ORLANDO, Fla. – EPCOT isn’t the only place in Orlando where people can journey through different countries and cultures. Berlitz Language Center also gives residents and visitors the international experience that comes with learning a new language.
Berlitz, a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school, has locations across five states, including Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia, as well as in the Washington, D.C., according to their website.
The Orlando location officially opened in January 2016 and has paved the way for students ever since even after having to close for 10 months last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Through February 2021, students exclusively took online classes that attracted participants from all over the globe. Now, they offer both online and in-person classes in over 12 languages.
Berlitz’s curriculum focuses on being able to communicate in real-life situations.
“Even if it’s an English Level One, we’ll be teaching them how to describe people, how to order food at a restaurant, for situations that they need once they get out of the school and need to communicate,” said Berlitz Orlando Director Renata Oliveira. “Our students speak a lot in class to make sure they learn how to speak the language faster.”
Students come from all over the world to participate in the intensive, standard or online learning programs, whether a student is in an immersion program, a local looking to pick up a new skill, or visiting family on holiday. Self-study instruction is also available and allows students a more flexible schedule as they study at their own pace.
“Learning a new language opens doors,” said Dora Leal Ferreira, Berlitz Orlando’s customer relations manager. “We try to open the door for students, immigrants and international students alike.”
Ferreira knows firsthand how mastering a language can afford people better jobs and internships. It’s what happened to her after living in the U.S. as an exchange student from Brazil during her senior year. The experience led to a career in counseling students embarking on study abroad journeys.
Now, she and Oliveira help enroll and guide the language center’s 135 students through the variety of programming the school offers, which includes specific classes of up to 11 students for kids, teens, families and adults.
“We’re both immigrants. I think our stories are similar, our backgrounds are similar,” said Oliveira, who was also an exchange student in Australia. “When I went back to Brazil, which is my home country, I worked with cultural exchange programs so I would help students who wanted to study abroad ... and prepare them to have an international experience. Part of that was preparing them to live in a new culture as well.”
Living in a new culture opens your mind and makes you realize how much bigger the world is than we might think, she said.
At the Orlando facility, most of the students hail from Central and South American countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Puerto Rico. They’re Florida residents coming to learn English.
It makes sense given Florida has the third largest Hispanic population in the U.S., outnumbered only by California and Texas, with 5.7 million Latinos making up about 26% of the state’s residents, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report.
From 2010 to 2020, Florida alone saw its Hispanic population increase by about 1.5 million, accounting for 43% of the country’s population growth, alongside Texas and California, the report continued.
“To understand the local culture better, it’s easier if you know the language because you can interact more with people. Whether it’s your neighbors, your student’s parents ... whoever you interact with on a daily basis,” Oliveira said.
But students also come to learn Spanish, Japanese and French, most of them coming for two reasons.
“Love or jobs,” Ferreira said.
If someone gets married to someone who speaks Spanish, they want to learn Spanish. If they get a business opportunity, knowing another language puts them in a better position to attain and communicate well on the job.
Students have growth opportunities outside the classroom as well, participating in potlucks and field trips around the Central Florida area.
“We want the students to share their culture with us. Next week, for example, we’re doing a potluck,” Oliveira said. “So the students can bring a dish or dessert ... that is a special recipe from their heritage and they explain what it means to them ... and then everybody can try.”
Prices for small groups range from $159 to $199 per month whereas intensive programs typically start at $299 a month. Berlitz also has a registration fee of $100 and a fee of $65 for class materials.
To learn more about the classes offered, visit Berlitz.com/Orlando.