Au revoir!

This is my final “Lango Lingo post.” I’m winding up my time as Lango’s Managing Director this week.

While I’ve known this for over a month, and while I shared this news a month ago with my coworkers and our “Lango Leaders” – community-based business owners – I still read my own words with a sense of surprise; my intention, after all, was to remain with Lango for years to come.

My timing is also surprising because Lango is today in a great position. Candidly, the five years since we started Lango have not always been easy: while the trend of more and more parents believing that their kids should learn new languages has seemed evident, it’s often seemed gradual. American parents, we’ve learned, want a very broad upbringing for their kids, and while they are learning that early bilingualism bears fruit for years to come, many are not yet willing to give up other activities so afford their children’s language-learning experience the steady and long-term attention it deserves.

But it’s taking hold: little by little, we’re seeing schools and entire communities come over to the cause of early language instruction. Kids in a diverse range of regions around the U.S. are learning languages with Lango, and in large enough proportions that we’re beginning to glimpse our vision becoming reality, as language-learning becomes a standard aspect of a typical American childhood.

Meanwhile, Lango today operates in 75 communities around the country, and will open five more in the next two months. That makes 80 more territories than we were in five years ago! Like I said: my timing is terrible.

Most of all, Lango is in solid shape because it has great people behind it. The Lango team is no less committed and dynamic for my departure, and our pool of Lango Leaders is rich in skill and experience, but single-minded in its determination to bring new languages to children.

So while I’m saddened to leave Lango, I’m heartened by what I see: passionate people working tirelessly to realize an important goal, and families steadily coming around to the conviction that by learning languages, we can not only effect a richer future for our children, but also take an important step towards lowering the walls that divide us from other people in this rapidly shrinking world.


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Profile of Three Lango Leaders

This week I enjoyed the distinct (but exhausting) pleasure of training new Lango Leaders in Wisconsin. I thought I’d describe them here, by way of illustrating the varying types of people who are joining our movement to bring new languages to children.

We have three new Leaders — franchisees — in Wisconsin: Jeremiah and Cindy, who are starting our program together in and around Madison, and Shavanaka, who will launch classes in Milwaukee.

Jeremiah and Cindy bring together the key elements of Lango Leadership: He has a business background, while she’s a native Spanish speaker from Colombia who has long wanted to teach Spanish to kids. They’re well-connected in their community, and they look forward to raising bilingual kids themselves one day. Neither has ever run a small business, and Cindy does not bring extensive teaching experience, but after going through our training process they’re able to combine their passion with newly-trained skills in operations and instruction. They’ll make great Lango Leaders.

Shavanaka, meanwhile, is a mom from a more urban area, and while she doesn’t speak another language herself — like many of us, she missed that opportunity as a child, and tried without a ton of success as an adult — she speaks convincingly about the importance of giving our kids an advantage through multilingualism. She’ll draw on family resources, including a talented, bilingual sister-in-law, as well as connections in her community, for while Milwaukee may not be coastally cosmopolitan, it’s a tightly-knit city, and parents who live there want what’s best for their kids just as much as those in Manhattan, D.C. or San Francisco.

Welcome, Jeremiah, Cindy and Shavanaka!

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Increase your income with Lango!

No, this blog post isn’t a franchising come-on (though of course if you’re interested in a Lango franchise you should let me know…).

Instead, this is a reference to new research — conducted by a Lango competitor — that translates the various benefits accrued through learning a new language into increased earning.

The idea is that between improved multitasking,  increased sensitivity to other cultures, the ability to conduct business in other countries and even raised SAT scores, foreign language speakers earn 20% more than people who speak just one language.

My guess is that’s an underestimation, especially since today’s learners will likely work in an even more globalized society.

But let me offer a different perspective on this idea of earning more money through learning more languages – since this assumes that what we’re all after is more change in our pockets.

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes in his book The Social Animal : “According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income.”

That’s a widely-applying nugget, but I can see a core of credibility, at least for me and my family: we derive some of our happiest and most fulfilling experiences from time spent with friends – or even like-minded people we don’t know that well.

So what if we combine these effects: what if we learn languages among groups of people who gather around that very purpose?

Regularly interacting with others and forming relationships while learning new ways of communicating? I bet that yields a happiness gain worth at least 120% of your income.

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The President’s Endorsement

Last week at a town hall meeting during his Midwest bus tour, Barack Obama spoke to the importance of learning new languages:

I will tell you, though, just in case there are any French teachers here or foreign language teachers, having a foreign language, that’s important, too.  That makes you so much more employable — (applause) — because if you go to a company and they’re doing business in France or Belgium or Switzerland or Europe somewhere, and they find out you’ve got that language skill, that’s going to be important as well.  And we don’t do that as much as we should; we don’t emphasize that as much as we should here in the United States. (Applause.)

It’s not the first time the President has spoken about the importance of learning new languages. And clearly the Obama family embraces this belief, as evidenced by Sasha’s speaking Mandarin with Chinese President Hu Jintao. But Obama himself doesn’t speak another language fluently, unless you count his butchering of a Gaelic quote when traveling in Ireland (which the Irish seemed to love); his perspective seems more like that of me and many friends: We sure wish we’d learned early, but since we didn’t, we’ll make sure our kids do.

Of course, the President spoke of just one reason to learn a language: the professional advantage that doing so brings. But he must be aware of the range of other benefits, including ingratiating one’s self in other cultures. After all, just this week his new Defense Secretary spoke of the need for our America’s soldiers to be able to speak the languages of the lands they visit.

If I could speak with the President’s microphone, I’d voice the sentiment that our kids need to be able to thrive in a globalizing world and economy, that we need to find ways to make our future workers both competitive in and sensitive to other cultures. It’s the way the world is going.

But that’s just one reason. Parents, what’s your chief reason for building your child’s language skills? What would you say from the President’s bully pulpit?

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College Admissions, Culture and Language

In his recent New York Times column Thomas Friedman reports that “At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, ‘nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.’”

It hasn’t been that long since I was applying to college, but clearly, the admissions game has changed. Regardless of whether today’s applicants are more qualified (though Friedman suggests that they are, as half of those Chinese applicants scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of their SATs), with many more applicants in the pool, the odds getting are longer.

And you can bet that every one of those Chinese applicants speaks at least a second language — English — if not a third.

What’s a parent to do? Some start stacking the cards in their kids’ favor very early, enrolling their three year-olds in preschools like the 92nd Street Y, which charges tuition of more than $20,000.  Others enroll their kids in programs that prevent “brain drain”; in our area UC Berkeley’s Academic Talent Program has drawn recent attention.

And some parents with whom I speak have determined that getting into a US News Top Ten college isn’t worth the headache — or the risk of heartache if, after hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours spent on activities, tutoring and test prep, their child doesn’t get in.

I, of course, see languages as a many-birds-with-one-stone solution, since learning a language early in life can benefit a child in so many different ways.

But what if things evolve further, and college becomes a truly global option for more kids? Every year, new colleges outside the U.S. and Europe emerge as top options. Will we see American students apply to, say, Princeton, and Stanford, and Michigan — and Beida?

Today, demand oustrips supply as the number of applicants to the same set of colleges balloons. But if supply expands — if the number of viable college options grows, along with Americans’ willingness to study overseas — perhaps admission odds will improve for American kids — including mine!

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My Overscheduled Daughter

Of my three kids, my daughter Catie is the one with potential for over-scheduling.

It’s not us pushing her to try new things or fill her plate; it’s that she never met an activity she didn’t like. Languages, choir, soccer, guitar, swimming, acting — she does them all.

Recently the enrichment committee at our kids’ school (does your child’s school have one?) sent out a survey, asking about interest in prospective new programs. It listed rock climbing, creative writing, knitting, public speaking and many more. Catie urged us to give a “5” (“very interested”) to all of them.

I asked her over the weekend what she thinks she’ll be taking on this fall. The first two she listed were French and Spanish.

Mission accomplished.

Catie understands that taking a language is just part of her experience growing up, every bit as much as math or reading — or recess, for that matter. She’s not going to dabble in it, and then try something else; she’s going to continue learning, and thus will get much more out of it than if she were to try it for awhile and then move on.

Even as other activities fade from interest, I’m confident she’ll continue learning new languages.

As a parent and someone running a business offering a children’s activity, I find myself sometimes concerned that we’re contributing to the “overscheduled kids” phenomenon. But when I think about the myriad benefits of language-learning, which extend far beyond simply learning to communicate, and about the fact that other cultures have managed to inject languages as a core element of their children’s academic and social experience, I realize that languages can fall outside the realm of the many activities that can capture their time.

I hope you’re fortunate enough to have a child for whom language learning is a fundamental element of growing up. Of course, I’m still working to make sure that my other two kids appropriate this same attitude!

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How Far Should Parents Go to Raise Global Children?

Recently I wrote about the mighty (and mighty expensive) efforts that some parents, including the famous and well-heeled, might make to raise multilingual kids. A recent Newsweek article indicated that Gwyneth Paltrow and her celebrity ilk aren’t alone, that other parents are going above and beyond to raise “global kids.”

At Lango we obviously believe that learning new languages is a vital aspect to raising kids who are prepared to succeed in a rapidly “flattening” world. But what other steps should we parents be taking? And is there a limit to the steps we should take; at some point do those horizon-expanding efforts keep our kids from having — dare I say it — “normal” childhoods?

Jim Rogers and other parents cited in the Newsweek article would suggest, I’m certain, that a normal American childhood just doesn’t cut it any longer, that we owe it to our children to push their breadth of experience beyond traditional schooling, activities and friendships. But though technology and travel, democratization and digital communication are rapidly changing the world — and thus what constitutes a conventional childhood — big steps like shipping your family to a new land are still experiments; as with so much else about raising children, there’s no way for us to know their effects until those kids are fully grown.

The article describes the experiences, ranging from enriching and enjoyable to frustratingly difficult, of a small set of families. I’d love to learn about others’ experiences, and in a range of countries — or other practices that parents are employing to raise global children. Because while we’re still getting Lango off the ground, I’m not in a position to uproot our family and ship off to Singapore (or France or Costa Rica, for that matter). So what else should we be doing?

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