm, it was quiet at night and fairly central. Living in walking distance was a good decision, since I often went into the center twice a day, once for class and again for an evening school activity or to meet friends. During rush hour, I walked, since buses usually get stuck in traffic, but otherwise I could take the bus close to school.
Next time, I would look for an Airbnb in the historic center much earlier, like a year out.
Transport in Rome
Public transport in Rome can be challenging. Uber exists but is limited to Uber Black and more expensive than a traditional taxi. The metro isn’t bad but covers only a small area and wasn’t convenient to where I lived, so I mostly took buses. However, buses can get crowded and stuck in traffic during rush hour, so often walking was just as fast.
A monthly transport pass is available that covers one calendar month, but it didn’t make sense for me since I arrived and left in the middle of a month. The official transport app lets you buy tickets with a payment card, but the app didn’t work with a US phone number.
My low-tech solution was to buy 10 or 15 paper tickets at a time, which cover all local transport: bus, metro, train, and tram. These cash-only tickets (1.50€ each) are available at edicole (news kiosks) and metro stations.
Be sure to validate your ticket, since inspectors are strict about fines even for visitors. On buses, insert your ticket to be stamped in the yellow machine, typically at the back. For local trains, the stamping machine is on the platform or in the station hall.
On the metro, you can also tap a credit/debit card at the turnstile to pay instantly, which works well. Some buses also have the tap & go system, but to be safe I recommend physical tickets as a backup.
Public transport strikes are frequent in Italy, but usually transport still runs during morning and evening rush hour. Taxis are scarce during strikes. Living in walking distance ensures you have a fallback.
Electric scooters are another popular way to get around, but I wasn’t brave enough to try them in Rome’s chaotic traffic. One Dutch student in my class rented a bike and had great fun exploring the city that way.
After a month in Rome, I went on to Naples for a week. Naples is an easy one-hour trip on the Frecciarossa express train (book in advance for cheaper fares). A week was not even enough to explore Naples and its surroundings.
Next time, I’d like to visit Umbria and maybe Sicily.
Future Italian Courses in Rome
Despite its challenges, I love Rome and plan to return in 2024. I’d definitely study at Leonardo da Vinci again in an advanced C1 or C2 class.
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Are you planning to attend Scuola Leonardo da Vinci – Rome? Please share your questions and tips on Italian courses in Rome in the comments.