By Eren Simpson
From a kitchen table to three locations across the Charlotte region, the Language Academy of the Carolinas — led by Craig Snyder — is taking a nontraditional approach to teaching adults how to speak a foreign language.
Snyder, who studied Spanish in school and thought maybe he’d work as a Spanish professor after working in Spain for a few years, started the language school in 2004 after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill with his master’s degree.
Snyder offered classes in the evenings in his parents’ kitchen, but once the lessons started happening every night, he opened a small office in Huntersville, and now has offices in University City, Plaza Midwood and a satellite office in the Jewish Community Center on Providence Road.
The school offers courses in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Mandarin, English, Korean and Portuguese.
Classes are structured differently than the traditional model, in which students learn most things from a textbook and focus heavily on grammar. At the language school, the classes are set up in small groups of four to eight students, and the focus is on how to converse in the language.
“There’s no tests, no grades and we conduct everything almost entirely in the language, to create an immersive experience,” Snyder said. “There’s reading and writing involved, and some grammar, but in class the focus is more on how to speak.”
The students meet once a week for eight weeks, two hours at a time. There are 10 levels of classes, depending on the level of fluency a student desires.
One of the school’s Spanish professors, Jayson Gilbert, started working for the language school after teaching high school Spanish, and has seen how effective this model of teaching is.
Gilbert started with the school in 2014, when he came in to see what kind of classes they offered so he could keep up his language skills, and they offered him a teaching position.
Gilbert is no stranger to foreign languages. He studied in Chile for two semesters, traveled to Bolivia and Colombia with the Peace Corps, and then enrolled in a program that allowed him to teach English in Japan for two years, eventually settling back in the States as a Spanish teacher.
Gilbert said teaching adults has been another great experience.
“A lot of people think they get a certain age and aren’t able to learn a language – that’s a myth,” Gilbert said. “I think for anyone, young or old, it’s a great place to learn, because we’ve got a great team and it’s a great environment to be in.”
And not only does the school offer an immersive language experience for students; during the summer they’re also given the opportunity to travel to a Spanish-speaking country for a true immersion experience.
This summer’s trip will be to Costa Rica for about 10 days, and next year the students will get to go to Cuba.
Snyder said these trips are a mix of fun and work, with half-day lessons followed by cultural adventures such as zip lining, horseback riding, day trips to the beach and more. Students can choose to stay with a host family, in a hotel or apartment.
The school also offers corporate language and cultural training for companies in the area who need to train their employees in a certain language, as well as translation and interpreter services.
The school has come a long way in 13 years.
“I’ve already exceeded my expectations with it, so it’s fun now to think about the future and the things we can do,” Snyder said.
To learn more about the Language Academy of the Carolinas, visit www.carolinalanguage.com.