Freestyle Languages, founded by former French instructor Elizabeth Mack, has a mission to connect people through language. Being an incurable Francophile has its challenges in the middle of Texas, but as a UT alum she insists: everything is possible in Austin! However, the dynamics driving the Freestyle mission go well beyond France. Elizabeth considers the most extraordinary example of the potential for human connection and social change through language learning to be the one set by Nelson Mandela: he had learned Afrikaans during his 27-year imprisonment to successfully negotiate an end to Apartheid. “Speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head… speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart,” said Mandela. Happily, Elizabeth reminds us, the human brain is designed specifically for language (yes, at any age!) and for connection.
At Texas State University, Elizabeth had grown increasingly disenchanted with the academic model, and before long she found herself ‘in trouble’ for using her own strategies over the mandated curriculum. Digging deeper, she discovered that language learning science is solid, yet nobody seems to use it. Armed with little more than a love for learning languages—no curriculum, instructors or financial backing—she left her position to start Freestyle in 2012.
During the span of eight years, Freestyle developed a methodology, curriculum and team while enjoying a growing community of adult Spanish, French and Italian learners. Success stories multiplied as learners enjoyed the stress-free and science-backed model: in the end, it’s all about having fun! (Bilingual wine tasting, anybody?) They had a good thing going. Then, COVID-19.
It is said that success can be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. While it’s hard to love any opportunity associated with this pandemic, here it was. In 2017, Freestyle had started working on an online model, ready to reach the world. With learning outcomes as a ‘North Star’, the team worked for two years on just one course to get it right, insisting on only using what results in success. For language learning online, it’s all about the ‘flipped’ model (recorded video in conjunction with live face-to-face virtual interaction.) Success and fun are not mutually exclusive online! With synchronous and asynchronous options, Freestyle now loves being 100% online. The pandemic has spared few small businesses, but despite the challenges, having learners and instructors across the country and globe, in both a B2C and now a thrivi ng B2B program, is a potential dream (out of a nightmare?)
Freestyle’s corporate ‘Language at Work’ program offers specialized language training ranging from fields such as construction (now with ESL for Spanish speakers) to UX design, as more firms incorporate a language strategy for the many competitive and team benefits. This program is very useful and really speaks to the spirit of Austin! Yes, beloved Austin… Freestyle considers itself a devout Austin local! Developing meaningful partnerships with local organizations who share a global vision (Whole Planet Foundation, Well Aware, Austin Vida, and Austin Opera to name a few) multiplies our ability to connect through language and enhance our cultural capital. C’est magnifique! #GoLocal #ThinkGlobal #WineTheGreatFluencyBuilder