There’s an array of national flags in the window of Director Richard Brown’s office that catches your eye as you walk into the Bridge English Denver language school.
Those flags testify to the diversity of nationalities present at any one time at the school in Denver, Colorado. According to current enrollment, 27 nationalities from all over the globe were represented at the school.
Whether it’s Brazilian executives spending four weeks in intensive language study to prepare themselves better for business communication with English-speaking clients or Saudi Arabian engineers preparing for college by improving their academic English, the school in Denver is indeed a mini United Nations.
Japanese students can easily mingle with fellow learners from Congo or Venezuelan students can mix with Swiss business executives, congregating around the coffee area in the lobby of the building or talking quietly one on one in empty classrooms between breaks. It really is almost surreal to hear two Japanese students talking English together rather than going for the easy option of discussing the latest current events or sharing gossip in their own tongue.
“I don’t think it’s that difficult to do that,” said Akira Yamazaki, a Japanese student in the General English Program at Bridge. “We are in the US and the purpose is to study English so, even if we talk with other Japanese students, I think it is better to do that in English.”
Akira said he has broken this rule only rarely during his stay in Denver. “We have talked Japanese only a few times, only for relaxing,” he said. “We all think we need to talk English in the US.”
Saudi Arabian students tend not to be as strict in adhering to such rules but Akira’s classmate, Talal Almaliky, is one exception. Originally in Bridge’s Academic English Program (AEP), Talal changed to the General English Program (GEP) because he found more diversity in that. In the GEP, there was less pressure to blend in with his countrymen who tend to dominate the AEP studies.
In his current GEP class, Beaver Creek, Talal studies with Japanese, South American, Central American, Hungarian and Korean students. He likes the fact that such diversity forces everyone to speak the common language of English. And, outside of the school, he tries to fraternize with people of other nationalities even if the bulk of his friends are from his country.
“I made a deal with my Saudi friends only to speak English,” he said. “It doesn’t always work, and sometimes you have to explain things in Arabic, but I do find that I always speak English with friends from other countries.”
Of course, sometimes, different cultures can clash. Akira, for example, said he didn’t know how much Latin Americans tend to talk before he came to Bridge. He was also initially bemused by the fact that many of the Arabic students often failed to turn up to class. But, he learned from that too, questioning whether the Japanese reputation for always being punctual and precise was really always such a positive thing.
“I learned that, for the Saudis, their own time is very important,” he said. “Before I came here, I had no idea about what the Saudi Arabian personality was like. Japanese people are addicted to time – if they miss one class, they will regret it. But it means we are too addicted to time. The Saudis take it more easy and that can be a positive thing.”
Talal has, in turn, also picked up things during his Bridge experience, cultural pointers he didn’t know before coming.
“I just came here to learn English but I have found that I have learned other things,” he said. “I find the Japanese students very quiet and respectful for example.”
Talal also learned a lot from his host family, and not just how to speak English better. They taught him typical US table manners, for example. Speaking English with Americans in everyday situations outside of Bridge, such as in supermarkets, was not easy at first but he slowly got used to it and he now feels quite comfortable interacting even if he still gets complaints from some local people that they cannot understand him.
“I was kind of shy when I tried to speak English and some of them did make me feel a bit stupid at first,” he said. “I stopped talking with my host family for the first month or so because of that but then I started to make jokes and we began to enjoy each other.”
One of the pleasures of teaching at the school is the fact that you are never sure what nationalities you will be teaching day to day. With such a constant turnover of students, new countries can suddenly be represented in class.
Abbas Hosani is currently the only Iranian student at Bridge, although he is likely to be joined at the school soon by a compatriot. He said that what intrigues him is the intersection between cultural and individual types.
He said that he can learn things about human behavior from individual types but also from the cultural types presented by the different nationalities present at the school.
“I love all that because the variety of cultures show that behaviors are not always the same,” he said. “We seem to get new students every month and I like to see how they behave.”
Abbas, who is in the Crested Butte class in the GEP, is very keen that everyone tries to speak English while they are at Bridge. “I think the Brazilians and the Japanese tend to be the best at that and I really appreciate it,” he said.
Saudi Arabian student, Talal, now lives independently but spent the first six months of his life in Denver with a host family. It was during that time, he said, that he felt his English really improving.
“My advice to anyone thinking of coming here is to live with a host family and really talk the language,” he said.
If students can do that, maybe they will all leave Bridge with the enthusiasm and fond memories director Brown aims for each and every one.
“Diversity in our student population has always been a hallmark of Bridge English,” Brown said. “Our General and Business English programs are the most diverse of any language center in the region. With students from Latin America, Europe, East Asia and the Middle East, Bridge is truly a microcosm of the world. No wonder graduates in their good-bye speeches at graduation so often say, “I came here to learn English and I discovered the world.””