Louisa Brown of Indianola decided one day she would learn French. On her own, she began studying vocabulary and grammar, listening to French music, reading books translated into French, and became quite fluent.
After about a year of study, she met a French woman at a party, whom all of her friends encouraged her to talk to.
“I understood everything she said,” Brown said, but couldn’t form the words to speak back. She was “totally terrified.”
Brown thought to herself, I’ve got to get over that. So she signed up for a Poulsbo Parks and Recreation class with Myriam Mullen and, for the first time, began having conversations in French.
She joined a large group of students; some knew French fluently but needed a place to practice, others hadn’t taken classes in many years.
Teachers of foreign languages in Kitsap County are seeing more older students in their classes, and not all have a trip abroad immediately planned. Teachers and students say studying a foreign language is a brain exercise, a way to connect with your family’s culture, or learn about a new one.
“Really, what it does is [it] expands your world and your world view, because thinking in another language is thinking differently,” said Julieta Vitullo, creator of Kitsap Spanish (kitsapspanish.com/clases). It’s the way we conceptualize things through language, she said. “Your world doubles and can be tripled or quadrupled,” Vitullo added.
Vitullo has taught Spanish and literature in her native Argentina and in New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington. She moved to Indianola three years ago with her family, but wasn’t teaching anymore. She said she’s always had a passion for sharing the language and culture of the Spanish-speaking world, and founded Kitsap Spanish to teach classes on Bainbridge Island as well as privately. She also now teaches Spanish at West Sound Academy.
Taking a one- or two-month class, geared toward travelers, is very different from a college setting. There is less focus on grammar and more on ready-set phrases (Quanto costa? How much does it cost, in Italian. ¿Dónde está el banco? Where is the bank, in Spanish).
But many instructors emphasize conversation. During class, students speak only in the designated language. What good is it if you can ask where the bathroom is, if you don’t understand the answer?
Students in Mullen’s class like being taught idioms in Francophone culture. Mullen is Belgian and began teaching in Kitsap 12 years ago. She took a break while her daughter was in school, but returned this year when a teacher left the area.
“We treat it like we are French,” said Larry Goulet of Poulsbo. “It takes away the fear, the inhibitions.” Mullen makes you ask questions and give answers, he said. Goulet has French in his blood, and traveled extensively for his job in oil exploration for many decades. He picked up French, but since retirement lost some of his fluency.
“If I was not here, it would fade away,” he said.
Goulet and Brown’s classmate, Julia Miller of Kingston, said she has tried taking classes in Seattle, but classes here are more convenient and cost-effective.
Classes through the Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island Parks and Rec departments (www.cityofpoulsbo.com/parks/parks.htm and www.biparks.org/programsandclasses/general_info.html) are usually between eight and 10 weeks long, costing around $100.
Ashlee Redfern is another instructor who was looking for a way to share her Italian language skills and created her own business. Italian Inspirations (italian-inspirations.com) offers private lessons and tutoring in Italian. Redfern is also a chef, and offers personal instruction.
Redfern, whose family is Italian, began learning Italian when she was young. She attended Seattle Culinary Academy, then moved to Florence, Italy for eight years to learn more about the language, cuisine and culture. She worked in the food industry and in Italy earned a bachelor’s degree in intercultural and interlinguistic studies.
When she returned to Seattle, she noticed a “dry spell” in local Italian offerings. She signed up with the Poulsbo recreation department, offering classes for beginners, travelers and conversationalists. She also offers culinary tours of Italy, the first of which leaves in November.
Mary Swoboda-Groh of Poulsbo is one of Redfern’s students. She is returning to Italy for her second trip.
“Italy is an incredible country,” she said. “There are lots of contrasts, incredible vistas everywhere you go, around every corner.”
One of her classmates, Linda Williams, lived in Italy for three years when her husband was stationed there in the military. Redfern said she hopes to reach out to the Kitsap naval bases and Olympic College to offer language and culture lessons for families heading to Italy.
“I love this class. It’s practical and fun,” Williams said. “I’m learning things clearly.”
The Traveler, Inc. (www.thetraveler.com) on Winslow Way on Bainbridge also offers succinct yet comprehensive language classes for travelers. Program coordinator Marina Giameos said most of Traveler’s students are older, but they are seeing more younger students coming in, those heading off for study abroad or who want additional tutoring.
Classes are four weeks long and cost $75. Instructors use songs, stories or poems and shortcut grammatical rules to quickly immerse their students.
“It’s easy, in a sense,” Giameos said. “A commitment for one month, a refresher before [students] take off for their trip.”
Giameos said many of their instructors have a following of students; Karen Tenney, a French instructor, has had many of the same students for more than two years, returning to practice their conversation.
Giameos is also an instructor — she teaches Italian and Greek at the Traveler, but also speaks French, and has lived in all three countries.
“My interest in foreign languages was inspired by trips taken to the Greek island of Patmos as a child,” Giameos said. “The young people I encountered abroad were bilingual or even trilingual, which gave me the motivation to further study and teach foreign languages.
“I’m currently raising my children bilingual [in Greek and English] and on occasion we play games, read books and sing songs in French and Italian,” she said.
Giameos said learning another language connects us with people when traveling abroad, leading us to become global citizens.
The Poulsbo recreation department offers classes year-round in French, Spanish and Italian. Bainbridge offers French, Spanish, Italian and German, and also offers classes specifically for children; one in July teaches Spanish to children ages 3-5. The Traveler shop on Bainbridge also offers classes throughout the year in French, Spanish, Italian, and private lessons in Greek and Arabic.
For a more academic experience, classes at Olympic College (www.olympic.edu) are available for non-students to audit in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and American Sign Language.