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The Best Language Classes in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty

For French

Coucou, 253 Centre St., second and third fls.;

Instead of exclusively plodding through a textbook, Coucou instructors — all native French speakers who are everything from artists to actors by day — teach students grammatical rules before explaining how modern French speakers actually talk. (For example, je ne sais pas is often contracted to j’sais pas.) So class, held in Coucou’s cozy space in a remodeled Soho townhouse, feels like a conversation with an interesting Parisian instead of school. Nikkitha Bakshani, author of the forthcoming novel You Don’t Know Hunger, who first signed up for a beginner class, appreciates how classes often revolve around group activities like board games rather than lectures. She has since taken several classes and gone to some of Coucou’s one-off events, including an “Escape the Room” activity in French, which she calls “very difficult.” (Other events include wine tastings and yoga classes, and the school has a French library.) Michelle Cohn, a film publicist who started taking classes at Coucou last year to brush up on her college French, says the classes have helped to improve her grammar (e.g., the notoriously difficult subjunctive tense) and came in handy on a recent trip to Morocco. Courses start at $175 for four weeks.

For Romance Languages

Idlewild, 617 Hudson St.; also 249 Warren St., Cobble Hill;

A travel-book store turned language school, Idlewild was originally geared toward travelers looking to chat freely on their trips to Italy, Spain, and France. To this end, Idlewild — the name comes from the golf course JFK airport displaced when it was built — emphasizes common interactions rather than memorization-based grammar drills. Sealy and Tim Gilles, a retired Park Slope couple, have been regulars in Idlewild’s Spanish classes for the past five years and like how teachers keep the small classes (ten to 12 people at most) engaged through activities like group discussions about a recent New York Times article. While Tim admits he never enjoyed his college German classes, Idlewild is “totally different from a college classroom,” he says. “It’s interactive from the second you walk in.” The classes “bring people together in a nice way,” says Alex Gros, a Ditmas Park–based project manager who is in his third Italian class at Idlewild and says he now spends his free time reading Italian short stories. Courses start at $295 and run for seven weeks.


Sign Language Center, 39 E. 30th St., Ste. 2R;

Karen S. Day, who taught at the American Sign Language and English Secondary School for 17 years, started taking classes at SLC ten years ago in an effort to regain her ASL fluency. She immediately fell for the school’s sense of community, saying she has never encountered a teacher or student there who has tried to make someone feel insecure about their signing. “They are so willing to help, explain a sign or variation or something in the Deaf world we may not be aware of,” she says. “Every time I’ve finished a semester with an instructor, I think I want to have that instructor for my next class, but once I’ve gotten a new teacher, they become my favorite.” Having regained much of her fluency, Day now takes conversational Zoom classes and enjoys both the subject matter — which often consists of discussing recent news stories — and being able to catch up with students and teachers she has known for years. In addition to regular courses, SLC offers frequent social events for teachers and students alike (including bowling and happy hours) as well as corporate classes, workshops, and private tutoring. Courses start at $200 and run for six weeks.

For Dialect Coaching

ABC Languages, 26 Broadway, No. 1101;

When co-founder of ABC Languages Elizabeth Zackheim began teaching in her Manhattan apartment in 1998, she had no idea the school would one day expand into a one-stop shop that offers courses in more than 20 languages, from Mandarin to Arabic to Russian. ABC hires dynamic teachers who get students to start speaking the language quickly by immersing them in it from the start. Mark-Eugene Garcia, a playwright who has taken Spanish classes with ABC since 2018, says his teacher conducted his beginner class entirely in Spanish from the first day. Now, Garcia is able to write Spanish dialogue into his plays. In addition to ABC’s group classes, it offers private classes and dialect coaching, which have become a secret weapon among Hollywood stars. Debi Mazar describes them as “life-changing.” Working with a tutor, Mazar was able to refine her Castilian accent for the Spanish miniseries Arde Madrid to the point where, she says, “Spain loves me. I walk on the streets, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, we love you in Arde Madrid!’” Mazar, who has also taken Italian with ABC, credits the school and its “magical, well-traveled” teachers with helping her build the confidence to work in Europe. Courses start at $225 for six weeks.

For Japanese

Japan Society, 333 E. 47th St.;

Classes at Japan Society are taught out of a Junzo Yoshimura–designed building (it’s been designated a New York landmark and houses indoor gardens, an art gallery, and a reflecting pool). There are 13 levels of courses for Japanese speakers of all abilities, from beginner classes on grammar and vocabulary to mid-tier classes that introduce more complex sentence structures. Upper-level courses tend to be more conversational — members chat about Japanese cult-favorite films like Tampopo or TV series like Midnight Diner. All of the classes, though, incorporate aspects of cultural education — such as how to bow or exchange business cards in Japan — alongside the nuts and bolts of language-learning. Arturo González Lozano, a film producer, says that after taking an intro course, he was able to make restaurant reservations for his boss’s upcoming trip to Japan. Plus the classes are really fun, climate researcher Venkat Lakshmanan says. He shows up early to take advantage of the building’s library, which has a large collection of books on Japanese language and culture — he recently checked one out on ukiyo-e art. For nonmembers, courses start at $320 for ten weeks.

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The Best Language Classes in New York