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Adult Language Class

Crystal Dory (Language Services) teaches a customized class in Spanish to students at Paper Converting in Green Bay.

December 2010

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Foreign language classes speak to diverse students, varying needs

Managing an engineering team requires a lot of skills. One might not expect speaking Italian to be among them, but Rick Bigari would argue otherwise.

He and a handful of colleagues at Georgia-Pacific in Green Bay are enrolled in St. Norbert’s adult non-credit Italian I course this fall. With 17 students, it’s the largest of 10 such weekly language classes currently in session. Together, they have attracted more than 90 registrants.

“GP is a global company, and many of the suppliers we deal with speak English as a second language. My colleagues and I saw this class as an opportunity to improve communication with our suppliers and find fulfillment in our roles at Georgia-Pacific,” Bigari says.

A boon for business
Many regional businesspeople share Bigari’s perspective, according to Kristina Reignier (Language Services). She’s seen employees at several area companies take advantage of the courses to improve internal or external communications.

For example, last year Paper Converting arranged a yearlong, on-site program of Spanish classes for manufacturing employees. Their purpose: to help English- and Spanish-speaking co-workers communicate better.

With entry-level classes like the one Bigari is taking, fluency is not the aim. “Our goal was to learn the basics of conversational Italian,” Bigari says.

“It’s more to get an ear for the language and start to understand the culture,” Reignier says.

An opportunity for understanding
Businesspeople are not the only ones enrolling in these classes, which cover languages like French, Russian, Polish and Chinese at various levels.

“You’ll see a couple of college students. You’ll see a couple going on their honeymoon. It’s kind of all over the board,” Reignier says.

Some of the most devoted students are learning what Reignier calls “heritage languages” – those spoken by northeast Wisconsin’s earliest immigrants.

Take Czech as an example. Czech VI has seven students this session, many of whom began with Czech I in 2008 and have progressed together since then. One student drives two-and-a-half hours from Fort Atkinson, Wis., to attend.

“He will go to class, stay at the Kress Inn and go home the next day,” Reignier says.

A customized curriculum
Instructors cater the language classes to those registered. “They really try to find out why students are there … and try to delve into the different types of vocabulary and customs that these particular students would like to know,” Reignier says.

For Bigari and his colleagues, that includes practical matters like navigating the airport, hailing a taxi and finding a restroom. It also involves equipping themselves to connect with business associates in their native language – if not to conduct an entire meeting, then at least to chat for a bit.

Bigari has been satisfied with the results. “It was an excellent class which built a foundation for conversational Italian, and many of us are looking forward to the Italian II class this winter.”

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