Last April at NYC Tech Day 2015, I stumbled on the language company Fluent City amidst a sea of tech and finance startups. I was positively giddy to find out they exist. As French major whose language exposure is now limited to foreign friend’s Facebook updates, Fluent City offers those who have relapsed in their language skills an easy way to reconnect with their old languages or start brand new ones. Imagine practicing your Spanish over wine and cheese pairings. Or learning Mandarin with a teacher cool enough to have a beer with after class. Fluent City teaches “old school in-person classes … taught in an awesome and refreshing new school way.” They bring together all the globally curious people for language learning and cultural celebration. They’re also probably the most fun you’ll have in language class.
I spoke with Mandy Menaker from Fluent City to learn more about all the ways they’re bringing language lovers together to celebrate culture!
What’s the difference between your language school and taking a course at a university?
Courses at the university level are usually quite formal. You may come away knowing the grammar but you don’t always come away with the vocabulary and the conversation skills that you need to travel. Our role is to enable our students to walk into a bar and buy someone a drink, ask where the bathroom is located, and figure out how to get to their hostel in a foreign language. They get conversation skills they actually need while hopefully not sounding like a foreigner while doing it.
As adults we don’t have that many opportunities to take language and culture classes.
Absolutely and that’s what so cool about this. With our classes you are introduced to culture while meeting like minded individuals in your neighborhood. You may come in with the idea of taking a class to meet people in Spain or France but when you’re here you’re meeting people that are interested in travel and culture who are looking to expand their horizons as well.
What are the language classes like?
Our classes are fun. We put personable, energetic, approachable teachers in front of our classroom. They are the kind of people you want to get a drink with after class. Our classes are about putting interesting people with interesting teaches so they can learn the language and do interesting things. We focus on making classes approachable. I think a lot of people have a fear of language because it seems scary. I’m not a language person because I’m terrible at it. But I love language and I’ve taken Spanish, Hebrew and I’m about to start Italian with my boyfriend. So if I can have fun with them, anyone can. We also structure the classes so they fit into your existing schedule. We have classes on weeknights and afterwork at convenient locations. We also have weekend options for flexible schedules.
What types of people try your classes?
We are open to anyone that is open to cultures. People take our classes for work because they want to use the language with their international clients. We’ve worked with the Red Cross in DC to help them communicate better with diverse communities. We even have couples who are marrying across cultures take our classes because they want to communicate better in the kitchen. They’re trying to impress in-laws. They’re meeting grandma for the first time and want to fit into the families. What’s so fun is that it’s not just open to travelers.
In addition to language classes you also offer events like international scavenger hunts, cooking classes, and film nights. Are you a language company or a cultural events company?
We are definitely a language company. The original owner is a Southern boy from Georgia who went to France and fell in love with it. He moved back to Brooklyn and wanted to be able to go to classes and share the culture. But there wasn’t really anything happening in the city that was fun. There were language classes but they were very structured and expensive. Since he spoke enough French he decided to teach his friends. He taught classes in his living room under the name “Sam Teaches French.” People loved it and starting asking if he offered other languages so he eventually brought on other teachers. There was so much interest that he had to move the classes of his living room and Fluent City in its current form was born.
How are the languages incorporated into your cultural events?
We have cultural events, movie screenings, cooking classes, things that allow you to put your language skills to practice. Having a casual atmosphere helps you feel more comfortable. But more important than trying the language is that when classes go out together they really form a bond that helps them connect with each other. Students tend to stay with the program longer when they’ve connected with their classmates and teacher. We also have events in English. We offer a mix of both because we want students to practice their language but don’t want them to be excluded from events just because they don’t speak the language. We do panels with a focus on topics like how to start a travel blog, how to take your startup global, and how to volunteer abroad.
You offer Mandarin, Russian and Hebrew among others as language learning opportunities. How do you choose which languages to offer?
We started with French and Spanish because people take them in high school so they have a background in them. It’s intimidating to start something new as an adult. It’s easier to start a language that you know a bit about. They’re popular languages. But some people are the opposite and will purposefully pick Japanese because they want to start from the beginning and learn something new. We also did some surveys to find out what language people were into and now we offer 10 languages.
With so many options, where should a language lover start?
Our open houses are perfect for curious people and their friends. They offer a chance for people to experience our classes. We do a free 45-minute workshop with donuts and coffee and they’re a ton of fun. It’s often a mix of potential students and current students who are interested in a taking an additional language. People come out because who doesn’t want a free 45-minute language workshop and brunch!? I love running the open houses!
Browse language classes by location and learn more about Fluent City at www.fluentcity.com.