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Despite Threats, Language School in Montbello Continues to Bridge Barriers

See the full article from the Westword here.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2017 AT 9:11 A.M. BY ANA CAMPBELL

Aisha has spelled her name thousands of times, but tonight she’s having so much trouble that when she’s done, she realizes she’s forgotten a letter. Thankfully, Pedro Vallejo is patient. He says the “h” in Spanish for her again, and she repeats it after him. “Excelente,” he says. Aisha sheepishly smiles.

It’s the second week of the beginners’ Spanish course at the Language School. Five students, including Aisha, sit around a table and ask each other how to spell their names in the foreign language. Their instructor stands close by, listening intently and correcting any mispronunciations. Aisha, a mail carrier from Aurora, signed up for the course because she was tired of coming across non-English-speaking clients and being unable to ask them for simple things like a signature.

Sitting in the small waiting area outside is David Stevens. Dressed in a suit, he’s doing administrative work from a computer as his short, white poof of a dog bounces around the room. In a previous life, Stevens worked at a tech start-up in Boulder, but after he realized he was losing his Spanish – which he picked up after a trip to Spain in college – he quit his job and opened the Language School in 2011. The two conference-rooms-turned-classrooms are in an office building tucked behind dispensaries in northeast Denver.

The eighty students currently enrolled at the Language School – and the thousands who came before them – don’t get traditional lessons in grammar and verb conjugation, at least not at first. Stevens’s approach to teaching a foreign language is to start with conversation and get to the technical stuff later. He’s even written the books that Pedro and other instructors use in class, the most basic of which encourages students to engage in simple conversation.

“On day one, if you’ve never spoken a word of Spanish in your life, we teach you a dialogue for how to introduce yourself, but we’re not explaining the grammar behind it,” Stevens explains. “Later, in our intermediate and advanced classes, that’s when we start hitting the grammar hard.”

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Stevens points to the two classes on a recent Tuesday night as an example of his approach’s success. While the students in the beginners course struggle with rolling their r’s, others in a more advanced class – separated from the novices by only five months or so – are not only talking with Pedro in his native tongue, but joking with him.

The conversational approach to language learning is not only more effective, Stevens argues, but also brings people together. Strangers who could barely communicate at the school’s weekly conversation meet-ups, in which students are invited to simply talk to each other, ended up good friends. That makes it all the harder for Stevens to understand the hateful, anonymous notes that people sent the school, the ugly messages they left, during the presidential election.

“I’ve received letters and phone calls and messages, like nasty messages, saying, ‘We don’t need to learn Spanish, they need to learn English,’” Stevens says. “It’s unfortunate, but I think that gives me all the more motivation to want to do what we’re doing here – to break down cultural misunderstandings. If I can get people together in the same room, talking to each other, people become friends, and they develop relationships that last a lifetime.”

Vallejo is tall and lanky, and his ashy blond hair covers his head like a bowl. Dressed in khakis and a polo, he apologizes to his students for his slightly broken English. In Venezuela, Vallejo was a geologist; political unrest forced him to leave and resettle in Denver. As he sorts out the paperwork necessary to seek political asylum, he makes a living by teaching his native tongue and driving travelers to and from Denver International Airport and the mountains in a passenger van. On his card he calls himself “Rodeo Pete.”

“It’s so typical of people who are coming to this country,” Stevens says. “I’m glad we found him and are at least letting his language talents not go to waste.”

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More and more people like Vallejo are calling Denver home. In Montbello alone, 60 percent of the community is Spanish-speaking, Stevens says. “I’ve talked to cops and firefighters, and they have a difficult time simply because some of the people they come in contact with don’t speak English, and they all want to learn Spanish so they can do their job more effectively and feel safer,” he explains.

Ailene (the students communicate with each other by their first names) works at the Denver Housing Authority and focuses on real-estate development in west Denver, where she frequently encounters the Hispanic, Vietnamese and Somali communities. She picked up a little Vietnamese from her immigrant parents, but she doesn’t speak much, if any, Spanish.

“I’m working on an initiative where I’m mostly just listening and spending time with the community to hear their needs and wants,” she says. “I’ve noticed at our meetings that if there’s not a translator there or not enough people there feeling comfortable, they’re less likely to speak up. It’s already hard to get people to come to community events. The language thing adds another layer to people feeling timid to share their opinions. But most people at least try.”

She and others in the class can certainly relate. Pedro shows them a PowerPoint presentation and asks each student to name in Spanish the objects in the pictures he’s showing: markers, pencils, paper...things that these twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings learned to identify in kindergarten.

“The U.S. is facing a very challenging stage in the history of it being a country,” Stevens says. “In the past ten to twenty years, we’ve seen so many immigrants coming to America, [and it’s] particularly impacted cities like Denver. We teach both English and Spanish so that we can try to integrate our communities. We’re bridging the language barrier.”

Language School in Montbello Builds Community Conversations

The school has grown in every year since it opened in 2011

See the full Article from the Denver Post here.

By JOE VACCARELLI | jvaccarelli@denverpost.com | YourHub January 10, 2017 at 4:40 pm

For nurse Betty Miller, her nights in the emergency room at St. Joseph’s hospital were often met with a language barrier as patients would come in who primarily spoke Spanish.

The hospital has an interpreter she can call or someone available online with whom she can chat via video.

“We have lots of options that are helpful, but they take time to set up,” Miller said.

Miller had taken Spanish in college but was never fluent to the point where she could communicate effectively. But this year, she decided to change that and started taking classes at the Language School in Montbello.

The school, like many others, offers English classes to people needing to learn English as a second language, but also offers Spanish classes for those wanting to communicate with native Spanish speakers in Denver and the surrounding areas or those who hope to travel.

“It’s above and beyond teaching English, above and beyond teaching Spanish. We’re building community, we’re building relationships,” Language School founder and director David Stevens said.

Stevens founded the school in 2007 in Boulder as primarily a Spanish-language school and moved it to Montbello — 4730 Oakland St. — in 2011, adding English classes, while still offering Spanish lessons.

There are classes from beginning to advanced and that focus on conversation, something he thinks is the most important when learning a language. The school had record highs for enrollment in 2016 and he’s hoping to top that this year.

Stevens keeps the class sizes small so people can feel more comfortable speaking in front of the class and using their new skills.

He believes conversing with others is the best way to practice, rather than simply learning grammar rules out of a book. The grammar is still taught, but the focus remains on speaking to people.

“I think it’s huge,” instructor Christine George said of the conversation element in learning a language. George has taught at the school for two years.

Stevens has also set up weekly gatherings where all students can meet up and practice conversations. It also brings English and Spanish students together so they can practice with people who speak the language they are learning.

That is one of the benefits that Miller liked about the school.

“I really like that, it’s a really good way to connect with people in the community I’m living in,” she said.

Stevens began tutoring Spanish to students at the University of Colorado after spending time abroad in an immersion program and developed a passion for teaching. He opened the school in Boulder while working for a software company when he graduated from school.

He moved to Montbello to be closer to family and saw a need for English classes in a community that boasts so many native Spanish speakers among other languages aside from English.

He said he particularly enjoys seeing someone start from scratch and then being able to converse with them in their new language a short time later.

“I love it. It’s so much about helping people and seeing progress. You see someone struggling, and six to 12 months later you’re speaking to them in Spanish. It’s had a big impact on my life,” he said.

People come to the school for all sorts of reasons and from all walks of life and it has grown substantially since its first year in Montbello. The school had about 75 students last year and Stevens has several stories of students whose lives have improved as a result of learning either English or Spanish.

For student Gonzalo Parraguez, he came to the U.S. to learn English so he could use it in his business efforts in his native Chile. He also said he likes the smaller class size, which makes it easier to converse with staff and students.

“I think I have improved a lot,” he said of his one month at the school.

For class schedules, rates and to register, visit thelanguageschool.us.

The Language School Publishes English Book For Spanish Speakers

September 17, 2013 By David Stevens

Denver, Colorado – The Language School, a World Languages School with locations throughout Colorado, has published Inglés: Fácil y DivertidoBásicoNivel1: Fundaciones, a beginner’s level textbook geared towards teaching English to native Spanish speakers. The first edition includes vocabulary, grammar, culture, exercises, games, conversation activities, and flashcards. Everything is explained in Spanish so that the growing population of Spanish speakers can better understand the English language.

Inglés: Fácil y DivertidoBásicoNivel 1: Fundaciones is the first book to be published out of a series of 20. It is now available for purchase on CreateSpace and Amazon.com for $24.99.

World Languages School Announces Grand Opening in Longmont

September 17th, 2012-By David Stevens

Longmont, Colorado –In partnership with Spanish Easy and Fun, The Language School is pleased to announce the grand opening of a new World Languages school in Longmont, Colorado. The expected date to open the doors will be Monday, October 15th. Here is the address:

706 Kimbark St.

Longmont, CO 80501
View Larger Map

Since being founded in Boulder in 2007, The Language School and Spanish Easy and Fun have helped more than 1,000 people/organizations increase their ability to communicate outside of their normal cultural boundaries. Doing so helps stimulate our economy and makes our communities safer.

The new facilities will have two large rooms dedicated to teaching languages in a small group setting. New services will include access to a language lab for studying languages and testing out different types of software, children’s after school programs to give our young ones a fun way to learn a new language and a head start on educational requirements, and a Friday evening happy hour, where students can meet each other and practice their new languages in a fun setting.

The Language School Announces Grand Opening in Denver

GRAND OPENING OF NEW DENVER OFFICE WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4TH!

April 1, 2012 By David Stevens

Denver, CO -We are pleased to announce the grand opening of our new office in Denver, Colorado, Wednesday April 4th. The new office will be dedicated to teaching English to Denver’s large population of Spanish speaking Latinos, along with Spanish to English speaking learners. The new office will also serve as a base for offering international business services to Denver’s business community, including market entry plans, translation/interpretation, and cross cultural communication training.

Since being founded in Boulder in 2007, The Language School has helped more than 500 people/organizations increase their ability to communicate outside of their normal cultural boundaries. Doing so helps stimulate our economy and makes our communities safer. We look forward to extending these services to Denver, which has a diverse population consisting of more than 30% native Spanish speakers.

The new facilities will have two large rooms dedicated to teaching languages in a small group setting. New services will include access to a language lab for studying languages and testing out different types of software, children’s after school programs to give our young ones a fun way to learn a new language and a head start on educational requirements, and a Friday evening happy hour, where students can meet each other and practice their new languages in a fun setting.

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5116 Deephaven Ct, Denver, CO 80239

Phone: (720) 634-2589

Email: info@thelanguageschool.us

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