Community - July 13, 2011

Business: ABC teaches 10 languages at its Menlo Park school

by Caitlin Moyles

ABC Language Exchange has opened a school in Menlo Park, providing group, private, and virtual lessons (via Webcam) in 10 languages, said Rachel Meyer, owner and founder of the company.

Among the languages: Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, French, Hindi, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

Located at 585 Glenwood Ave., ABC shares the 4,000-square-foot, 10-classroom space with Language Pacifica, an English language program for non-native speakers. Language Pacifica uses the space until 3 p.m., and ABC uses it in the evening, Ms. Meyer said. ABC moved into the school on May 17.

Ms. Meyer, who speaks Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, and American Sign Language, said she was inspired to open a location in Silicon Valley when she moved to Menlo Park three years ago.

"The demographic of this area is full of educated, international, people, or people who are married to an international spouse, who would like to learn a different language," she said. "I also liked the idea of starting a business here to become part of the community."

The success of ABC's other two schools didn't hurt, either. Its flagship school in New York City, where Ms. Meyer founded the business 15 years ago, now has 500 students enrolled, while its San Francisco location has attracted 200.

Ms. Meyer, who now lives in Mountain View, said she has 60 students enrolled at the ABC school in Menlo Park and expects the number to rise to 150.

"A lot of people are sick of being a monolingual American," she said. "Learning a second language makes travel more interesting, and the people in this area travel a lot."

In addition to evening classes, ABC offers summer boot camps for middle school and high school students, and plans to start after-school lessons for children, ages 7 to 10, in the fall.


She said that in line with her goal of making her work relevant to the community, ABC has started Peninsula Language Lovers Meetup, a free language-practice group that meets monthly in Menlo Park.

"Last time we met at the Oak City Bar & Grill, and we had people from Turkey, Russians, people working for local companies who want to meet Americans, and people who just found us locally through who are interested in foreign languages," Ms. Meyer said. "It's a nice way to get your feet wet and explore."

Learning through interaction is a concept that surfaces in the ABC classroom, where teachers stick mainly to the target language and students engage in role play to build their conversational skills, Ms. Meyer said. She also facilitates interaction between the students by serving wine, jelly beans, and chips before every class.

"These are adults coming after work, so we want to maintain a light atmosphere," said Ms. Meyer.

Still, Ms. Meyer tempers the socialization with small class sizes — they are capped at ten people — and professional teaching standards.

"All of our classes are taught by professional language teachers with a minimum of two years of teaching experience at a university or language school," Ms. Meyer said. She added that the teachers use university textbooks to structure their class


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