Unique dual-language school expands footprint in Sacramento, thanks to SBA business loan
A version of this blog post on language school Casa de Español originally appeared on CNote’s website. CNote is a financial platform for socially conscious savers and investors. CDC Small Business Finance proudly partners with the Bay Area-based organization.
When most of us think of learning a language, we often think of textbooks and flashcards, not so much absorbing rich, cultural experiences.
Some may even think of tape recorders, AP tests and the crutch of Google Translate — but dual language school Casa de Español, founded in 2011, as something else to say about that.
The messages on their website are clear: Learning Spanish isn’t just picking up a language in the traditional sense, with only workbooks and scratchy audio. Just as essential to the learning process is experiencing the culture where the language truly comes alive — by way of people and experiences. And that’s what the Sacramento-based learning center is all about.
A couple years ago, Casa de Español approached CDC Small Business Finance, a leading U.S. small business lender, to get an affordable small business loan to help them expand their operations and help exponentially more students than before.
More than a school: offering immersive language experiences
“Primarily we’re a language school,” said Casa de Español founder and teacher Maria Harrington.
At the school, some students are learning Spanish as a second language while others have backgrounds from all over the Spanish-speaking world learning English as a second language, or ESL. Numbering more than 100, the students are all taught by Harrington and her team of three master Spanish instructors. But it doesn’t end there.
“[The English and Spanish students] have tutoring sessions where they exchange both language and culture,” Harrington added. “And we have tons of different events to be able to get people inspired to travel and to just have a wider viewpoint.”
These events include gallery displays, traditional dance, music and food. The idea is to showcase the gems of different countries, the latest being Cuba. And always on display are the vivid tapestries of Sergio Martinez, a residential artist from Oaxaca, Mexico.
“Our vision has always been to capture the beauty of Latin America and Spain, bring it here to Sacramento and really be a hub of cultural awareness and also connection,” said Harrington said, who has a master’s degree in Latin American Studies from UC Berkeley.
Bridging divides: How a language school can create connections
Many of the students enroll in Casa de Español to build connections. Whether it’s professionals seeking job advancement, people marrying into a Spanish-speaking family, or retirees keeping active through language learning and travel — people recognize learning another language can be critical in building bridges.
These are bridges to a professional goal, a family member, or another culture.
And many times students return to show their gratitude. One of her ESL students came back to thank her for the small class size (5-10 students) and dedicated instructors. The language courses also allowed the Casa de Español alumna help her son with his English homework.
“She felt really comfortable, she was able to really develop a lot of key skills with her English,” Harrington said. “It allowed her to improve and get a better job.”
In other cases, learning a new language opens doors students were initially reluctant to enter. Casa de Español offers classes for native Spanish speakers, also known as “heritage speakers.”
She recalled one such student, a 6-year-old boy whose parents were desperate to preserve his Spanish-speaking skills. And they were growing increasingly worried about his unwillingness to use them.
“You see that everyone else speaks English around you, and it makes you feel guilty or worried or embarrassed to speak the language,” Harrington said.
But the environment of Casa de Español, with its engaging instructors and enthusiastic classmates, lowered that boy’s barriers. He participated in the class, and later, could speak with accuracy and even pride when he visited his grandparents in Ecuador.
More on CNote: The Oakland-based company’s flagship product offers a 2.5% return on savings — and 100% social impact — by tapping into Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, which exist to help finance underserved small business owners. Learn more about CNote and their mission here.
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