Who We Are at Bend Language Institute

Christina Cappy, PhD | 5-minute read

“Who typically takes your language classes at Bend Language Institute?”

This is a question that I hear time and time again. Sometimes the person asking the question dives into more detail. “Why are they learning a language? Is it because they are about to travel somewhere, or do they want to learn a language for work? Are they older adults or kids?”

People are curious and sometimes baffled by the concept of a language institute in Bend, Oregon. They didn’t think that one existed, let alone that one could thrive and offer ten different languages. So, let’s explore these questions about who is learning languages with us in Central Oregon.

This article will provide an overview into our student body, how many people take our classes, which languages they learn, and why they are learning these languages. It will also serve a platform to jump off into our upcoming Who We Are series over the next few months. Through the Who We Are series, each week we will make a post to highlight one of BLI’s language learners. We will let them speak of their own experiences – why they are learning a language, what their goals are in learning the language, challenges they have faced in language learning, how they plan to use the language, and their advice for folks thinking of diving into the world of language learning.

Language Learner Enrollment Statistics

From July 2022 through June 2023, we had 379 different students attend classes, workshops, and private lessons through Bend Language Institute. Of these students, 53% were enrolled in our classes and 47% were learning through private lessons or small group private lessons. The most commonly learned languages were Spanish, Italian, French, Japanese and Mandarin. And over half of our students registered for a class or private lessons for at least a second term in a row. See the graphs the better illustrate this!

Motivations for Learning Languages

“Why are people in Central Oregon learning these languages with Bend Language Institute? And who are these people?”

The answers to these questions are a bit more complicated because each language has a slightly different demographic of people looking to learn it. Additionally, our youngest students are in elementary school and our oldest were born in the 1930s (do the math!), so we have seen people take languages for a wide range of reasons. But here are some general trends we have noticed over the past couple of years.

Learning a Language for Work

Many of our students are learning a new language as part of their professional development for their jobs. This particularly applies to our Spanish, English, and American Sign Language students, as well as others. Often individuals will learn a language to better communicate with clients and patients in the fields of health care, hospitality, education, and construction/manufacturing. What’s more, employers frequently will help support their employees’ language education to help them succeed in their professions. These students come from a wide range of backgrounds and ages and are often in their 20s to 60s.

Learning a Language for Travel

Another large group of students that we see are those preparing for upcoming travel. Some of these students may be young professionals, and others may be on the verge of retirement and looking forward to their upcoming adventures. People learning for travel are often studying Italian, French, and Spanish, but occasionally the other languages too. They are working to shed themselves of the “monolingual American” stereotype and show respect to the cultures that they will be visiting by speaking some of the local language. Sometimes people will take a Travel Essentials short course with us to prepare, but more often they have fun with language learning and continue for several months or longer.

Learning a Language to Connect with Family and Friends

This group of students – those learning a language to connect with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents – come in all ages and learn all kinds of languages. Often they have grown up in the United States to parents who speak another language, but unfortunately were not able to maintain their language learning once they started school. So now they are looking to (re)connect! The most commonly learned languages for to connect with family and friends are Mandarin, American Sign Language, Italian, French, and Spanish. People learning languages to connect with family and friends come from a wide range of ages from elementary school to being in their 80s.

Learning a Language Because It’s Really Fun!

This is one of my favorite categories of students – the group that just wants to learn and have fun! They know that language learning is good for their brains and just get really excited to learn a new worldview through another language. Some of our most enthusiastic language learners are courageous high schoolers who jump into our adult classes, or even middle schoolers who have successfully harassed their parents enough to convince them to let them take a class. Others are adults from a range of ages who are looking to join a fun community of language learners and get together outside of class to practice the language together.

What Are Your Reasons for Learning a Language?

Long story short, people learn different languages for all kinds of reasons, and they enjoy doing it. And we would love to hear what motivates you to learn a language!

Over the next several weeks, we will highlight a different language student to provide a fuller illustration to answer this question. If you are one of our students and would like to share your story – we would love to help you do this. Just send us an email at bendlanguageinstitute@gmail.com and we’ll get started.  And for everyone else, stay tuned to learn of some beautiful stories from language learners in Central Oregon. We want to celebrate and support our community every step of the way.