Language school opens downtown

Posted: September 10, 2013

The Winchester Star

Tammy Bjelland

WINCHESTER — Tammy Bjelland hopes to translate her passion for languages into a successful livelihood.

Classes started this week at Shenandoah Valley Language Services LLC, 139 N. Loudoun St., No. 9. Bjelland had been operating the business from her home — meeting students at coffee shops and other locations — for a short while.

A mixture of turquoise-and-white chairs and orange leather chairs encircle a coffee table. On one wall is a painted map, and a printed map is on another. Large windows facing the Loudoun Street Mall let in plenty of sunlight.

Currently, Bjelland, 31, offers Spanish and English conversation classes, but she plans to offer Portuguese and Italian soon.

She also plans to have someone teaching French and German, and is on the lookout for Arabic and Mandarin Chinese teachers.

“The goal is to have lots of language classes, and have this be a language and culture center,” Bjelland said. “So if anyone is interested in learning anything about a particular culture, we could host an event or form a class that could cater to those needs.”

Born to American parents in Holland, Bjelland lived in Indonesia before moving to New York at age 5, and later Fairfax.

“We traveled a lot when I was growing up, so I always saw travel as something that was fun and just a normal part of life, and I can never get enough of it,” she said.

As an undergrad studying Spanish at the University of Virginia, Bjelland studied abroad in Valencia, Spain.

She then got a master’s degree in Spanish literature at U.Va., and went on to study for her doctorate.

“During the Ph.D. years, I lived in Spain for another four years,” Bjelland said. “I actually didn’t finish the Ph.D. I quit last year because I realized I wanted to open a language school instead of continuing in academia.

“[Academia] was never my passion. I love teaching, and I love interacting with people, and my Ph.D. studies were in Spanish literature.”

Before opening up her language school, Bjelland worked as an adjunct and visiting professor of Spanish at Shenandoah University.

“I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I know that I love it,” she said. “I just also know that I wanted more control over the content that I taught, and I wanted smaller classes, and I wanted to work with people who were self-motivated and who had concrete goals that they knew they wanted to achieve.”

Students can take group classes or one-or-one classes. Bjelland also offers drop-in conversation classes at lunch time, as well as tutoring and classes geared to specific professions.

The majority of her clients are adults, “people who either have always wanted to learn another language, or who have realized for professional purposes that learning another language is very beneficial and improves overall efficiency in their work and communication overall.”

Children’s classes start next month.

“Studies have shown that kids who learn another language or are bilingual, they concentrate better and they perform better on tests,” Bjelland said. “And, also, kids are more adaptive to change, so if they’re in an immersive program, they’re not as nervous or scared about trying out the new language.”

While there is language-learning software available, Shenandoah Valley Language Services can provide the interaction those programs cannot, Bjelland said.

“It’s important to have that interaction and to have that feedback,” she said. “Some [people] might prefer working from home ... but the people that I see, they enjoy communicating with people. Because that’s really what language is all about.”

Bjelland thinks the region was lacking a language school and hopes to fill that void.

Offering classes on a month-to-month basis is easier for many clients to commit to, she said.

Bjelland is excited to have her business in the heart of the city.

“I love Winchester,” she said. “That’s why I stuck around even when I knew I was gong to leave Shenandoah. I just love this space, and you can experience the ambiance of the walking mall.”

Prices for the classes vary, but according to Shenandoah Valley Language Services’ website, shenvalleylang.com, four-session classes generally cost $75, while a four-hour business seminar is $150.

Language clients can get their parking validated by Bjelland. For more information, and to take part in a language interest survey, visit the website.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com