6/20 & 7/20 Charlotte: The Language Academy of the Carolinas and International House

For most of life, I have been able to claim to speak more than one language. My family moved to the US from Iran when I was two years old so the first language I ever learned was Farsi. My second language is obviously English and if you have ever noticed me mess up big words, you have probably heard me try to blame it on the fact that English is my second language. Think “antidote” and “anecdote”. My third language is Spanish which I picked up in middle school. I would like to say I chose Spanish because I saw tremendous business opportunities that came with knowing the second most spoken language in our country. However, the truth is, I knew being in Mrs. Fredman’s Spanish I class with all my friends would be super fun and I did not want to miss out on a good time.

Now, before I give the impression that I am this multi-lingual whiz, I should provide a few caveats. To start, as a child, my Farsi speaking was largely limited to 1) communicating with my beloved grandparents who did not speak English and 2) being spoken to in Farsi by my dad and insisting on answering back in English. The former ensured I was able to communicate my culinary wishes to my grandfather (the best Persian cook ever) . The latter was just another way to act like an obstinate teenager who did not want to show any sign of our family being “different”. As such, while I can still make my way around a Persian grocery store, I am not the person you want to translate your last dying wish or important medical instructions. Although, I am not sure I am that person even if speaking English.

As for Spanish, it turns out that ten years of formal training, a Spanish minor and even an internship abroad were worthless by the time I was 27, traveling to Spain and unable to tell the waiter to hold the garlic. And if you have been to Spain, you will know that can be a really important phrase. My proficiency was so pathetic that Andy proclaimed I was no longer allowed to tell people I had a Spanish minor.

For the last 10–15 years, I have seldom thought about ways I could regain my proficiency in both these foreign languages but never took myself too seriously. However, it all came together when I started to plan 20/20 Charlotte and realized I wanted to know more about the adult education opportunities that exist in our city. Taking Spanish classes seemed like a great next step.

Since March, I have been taking classes at The Language Academy of the Carolinas. When I first signed up, I took an online questionnaire that placed me in Spanish 3. I was pretty excited that I was able to recall enough vocabulary to make it past the first two levels. I can be super competitive so in my mind this was on par with “winning”. Sad but true. Anyway, I was concerned that my verbal skills were rustier than my written skills so I opted instead to take Spanish 2. I was geared up for my first class when I realized that the logistics for Spanish 2 were not going to work for me so I switched into Spanish 1. I suspected this may not be a great idea but I also felt I needed to gain some momentum so it was better than nothing.

The Language Academy offers classes at three different locations and my class was going to be at the Jewish Community Center. I had been to the JCC before for various reasons and each time I am amazed by the beauty and breadth of the facility. The fact you walk by a gym, pottery center, meeting hall, playground, butterfly garden and many other things before getting to the classroom speaks volumes to how much the JCC has to offer Charlotte. I have taken a ton of corporate training courses over the last 20 years but this was my first time I chose to enter a classroom since college. There were four of us taking Spanish 1 and after introducing ourselves to one another we jumped into the alphabet and a few basics. Our teacher was a native Spanish speaker and did an excellent job getting us started. Unfortunately, as I suspected, I was pretty well beyond Spanish 1 and asked to move up to Spanish 2. I called the administrative office of The Language Academy and they graciously agreed to switch me into an upcoming Spanish 2 class. My Spanish 2 class takes place in the International House on Central Avenue. I had never heard of the International House and if I forget everything I know about Spanish, I will be so grateful my language classes introduced me to this incredible Plaza Midwood gem. Just entering the building makes you feel like a more worldly person. The International House is a non-profit organization that supports Charlotte’s growing international community. They offer foreign-language conversation hours, cultural events, an international book club, programs related to citizenship and legal services for low income immigrants. It is not an exaggeration to say the existence of this organization reminds me of everything that is (already) great about America.

It has been 9 weeks since I started to take Spanish classes and overall I can’t say enough positive things about my experience and their approach to teaching conversational Spanish. My teachers have been very knowledgeable but are also incredibly patient- a really critical combination when teaching a small, diverse group how to speak a new language. The written and audio materials have been well presented which has made it easy for me to jump in. My classmates are all committed to the learning process and I have loved hearing why each of them has decided to invest in taking a foreign language. It reminds me that everyone has a story and how fascinating it can be to stop and learn about someone who falls outside your daily social or professional circle. Our class will be winding down in the next two weeks and I am starting to lay out a plan for how to use my Spanish going forward. I have a few ideas floating around my head but regardless I am grateful to live in a city that made it so easy to embrace new languages.