As elsewhere in the US, English is the major language spoken in Chicago. In the heart of the ethnic enclaves you’ll hear Spanish, Polish, Chinese or Russian, but almost all business is conducted in English. Midwestern accents tend to be a bit flat with just a touch of nasal twang, but compared to other parts of the US, most of the English you’ll hear is pretty standard – the middle of the country has always produced a large share of plainspoken TV announcers.
Chicagoans do have their own, special accent. Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit where heavy-set Chicago sports fans sat around eating ‘sassages’ and ‘sammiches’ and referring to their football team as ‘Dah Bears’ and their city leader as ‘Dah Mare’? It’s for real, though limited to south-side enclaves around US Cellular Field and Midway Airport.
You can learn a lot during your time in Chicago, from blues harmonica to improv to scarf crocheting.
If you’ll be in town less than a week, try these options:
Chopping Block (773-472-6700; www.thechoppingblock.net; 4747 N Lincoln Ave; Brown Line to Western) Offers both demonstration and hands-on cooking classes daily; wide-ranging topics include how to prepare locally sourced meals and how to amalgamate tailgate party chow for Bears games (two- to three-hour classes, $40-135). Classes are also held at the Merchandise Mart outlet.
Second City (312-664-3959; www.secondcity.com; 1616 N Wells St; Brown Line to Sedgwick) Laugh while learning to write and perform improv comedy at Second City’s famed Training Center. Intensive Friday-to-Sunday workshops ($265) are offered frequently, along with traditional eight-week sessions. For the schedule, go to the website’s ‘Training Centers’ link, then ‘Chicago.’
Several local shops offer one-off classes; see Loopy Yarns for knitting, Beadniks for jewelry making and Wolfbait & B-girls for fabric printing.
For those who will be in town for a longer duration (at least five weeks), try:
Lillstreet Art Center (773-769-4226; www.lillstreet.com; 4401 N Ravenswood St; Brown Line to Montrose) Fire up the saws, kilns, easels and other arty implements at Lillstreet’s glass-blowing, block-printing, painting, pottery and jewelry making classes; five weeks for $150.
Old Town School of Folk Music (773-728-6000; www.oldtownschool.org/classes; 4544 N Lincoln Ave; Brown Line to Western) Ever wanted to impress your friends by wailing on the banjo, fiddle, blues harmonica or guitar? The Old Town School will teach you well; eight weeks for $150.
Speciman (773-489-4830; www.specimanproducts.com; 1240 N Homan Ave; 70) Sure you can learn to play the guitar, but why not go a step further and actually build your own stringed beauty? Six-week intensive luthier courses cost $3400.
Teach English abroad with an i-to-i TEFL Course
If you’ve ever thought about living and working abroad, then why not teach English as a foreign language (TEFL)? It could be the key to funding your travels and experiencing new cultures in a totally new way. You don’t need teaching experience or even the ability to speak the local language – although you might learn it while you’re out there.