By Cathy Sunshine
Does teaching English ever make you want to be on the other side of the desk for a change, learning a language, or brushing up on one you learned a while ago? It has had that effect on me. For one thing, I wonder if the experience of studying a language, which I haven’t done for years, might help me become a better English teacher — or at least understand better what my students are going through.
So I’ve started looking around for Spanish classes, just to see what’s out there. In the process, I found that DC has an incredible array of resources for learning just about any language you can think of. Universities, community colleges, commercial language schools, cultural institutes, embassies, nonprofit community groups and churches offer classes. There are also many informal opportunities to practice speaking a language, such as Meetups.
Below is a very partial list of what’s available in our area. The list focuses on group classes that individuals can enroll in. It doesn’t include schools that only offer private or semi-private instruction, or single individuals giving lessons. Details of levels, times, start dates, locations, and cost are usually available on the program’s website.
I didn’t make any attempt to rate quality. YMMV. Some of the questions to ask before signing up with a program: Is the class taught entirely in the target language? Will the instructor be a native speaker? What’s the average class size, and is there a cap? How do they place you in a level, and if it turns out to be the wrong level, what options do you have? What’s the policy on make-up classes if you have to miss a session?
Universities and community colleges in the area offer a wide selection of language classes, some of which may be available to nondegree students. Instruction is likely to be on the formal side and, particularly if you want academic credit, may be costly. Two institutions that offer classes specifically for nondegree students are:
Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
Part of the DC public school system. It mainly serves ESL students, but also offers conversational Spanish for English speakers at its campus in Columbia Heights.
Graduate School USA
Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu
Previously known as the US Department of Agriculture Graduate School. Day, evening, and weekend classes downtown in the L’Enfant Plaza area.
Commercial language schools
Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic
One of the original language schools, now a global franchise. Downtown, Thomas Circle.
Casa Italiana Language School
Downtown, Judiciary Square area.
French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew
Evening classes in Dupont Circle area. The program is run out of Brooklyn, NY.
Go Spanish Now
Classes at locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It’s not clear from the website exactly where — it seems to vary by class.
International Center for Language Studies
Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Russian
Evening classes downtown.
International Language Institute
Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Large program with many languages and levels. Dupont Circle area.
International School of Languages
Spanish, French, Mandarin, Farsi
Middle East South Asia Language Institute
Persian/Dari, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Amharic, Armenian, Darfuri, Hebrew, Kurdish, Turkish, Sudanese Arabic, Tigrinya, French
Foggy Bottom, Farragut, and Dupont Circle locations.
Spanish Tutor DC
Evening classes in the Farragut North area.
Cultural institutes and embassies
Dupont Circle area, about a block from Washington English Center.
Dutch-Flemish Language Courses in Washington, DC
Classes at the Belgian Embassy in DC, with another location in Virginia. Aletta Schaap, a 2B teacher at Washington English Center, says, “I recommend these classes highly.”
Downtown, Gallery Place area.
Italian Cultural Society
Japan-America Society of Washington, DC
Farragut North area.
Korean Cultural Center
Dupont Circle area.
Middle East Institute
Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish
Dupont Circle area.
Nonprofit community programs and informal groups
Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Dupont Circle area. Charges a fee, but much less expensive than the commercial schools.
Global Language Network
More than 60 languages (a selection of languages and levels is offered each term)
Classes are taught by volunteers who are native speakers of their language. This program’s enrollment model is unusual, basically a lottery system. The more popular languages fill up quickly. You pay a deposit and then get most of it back if you miss no more than two classes. Classes meet in Foggy Bottom and various other parts of the city.
Meetups are informal get-togethers focusing on a shared interest. They typically meet in a public place like a restaurant, and different people may show up each time. There are many different language-focused Meetups in DC and its suburbs. In a some cases the organizer may charge a token fee. Several of the language Meetups seem to be associated with language schools and may serve to attract students to fee-based programs. Meetups aren’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind a loosely organized encounter with an ever-changing cast of strangers, it can be a good way to practice your favorite language with no formal commitment and almost for free.