Fulfill that Foreign Language Bucket List Goal
May 17, 2019 04:05PM
by Martin Miron
Dana Marchionne, owner of Learn Language Hoboken (LLH), is adding German, Arabic and Hindi to the curriculum. The selection of languages are customer-driven, which means that they offer what people want. “We do art and music festivals in the fall and spring, and people tell us, ‘I want German,’ and we see there is a real interest in it. Then it’s all about getting people to come in so we can keep offering it,” she says. “Italian, Spanish and French are our most popular languages and our teachers have been with us for years.”
Class sizes vary between four and 12 people. Currently, 26 adult group classes meet on weekday evenings. The summer session begins end of June and fall classes start in September. Private lessons and group packages are available for kids in the studio or home. For vacationers, there are two- or three-week workshops that teach the basics of getting around, but they are no substitute for the 10-week courses.
In a new development, LLH has begun foreign language staffing in public schools. “It takes away the huge cost of putting them on the payroll. We’re the middleman, with these great, amazing teachers; getting them jobs doing what they love,” says Marchionne. Two schools are participating now and they have been very happy with the quality of instruction.
“I was somewhat of a joker in high school Spanish class myself, not really taking it seriously, but later in life, I realized I was really good at languages. I went to Central America for three months and became really fluent in Spanish. I married an Italian; he’s from Bologna, that’s where I get to speak Italian, with his family.” Marchionne recalls. “I think that when you learn a language at a young age, there’s definitely an advantage because you’re not learning it from an objective perspective; it’s just as if it’s your own language. When you choose to learn it as an adult, the approach is quite different.”
She explains, “That’s how we teach it; with foundational grammar structure in mind; I always think of it as a staircase; you have to learn this before you can learn that; it builds like a pyramid. With kids, it’s totally different. All you have to do is speak to them in that language with good grammar. I don’t think it’s ever too late to learn a second language. I think that sometimes people are good at languages and they just didn’t know it. Some people just really get it, and they pick it up pretty quick.”
Marchionne advises, “Many people come to us because it’s been on their bucket list to learn a foreign language. They think, ‘It’s right here in Hoboken, why not sign up? I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish; I’ve tried Duolingo, tried Rosetta Stone and nothing ever stuck. So let me try this.’ It’s amazing how you see some of the people doing this, and they’re committed.”
She loves the camaraderie she sees among the students. “You’re on a team with others that are in it with you, and people really love coming each week. They can’t wait to see their friends from Spanish class. And they have that same sort of relationship with their teacher, as well.”
Marchionne sees a heritage factor today, as well. “Maybe you have an Italian last name or your parents spoke the language and you always wanted to chime in, but nobody spoke it because it was looked down upon, but now it’s like a lost language. For instance, many Spanish speakers came to this country and wanted their kids to speak nothing but English as a sign of upward social mobility. Now, those roots are being rediscovered and celebrated.”
The classroom is the place where the magic happens. “When we hire instructors, native or near-native fluency is a must. The key factor is the passion. They have to have passion and be innately a good teacher. I have everyone do a 20-minute mini-lesson as an audition. ‘Teach us past tense in Spanish,’ I’ll say. Right then and there, we know if they’re a fit or not, just by the way they teach. Not everyone is a good teacher just because they speak the language.”
Learning a new language can also be a healthy workout for the brain by improving mental dexterity and energizing a stagnant lifestyle. Studies say this kind of activity may lessen the risk of dementia in seniors.
In the bigger picture of life, the more we learn, the more empathy we have for other cultures. Marchionne says, “If we all understood each other’s language a little more, we would be in a better place.”
Learn Language Hoboken is located in the lower level of the Citadel Building, at 450 7th St., in Hoboken. For more information, call 201-298-0318 or visit LearnLanguage Hoboken.com.