Speaking to the worldwide community

Shrinking world keeps business growing for
the Language School

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

Shrinking world keeps business growing for
the Language School
By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY Ingeborg Perndorfer is celebrating the 20th year of The Language School, which she founded in Red Bank.CHRIS KELLY Ingeborg Perndorfer is celebrating the 20th year of The Language School, which she founded in Red Bank.

RED BANK — Ordering an intercontinental pizza for a student visiting Paris is all in a day’s work for instructors at The Language School, which is currently celebrating its 20th year on Broad Street in Red Bank.

"We had a student call us from her hotel in Paris. She had her 7-year-old with her and he was agitated and she was exhausted. She didn’t want to try to take a young child to a French restaurant," explained Ingeborg Perndorfer, founder and director of The Language School at 69A Broad St.

"We called a pizzeria in Paris, told them where to deliver the pizza and gave them a credit card number," she said. "We are called on for things you would never imagine."

Arranging a Parisian pizza delivery is just one of the unconventional ways in which the school supports its students.

According to Perndorfer, over the past 20 years the school has taught 3,000 students. She says its role has grown to include much more than teaching foreign languages.

Nowadays, The Language School faculty is helping a child from China learn to speak English and assimilate the culture of her adoptive parents, helping a family moving to Germany prepare to begin life in a new country, helping multicultural families retain their language and heritage and helping an Asian businessman perfect his English diction and adapt to a new culture so that he can advance in his career.

"We will do anything to support our students. I recently helped someone starting an international business speak with customers, write correspondence, translate advertising. I helped him basically set up his business," said Perndorfer, Rumson, who founded the school in 1982.

The Language School currently has between 300-400 students at any given time, according to Perndorfer. Two-thirds are children age 3 and up.

"We have six classrooms that are full from 2-7 p.m.," she said. "By 3:20 p.m., the place is jumping with children learning languages. It is a place of cultural awareness." Trained instructors teach 13 languages ranging from Arabic to Vietnamese. Perndorfer insists on hiring native speakers exclusively.

"Only people who grew up in that country really know the language and the culture — it’s much more than the language," she noted. "We’re not just teaching the language, we’re teaching the culture."

Perndorfer founded TLS-Translation Service, geared to corporate clients, when that aspect of her business grew enough to require its own staff. TLS translates personal documents like driver’s licenses, legal documents, software, advertising copy and employee handbooks. More than 12,000 translations have been completed over the past 20 years. A native of Austria, Perndorfer earned a degree in physical education from the University of Vienna and an advanced degree in German from Rutgers University. She taught at Douglass College, New Brunswick.

Drawing on her experience teaching gymnastics to children and language to adults, Perndorfer developed a language program for young children.

"I love working with small children and I always felt language education in high school is a case of too little, too late," she explained. "I asked myself why American families come from all over the world yet everyone is monolingual. The answer is, it’s not being taught here early enough."

With no research or materials to draw on, Perndorfer began teaching German at Winding Brook Nursery School in Tinton Falls, where she developed a program for preschoolers, ages 3-5.

"I knew how to teach adults, and took all my experience in how to teach children to learn by doing," she explained. "With language that means listening and speaking. I worked with their toys and games. I played with them in German and they loved it," she said.

Perndorfer found that the best time for children to learn a foreign language is before the age of 3, ideally at the same time they are learning their own language.

By 1980, Perndorfer was ready to expand and rented space in churches in Rumson and Red Bank for a German language school for adults and children. Within two years the school had 30 students and she saw the potential to expand.

"I thought, ‘There must be others,’ " she recalled. "People who would want to study French, Italian, etc."

In 1982, Perndorfer rented space on the second floor at 69 Broad St. despite the fact that the town was in a downswing.

"Red Bank was on its knees," she said. "Plus, when I rented this office the building was dilapidated. But I felt it was the ideal place because of the traffic, the students nearby and it was close to the train station." She hired Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese instructors and slowly built the program. Within a year, The Language School had three classrooms with three different languages being taught at the same time — and Perndorfer realized her approach to language instruction was a success.

Lessons at The Language School are always conducted in the language being studied.

"We ask them to think in the language from the start," explained Perndorfer. "I developed a teaching method based on experiencing the language the way a child does from the beginning."

Children and adults are engaged in lively conversation from the first class in private, semi-private and group lessons that are tailored to their individual needs.

Ten years after moving to Broad Street, she bought the building.

"We had a throng of students and I needed more space," she said, "but in the early ’90s, the economy crashed; 35 percent of the storefronts were unoccupied. The building’s owner put the building up for sale, but no bank wanted to lend me the money because it was in bad shape." But Perndorfer felt the timing was right.

"I had seen Red Bank turn around once, and I knew it would again," she explained. "I needed to expand, and I could afford it."

She paid $225,000 for the building in 1992, and put another $200,000 into repairs over time. Perndorfer, who is the immediate past chairwoman of Red Bank RiverCenter, was introduced to the downtown business alliance when she decided to redo the facade of her building in 1994. RiverCenter’s Visual Improvement Committee worked with her, providing a new facade design that transformed the exterior.

"They held my hand and I became part of the community in the process. That whole process was magical to me and it was my chance to do something beautiful in the town," said Perndorfer, who, as chairwoman of RiverCenter, worked to beautify the downtown streetscape.

Perndorfer looks back over 20 years and sees a world that has become smaller.

"More and more people are traveling internationally. Spanish has become the second language in this country. The economic downturn has encouraged people to export and packaging has to be translated," she said. "I hear less and less of the phrase, ‘Those people have to learn English or they’re not Americans.’ "

Language, she said, can be common ground.

"We’re helping people come together, understand each other," Perndorfer said. "We bridge the gap. We hold everybody’s hand and put their hands together."