OUR COMMUNITIES ARE DIVIDED by languages and cultures. ShareLingo is a new company that’s taking this challenge head on.
ShareLingo has a different approach: To focus on co-learning, forming community and personal friendships.
I was fortunate to speak with James Archer, having met him at 1 Million Cups in January. He’s the founder of The ShareLingo Project (El Proyecto ShareLingo) in Denver. After living in a number of countries, he formed this for-profit company in 2012 as a way to tap his passion for cross-cultural learning and connection. He is focusing on the local English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities in the Denver area.
His prayers for a partner in this venture were answered when he discovered an energetic partner Rocío del Pilar Durán, a Colombian with a Master’s in Community Psychology. The two of them have designed a unique teaching process based on a powerful observation: When I am teaching you English, and you are teaching me Spanish, we form a respectful, fruitful, and collaborative relationship. We learn each others’ language, while also learning about the cultural underpinnings.
ShareLingo’s approach is designed around small groups, ideally five speakers of each language. They meet face-to-face and spend much of the time working in pairs to tutor each other. This intimate group size helps people to relate to each other as individuals more than as groups. Equal time is spent on each language and culture, resulting in peer relationships.
When somebody gives you a great gift by teaching you something which will change you life, you respect and appreciate them. When two do this for each other, they become friends.
You could imagine this as non-profit venture, so why did they choose to go the for-profit route? James debated the question whether to be a non-profit or not. Non-profits today are struggling as they compete for grants and funding. In the end, he decided that charging a fee for Language and Cultural Training, and then applying those funds back into the community as a Social Enterprise whenever possible, would ultimately allow the project to help more people.
Imagine that a hotel has managers who primarily speak English, and many workers who primarily speak Spanish. Often in this case, the workers might have trouble giving great service to customers who don’t speak Spanish, and a communication gulf forms between management and employees. When this gulf is bridged through personal relationships, management realizes what a great untapped asset they have in their front-line workers. And even with a small English vocabulary, those employees are able to dramatically improve customer service.
As with every new business, there are challenges to overcome. James and Rocío are working to expand their reach across more of Colorado and the United States. The potential market for this is monstrous, but most people don’t know this powerful resource even exists. ShareLingo has to present the value of this investment in business terms for clients, showing how there can be a great ROI not only for the participants, but for the business overall.
The theme for 2015 and the foreseeable future, then, will be marketing. The business will grow, but they’ll be careful to maintain the quality while they reach out with more facilitators to reach more clients.
And they’ll change the face of community in America.