Rebecca Wilson Schwengber is raising five children to speak Chinese, Hebrew and Spanish. She’ll teach your kids, too.
You’re the Director and Founder of Language Sprout, an educational company that teaches foreign language to children. How did the business idea come about?
I started it at the University of Minnesota as a 21-year old single mother. I wanted a language school my daughter could belong to and grow with, and there wasn’t anything like that in the Twin Cities. I spoke Spanish and Chinese, my degree is in Asian Language studies and Spanish, and I naively just started a business. But, it turned out I was really good at it. The company has consistently grown and we’ve been in business now for 13 years. I used the last $600 in my savings account for the first rent check for the business and now we teach 2,000 kids.
Are your children multilingual?
All my children speak Spanish. My oldest two, 14 and 11, have excellent Chinese. The younger two, 9 and 8, are working on it. I also have a 7-week-old, obviously not speaking yet. My husband is Brazilian and only speaks Portuguese with the baby.
What inspired you to major in Asian languages and literature?
My parents went to China when I was five. They came back and wanted us to speak Chinese, too so we were tutored and I studied in China in high school through the University of Minnesota. When you start language young, it becomes a part of your identity, so I went on to study further in college.
Were there language immersion schools in the Twin Cities when you started Language Sprout?
There were a couple immersion school then, but it’s something that’s grown. What we do is in balance with the immersion schools. They might not be right for everyone, but parents still want a foreign language education for their children. We provide consistent foreign language education for those who don’t choose immersion. We also contract to private schools, day cares and elementary schools. We do before and after school programming as well as in-school language programming.
Plus, we have taken over the “learn” part of the Play and Learn café in Minnetonka. And, we teach at the Sabes JCC and will begin teaching at Aleph preschool in St. Louis Park. Plus, we are rolling out a new Hebrew program.
Is the new Hebrew language program different from the Hebrew education for bar/bat mitzvahs?
Yes, it’s a non-religious Hebrew program. These classes are my passion project. When I had my bat mitzvah, I went through the Hebrew programming but it was not fun. My Hebrew is horrific. If someone were to ask me colors, I wouldn’t know them. I pick up languages easily and being unable to say anything in Hebrew made me sad.
I realized that we have a very adaptable language curriculum and wondered, ‘Why aren’t we doing that in Hebrew as well?’ It could be a great way for kids to be more confident when they travel to Israel and provide a deeper connection to their Jewish identity. We could be doing a better job of teaching Hebrew.
My Hebrew teacher just arrived from Israel and we have made a couple test runs of Hebrew curriculum and it is fantastic watching the students speak in full sentences, and knowing their numbers and colors. They are able to make basic conversation after a month of class for one hour a week. We are really excited about the new offering. We’re rolling out a full schedule of programming for the Fall.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
With my kids, I have really enjoyed Yom Kippur. There’s a prayer we read at Mt. Zion’s services that talks about forgiving and moving forward. We’re a big family. We’re not perfect; we have good and bad days but at the end of the day we’re always a family. So, it’s really nice to have an opportunity to remind ourselves to let it go, and stop kvetching. Let’s hug it out and keep on trying. That prayer stays on our fridge all year.
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
We have a lot of matzo ball soup at our house. My mom makes a phenomenal matzo ball soup. We live just down the street from my mother. She also makes a nice roasted chicken. You can’t beat homemade food.
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