Slice of Life

Syracuse locals open language center to benefit city

Photo courtesy of Engracia Schuster

Engracia Schuster first saw an absence of language learning centers in Syracuse when she was looking to have her own two children study Spanish at a private facility.

When Engracia Schuster, a Barcelona native, was raising her two children in Syracuse, she knew she wanted to pass her native language on to them. But it wasn’t going to be easy as Schuster quickly discovered a lack of private language learning centers in the city.

Since then, her children have grown up and are living on their own. Although she was able to teach them Spanish using her own knowledge, Schuster said she still found the absence of language learning centers in Syracuse disappointing.

So about a month ago, Schuster and her business partner Ana Guerrero, also from Barcelona, founded the InterAct Language Center a private language learning center open to all ages and language proficiencies.

[pullquote quote=”Ana and I had this vision. We put our heads together, and our money together, and we decided to go for it.” cite=”Engracia Schuster”]

The business partners met through a mutual friend, after Guerrero had moved to Syracuse with her husband around a year and a half ago. They quickly realized they shared a similar dissatisfaction with the city’s language opportunities, which was heightened by many language learning centers the two travelers had seen around the world.

The center aims to teach beginners a new language and to help partially fluent speakers improve. InterAct is special, Schuster said, because the only other ways to learn a language in Syracuse is through a college class or online. These options are neither feasible nor successful for everyone, she added.

With Schuster’s more than 30 years of experience as a Spanish teacher and Guerrero’s business and marketing knowledge, the two said they realized their dream could become a reality.

Schuster and Guerrero said knowing a foreign language has become incredibly important in this day and age because the world has become interconnected. Even Syracuse, they added, is slowly becoming increasingly international.

“Companies are hiring more and more employees that not only know other languages and can communicate fluently, but also that are empathetic, that are sympathetic to other cultures.” Schuster said.

Even Schuster’s children have received opportunities in their careers because of their knowledge of multiple languages.

Although small in size, the InterAct Center itself has a circular design to encourage communication and conversation between students. Guerrero added she wants InterAct to become a hub for anyone in Syracuse looking to learn a language.

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Courtesy of Engracia Schuster

The two believe learning a language works best when students are heavily involved in conversation rather than just provided instructions. This is why Schuster trains her teachers to have students perform plays, increase their own speaking efficiency and, most importantly, speak with their classmates.

InterAct also offers afterschool tutoring sessions for students learning other languages in high school and college, as well workshops for non-native speaking teachers looking to improve their proficiency.

“We believe we can help everyone to learn other languages and learn about other cultures,” Guerrero said.

Each class at the center has a maximum of eight students, Schuster said, so learning can be more personalized. Only three, and soon to be four, Spanish classes are up and running at the moment. But Schuster said they have plans to start Italian and French classes soon, and eventually Arabic and Chinese as well.

Every culture has an opportunity to have a voice in the center, Guerrero said, and anyone who is a native speaker of a different language is welcome to help out around InterAct.

In the short time since they opened, Schuster said she has noticed that many people interested in the center are looking to either learn the language of their ancestors or are planning to travel to a foreign country. Others are looking to get ahead in their career by adding another language as a skill.

“A lot of people don’t think they are capable of learning a language, especially adults,” Schuster said. “We want to prove them wrong.”

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