5 Concepts That Will Make You Rethink the English Language

Many foreign language speakers will tell you that English is one of the most difficult languages to master. Despite sharing some commonalities with European languages through its Latin and Greek roots, English is a decidedly separate branch on the language family tree. The elements that make English unique are lost on many native speakers because of the deep way in which they are simply ingrained in the language.

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Rule exceptions

Learning a rule in the English language simply gives you the authority to break it later on. Several of English’s “standard” guidelines don’t apply in certain situations, leaving even native speakers perplexed… and often times wrong. Consider this familiar rhyme: “i” before “e” except after “c”. Easy right? However, what about the words beige, foreign, neighbor, society, weird, and at least 20 other commonly used terms? Then there is the idea that a teacher taught, but a preacher doesn’t praught! Various exceptions to standard practices make it  difficult to know which rules to apply in a given situation.

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Though we use them frequently, many English speakers don’t really know what an idiom is. By definition, an idioma is an expression that cannot be understood simply by the meaning of the words in the phrase. It has a complete and separate meaning on its own. For example: Don’t let the cat out of the bag is not a literal command (poor kitty!). Instead, its distinct meaning is: Don’t give away the secret! Idioms give insight into the culture behind a language. And while they do exist across other cultures and languages, their prevalence in English makes advancing in the language more of a challenge. Using idioms in speaking English demonstrates a definitive level of mastery.

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One of the most subtle nuances in the English language does not appear on a page at all. The way in which a speaker emphasizes certain words drastically alters the meaning of what she says. Imagine this scenario: Your mom comes home from work, and immediately calls for you. She says, “Jimmy come here”. No problem, right? Now imagine she says. “Jimmy come here”. You may suspect trouble. Now picture her saying, “Jimmy. Come. Here”. Danger, danger! While the words do not change in any of the sentences, the meaning is vastly different. Somewhat like the Mandarin language, the tone of an English word affects its meaning. These subtle inflections are difficult to pick up on and even harder to imitate.

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Word Worries

Searching for just the right word is an art. With millions of terms to choose from in the language, small differences can have big impacts on meaning. Take homophones, for example. Homophones are words that sound the same but mean different things. Here and hear are homophones as are the ever-popular their, there, and they’re. Homophones cause confusions to listeners, speakers, and writers alike. Synonyms also contribute to linguistic embarrassment. Not all synonyms are interchangeable. While words share similar meanings, substitutions are not always appropriate in a given context. For example, let’s look at the word kind. If you want to know someone’s occupation, you might ask, “What kind of work do you do?” However, asking the question, “What variety of work do you do?” sounds awkward, even though “variety” is an acceptable synonym for “kind.” Further still, if you asked, “What class of work do you do?” the listener may be offended, as the idea of “class” implies status or rank, though it also is a synonym of “kind.”  The wrong usage of words can lead to embarrassment and misunderstanding.

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Dialects and Regional Accents

As if the language itself weren’t full enough of contradictions and oddities, the way in which words are pronounced in a specific region can be a source of confusion. Different areas possess distinctive ways of speaking and unique vocabulary; this is known as a dialect (some might say “accent”). Trying to decipher what is being said and not recognizing even common terms can make language learning frustrating. Similarly, regionally-specific meanings for common words can lead to confusion. For instance, a toboggan in the northern part of the United States is a type of winter sled. In the southern portion of the U.S. it is a hat. Likewise consider this story: When attending college in the south, one young lady stepped up to the frozen yogurt counter and requested a cone with “jimmies,” meaning the little candy bits or sprinkles which top ice cream cones. The woman behind the counter quickly informed the young woman that in that particular area the word “jimmies” referred to a completely different (and slightly inappropriate) object. The girl slunk away in embarrassment leaving her frozen yogurt behind.


Despite many challenging aspects to the English, its remains one of the most widely-spoken languages across the globe. And the more similar it is to your native language, the easier it will be to learn.

A Life-changing Experience!

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.