Owner: Essia Bouzamondo-Bernstein, Ph.D.
When did you open the Bay Language Academy? We opened the week of Labor Day 2011.
What inspired you to start the Academy? It struck me that we live in this area where there is this confluence of people from all over the world, yet there are children who can barely speak the language of their grandparents. This is because the grandparents did not want their children to speak English with an accent or experience the discrimination that they did, but, as a result, there is this language barrier that leaves some children with very little to say to their grandparents.
Also, Americans typically start learning second languages very late, perhaps in 7th grade or later, when the language is more challenging to learn.
So it was the combination of frustration and the enthusiastic, supportive parents and students of our community, who welcomed us with open arms, which led to the opening of Bay Language Academy.
What languages are taught at the Academy? We have Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, English and French. Soon, we will have Italian and Korean.
We respect the four pillars of language learning — reading, writing, listening and speaking. I interview each family to understand their expectations and what they want to emphasize. Then we place the student in the class depending on the goals, age, level of maturity, and prior exposure to the language. Every class has its own dynamic depending on who is in the class, who is teaching, and the expectations are.
What is the age range of the students? Right now, the majority are younger children. The youngest student is 22 months. She’s amazing! She has learned her colors and all her body parts in French. Some of our teenage students are preparing for studying a year abroad. Our oldest student is a retiree who promised himself that, before he leaves this earth, he will speak the language of his roots.
What is the class size? I believe when you learn a language you need to practice and talk. So I made a promise to the parents that the classes will never exceed ten students.
How long are classes? 90 minutes.
Who are the instructors and what are their qualifications? We are very blessed in our instructors. Our Chinese teacher instructs students in Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese. Formerly, he was the director of the Oakland Cultural Center. Our Spanish teacher is TESOL-certified, and he teaches English as a Second Language as well as Spanish. He is also fluent in Mandarin. Our French teacher is working on her master's at Mills College.
How quickly can students expect to learn the new language? Every person has different language learning potential. Some people learn more easily than others. It also depends on when, where and how one studies. I try to do my best to match the teaching styles and the learning styles so that people meet and click. Some people have visual memory. Some learn best through play. We try to make it fun, not like a formal school with table and blackboard.
Bay Language Academy is located at 2205 Harbor Bay Parkway. Telephone: 510-306-4BAY.