In today’s interview we’re talking to Katie Harris from the blog ‘Joy of Languages’ about organizing so-called ‘Language Retreats’. We’ll learn how language retreats work and what you should take into account if you want to organize language retreats for your own audience.
In her early twenties Katie spent a year in Italy as an exchange student. Even though she had been studying Italian for two years at university, her Italian was still very basic. Therefore, she really wanted to take the opportunity to speak as much Italian as she could during her stay in Italy.
She was very strategic about making new friends and picked out Italians who didn’t want to practice their English with her, and who were comfortable speaking Italian with her. After a few months, her Italian got to a pretty good level. This was when Katie had her first breakthrough in language learning.
Most people learn a language for many years but still struggle having conversations. Katie decided to move to Italy and work as an English teacher so that she could help people become conversational in English. She noticed that whenever she banned Italian in the classroom, the English speaking skills of her students would quickly improve. That’s where the idea of organizing language retreats originally came from.
How does a Language Retreat work?
A few times per year, people from all over the world fly to Italy to join one of Katie’s retreats, or ‘immersion vacations’ as she calls them. The goal is to replicate the same kind of language breakthrough that she had during her year abroad in Italy. She does so by creating an environment where people feel comfortable to practice their Italian. She hires highly motivated instructors who only speak Italian with the students and the students are only allowed to speak Italian with each other. Having good instructors on the team that bring positive energy and who motivate the students is crucial! During the day, they plan lots of fun activities within the city in which the event takes place. The idea is to really create the ultimate Italian learning experience.
What kind of people sign up for these retreats?
In the beginning Katie didn’t really know who her customers were. When she started organizing these retreats she discovered that most of the participants were baby boomers who had just retired. Many of her students want to experience an alternative kind of travel and are also interested in languages. A language retreat is, therefore, the perfect fit for them.
Katie’s students exploring Florance, Italy
Can organizing language retreats work for your business?
The good thing about organizing these kinds of events is that you can very quickly test if your audience is interested, without spending a lot of time and money. The only thing you have to do is send out and email and ask who’s interested. You make a list of the people who respond and you can send them more info about the program, the price, and tell them how they can sign up. Only once you’ve sold enough spots to break even, you confirm your bookings for accommodation. This way you’ve very little to risk.
How much can you charge for these retreats? Are these events worthwhile from a business perspective?
Katie can make pretty good money with these events, but the reality is that the weeks when the events take place are very intensive. Running these events take a lot of energy and it’s impossible to organize retreats on a weekly basis. That’s why Katie also sells language courses on the side. If you have an existing online language business, organizing these retreats is a great way to really get to know some of your best customers, which is really important in online marketing. Every time you write new marketing material, you need to imagine your customer avatar who you’re writing it for. Organizing retreats helps a lot because Katie knows exactly who her customer avatar is.
There’s no better way to deeply get to know your customers than organizing language retreats and spending time with them.
Langpreneurs in our industry are charging between 1000 and 2000 USD for a one-week language retreat. This price includes accommodation, food and sightseeing.
Making your own pizza, the ultimate Italian experience!
How can Langpreneurs sell retreats? Building an email list is the key here. Katie mainly sells over email but also reaches out to students who have joined her events in the past. How to find good teachers for your retreats? Of course, you can go to websites like Fiverr and Upwork to find someone to help you out with your audio recordings, for example. If you’re organizing retreats where your students spend one-on-one time with your instructors though, you want to make sure that you work with people who understand your teaching philosophy and like what you do. It’s really important to work with teachers that bring positive energy. Where do you find these people?
Katie found that attending events like the polyglot gathering and the polyglot conference has been a very good way to meet teachers who are passionate about what they do in person. Attending our own events is also a great way to connect with other Langpreneurs, of course.
Get started Your first retreat won’t be perfect. Do it anyway and look for areas where you can improve the next time. Getting started is the most important thing, like in any business. Legal aspects Another thing to take into account is the legal responsibilities that you have. If you accomodate people, for example, you’re basically a tour operator and you need to think about things like tour operator insurance and terms and conditions. If you want to learn more about this, search for ‘’package travel regulations’’.
Less is more The things that cost the least are sometimes the things that your audience likes most. Katie gives the example that she and her students once visited a monastery which a very cheap excursion to arrange, but the students really liked it. She finds that her students like to do things that are a bit more off the beaten track.
Think about what simple things can work to create an experience that your target audience wants. These are often little things that don’t cost a lot of money.