Cincy Chic: What was your motivation in starting International Language Plus (ILP)?
Sandra Roberts: Having lived out of the country for 10 years and studying at several different language schools, I felt something was missing in each school and each experience. I had always wanted to have my own business, so when we chose to settle in Cincinnati, I decided to start a language school. This way I would be able to use my degree in education along with my years of international experience. My goal was to provide a school with a warm, friendly atmosphere that would make learning a new language fun and exciting, not a stressful obligation or a necessity. The “plus” in my school would be personalized attention from my staff and teachers and going the extra mile to give students cultural information that would make their life in America, or abroad, interesting and rewarding.
Cincy Chic: In December 2007, you were awarded “Woman of the Year: Entrepreneur” by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce. What has this distinction meant for you and your company?
Roberts: Receiving this honor helped me see that I have realized my dream ‚Äì reached my goal of filling a need for top-quality language training in Greater Cincinnati. In addition to the great personal honor given me, the award put my name and my company in front of many, many important people and has given exposure that I would never have received otherwise: I was featured in the Cincinnati Enquirer’s “What are you driving?”; I appeared on the Nancy James TV show, Northern Kentucky Magazine, which is Insight Communications‚Äô longest running and most watched program in Northern Kentucky. I received countless congratulatory notes from people near and far. Also, the award has given me recognition as an astute business woman and has validated the quality of service our students receive.
Cincy Chic: What kind of communication skills does ILP provide people that will help them succeed in the business world and in their communities?
Roberts: Our program is a totally customized program that covers the reading, writing, listening and speaking skills needed for work and daily life. After completing a “needs survey” and assessment by our program manager, we design a customized program for the student, keeping in mind the goals of each student. Our focus is to help the student understand and be understood when communicating in their new language.
Cincy Chic: Which language is the most popular at ILP, in terms of number of people taking classes/showing interest towards?
Roberts: Since English is the international business language, the most popular language is English. There are many international companies in Cincinnati and these companies are constantly transferring employees to Cincinnati from all over the world. Good English skills are vital to their work and everyday lives.
The most popular foreign language is Japanese. Except for California, this region of the U.S. has more Japanese companies than any other part of the nation. Most of these companies are affiliated with the auto industry. In fact I-75 is referred to as the “sushi highway,” so many people have a need to study Japanese.
Cincy Chic: Do you have a lot of non-English people, who live here, taking (English) classes at ILP?
Roberts: Yes, about 75 percent of our students are non-English speakers.
Cincy Chic: ILP is geared towards business people learning foreign languages to do business globally. Who are some of your clients?
Roberts: I am proud to say our client list is quite impressive and extensive, and includes Toyota, GE Aviation, P&G, Kao Brands, Mitsubishi Electric and Pioneer Electronics to name a few.
Cincy Chic: Do you provide any school/university programs? Do any of your teachers teach anywhere else locally, such as schools, colleges? Does ILP provide any translation services?
Roberts: ILP provides English as a Second language lessons to students in grades K-12 for 12 different school districts. Yes, ILP provides translation and interpreting services.
Cincy Chic: How does one go about working at ILP?
Roberts: A school is only as good as its teachers, and we are very particular. All of our teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree and must be native speakers. International experience is a strong plus.
Cincy Chic: What is the biggest and most common communication barrier that you see people continually try to overcome, regardless of the language?
Roberts: Understanding what is being said is the biggest and most common communication problem. Our students always say, “Native speakers speak so fast!” Of course, being understood is also a major problem. Unless a person learns a second language as a child, it takes lots of practice to master correct pronunciation. Both correct pronunciation and intonation are very important to being understood. In English, for example, one sentence can be spoken with five different intonation patterns, resulting in five different meanings.
Cincy Chic: What advice do you have for people who have a hard time successfully communicating their point to someone? What is the most important communication tool in your opinion?
Roberts: Good speaking skills are the most important communication tool for success in every field. With good speaking skills, you can lead, motivate and teach one person or a large group.
To accomplish this, my advice is: Practice, practice, practice!
Cincy Chic: What are your thoughts on the Generation X factor on communication regarding instant messaging speech, email jargon and social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook?
Roberts: These tools can be a great help in communicating quickly and frequently, but as with other things, they can be abused or cause the user to develop bad habits. If Generation Xers use only instant messaging or email, they are in danger of losing good communication skills such as spelling, proper grammar, or ability to communicate the spirit of the message they are trying to convey.
Cincy Chic: What is the one piece of advice you can offer people interested in learning a new language? What realistic expectations do they face in “mastering” another language?
Roberts: Study hard and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be able to laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes.
Students must realize there are no “magic bullets” in language learning. Like playing the piano, learning a language requires a lot of study, practice and perseverance. Keep a positive attitude and remember, “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t”, either way, you will prove yourself to be right!
Cincy Chic: ILP is a company that provides 15 foreign languages, with 50 native-speaking teachers. That’s a lot of languages! What’s your favorite non-English language?
Roberts: Italian is my favorite non-English language, though it is not the most popular. It is my favorite because I lived in Italy almost three years, visit there quite often and love the food, wine, history and people.
Cincy Chic: How does Cincinnati rank in its language diversity? Do you see a need for more language diversity? Do you think it should be mandatory to teach a second/foreign language in schools?
Roberts: The language diversity in Cincinnati has changed tremendously in the last 20 years. The number of foreign people has increased dramatically, but unlike New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, it is still a place where you must speak English to live and work successfully. So, if you want to learn English, Cincinnati is a good place to live because you must learn the language in order to succeed.
Yes, I think it should be mandatory to study a second language in school. First of all, it helps you understand your own language. Secondly, you gain a deeper understanding of what is required to learn a second language and it helps you become more empathetic to people who don’t speak your native language perfectly. Thirdly, you learn about the people, country and culture of the language you are studying, which helps you better understand what is going on in the world.
Cincy Chic: What’s your favorite thing about Cincinnati?
Roberts: The people! I hear from our students from all over the world how nice people are in Cincinnati. I totally agree. It makes me so proud. I love the choices: from baseball to ballet. But when I’m returning from a trip and driving through the cut in the hill, I see that beautiful, breathtaking Cincinnati skyline and I know I’m home. A woman from South Africa voiced it so well just last week when she told me that Cincinnati is a “hidden treasure!”
Photo: Sandra Roberts