Episode 74 – Freestyle Languages: Opportunity and Joy

Episode 74 Freestyle Languages Elizabeth Mack (guest)
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 74 - Freestyle Languages: Opportunity and Joy

“Language in the United States can and should no longer be an accessory to anything, to any sort of learning, for individuals, for our public school system, for organizations, and even in terms of our national agenda. We are handicapped by our monolingualism; we are way behind in terms of competitiveness and our own growth. People aren’t seen as other when we understand their language and culture. So for all those reasons, it can’t be an accessory”

This episode with Elizabeth Mack is about opening doors.

Language opens doors. Every single It’s About Language podcast has either been a story of an individual who discovered their identity through language or helped others to do so. Every single one.

Language people celebrate the treasure found by the one or the many. Every single It’s About Language podcast has had one or more energized individuals whose life energy has come from the opening of their eyes and minds to the amazing variety inside of humanity and a powerful realization that they belong to the world.

Language affirms not only our identity but our role in life. Language tells us, inside and out, that we are worthy and we belong.

While these statements are true even if a person speaks only one language, if the person speaks only one language these truths can get damaged or buried in the trials and traumas of life. With only one language, there is but one path, one viewpoint, one basic community; if anything blocks that path or challenges that vision or belonging, darkness can descend. When words disappear, so does hope.

When we language people speak of learning a new language and becoming aware of a new culture we most often do in terms of how much joy such learning will bring, how much intrinsic fun it is to learn and speak and even live in a multiplicity of languages.

We also speak of opportunities gained through language knowledge, of equity provided to those who have been marginalized or excluded. We speak of our culture’s and country’s weakening through lack of language knowledge and connections.

All of these points are profoundly true and profoundly needed in a challenging world.

I add here, though, the additional emotional layer of resilience of the individual who, challenged by their circumstances in ways that may otherwise narrow their lives and crush their spirits, can find another path, another vision, another community to step into that can affirm their identity, help them belong, give them through another language the words to speak of their worth and value to the world.

Language gives these gifts, this power.

Whatever your field of influence, share that power with the world, please.

If you do not yet know at least two languages, go take a course and join like-minded learners such as you hear about in this podcast. If you know at least two, share with others who do not, be it in your family, through teaching, through volunteer work, through your place of employment or your school…even through starting a company much as this week’s guest Elizabeth Mack did when she just had to get the word out about how language changes lives.

Our global time is short: we need to be calm and confident in ourselves, we need to work together and not fear each other, and we need to be able to cooperate to open pathways to a peaceful and prosperous world.

Every one of those outcomes depends on language. Multiple languages.

Let’s get started.

Enjoy the podcast.

Scroll down for full transcript.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

Click here to start a conversation.


0:00:01.3 Norah Jones: It’s so much fun to welcome exciting people, insightful, passionate folks, and I’ll tell you what, pulls it all together here with my guest, Elizabeth Mack. Hi, Elizabeth, how are you today?

0:00:17.5 Elizabeth Mack: Norah Jones, I am great because I’m here with you today, a fellow enthusiast for language and the power of language. Thank you so much.

0:00:26.9 Norah Jones: Oh, you’re most welcome. And I think that the word you probably wanted to say was “nutcase.” [laughter] And I have to say that I enjoy thoroughly absolutely everything that you post, anywhere you post it. I want to make sure that my listeners know that all your biography information, all the information about Freestyle Languages, which we’re going to talk about here during the podcast, all the resources and opportunities that you want to share can be found on my website which can link you right to Freestyle Languages, or you can cheat and go right past and go to Freestyle Languages and get up with Elizabeth there. But please, go to my website first. And Elizabeth, I do want to say that, although I’ll mention it again in different parts of this podcast, appreciate your sponsorship of this podcast. Without that kind of sponsorship, it just is impossible for me to have this podcast at all, so thank you.

0:01:20.8 Elizabeth Mack: Well, thank you. It’s such a joy. It’s so important to have people like you spreading the messages and the power of language around the world, so our complete joy. Thank you.

0:01:30.9 Norah Jones: Well, and speaking of that message of the power of language, your LinkedIn biography, for example, talks about you’re an Incurable Francophile, and entrepreneur, and you are the founder and the CEO and the leader par excellence, Elizabeth Mack of Freestyle Languages. Talk to our listeners here about your background some, and how you got engaged with the language enterprise, please.

0:02:02.2 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. You’ll have to stop me though at some point, [chuckle] the incurable part keeps me going. I had the remarkable opportunity when I was in college to study abroad in the south of France, and it all started immediately and so impactfully and powerfully there that it changed my trajectory forever. I thought what would have happened if I hadn’t learned this language? I would have never connected to Bernadette, my host mother and my family with whom I’m still connected, I wouldn’t understand their culture the same, I wouldn’t view the world the same, I want that opportunity for as many people. Simultaneously, I also experienced what is a fairly hilarious story for another time, a really big disconnect with what I thought my language learning had been until that point. My four years of high school in Texas and two and a half years of college, I thought my good grades meant I could actually speak. And when I hear this story from a lot of other people, I was a little over-confident, “Oh yeah, I speak French, I’m so excited, I told my host family.” And when we landed there, it’s like this was yesterday, and it was 30 some-odd years ago. My host mother Bernadette, I figured out that what she had said to me is, “I thought you spoke French.”

0:03:19.6 Norah Jones: Oh my.

0:03:20.6 Elizabeth Mack: I couldn’t not only get the sentence together to respond, and she still laughs about the look on my face, but I started wondering if we had actually landed in Italy because it sounded that foreign to me. We’re in the south of France, right? So, [laughter] while I had the most remarkable six months of my life pretty much following that, that changed everything, I had this realization that slowly over time helped me to realize that I hadn’t been set up as powerfully as I think we could set learners up, to get the culture and get the language and get the understanding, but it’s all about the power of it. And then I learned about Nelson Mandela and what he did through language to basically… Our mission is his really… It’s best summarized by one of his quotes, “Speak to a man in a language he understands and it goes to his head, speak to him in his own language and it goes to his heart.” And that’s where the power lies to me, that connection. Well, no, and I don’t need to tell, I’m sure a lot of your listeners, or of you certainly, but the fact that he learned Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor in his 27 years in prison, which then enabled him to end apartheid because he learned their culture, he learned how to relate to them, and by the way, he was well-known to enjoy a glass of wine while doing that.


0:04:40.9 Norah Jones: One does not keep the other one from being able to happen. Good news for many of us. Yes, indeed.

0:04:45.1 Elizabeth Mack: Exactly. Yeah, it’s hard for me to stop about the power of language, it wasn’t just my experience, it’s the trajectory of learning as I go, as I’m continuing to learn. I think I’ve told you about the Texas Anti-Poverty Project I’m involved with, and the power of language and what you’re doing in language and the people I meet at these conferences, the multiplicity of that, and the ability to reach more people and the people who get it. I just want to surround myself more and more with the people who get it. But then amplify that voice, like you’re doing so magnificently with this podcast.

0:05:21.6 Norah Jones: Well, thank you.

0:05:22.5 Elizabeth Mack: That was the start of it, but yeah, it’s been an interesting 10 years.

0:05:26.0 Norah Jones: Well, and let’s riff a little bit on that. Let’s go to the part where you recognize that moment where you recognized, “Uh-oh, I don’t… ” And then you had to recuperate and re-enter, and what were some of the things that, clearly, you did not just enter and have a good time there, but you have let that marinate on your soul? Talk a little bit more about what sort of things you discovered about your own experience and how you have extrapolated into what you do.

0:06:00.4 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. I love that. I’m always stealing your phrases, by the way. “Marinating on my soul” is now a new phrase for me. [laughter] It was really living the language, and living in day-to-day, an enjoyment of it, it was the pure joy. Even though it was… I don’t want to make it seem otherwise for people, it’s not without its challenges. There were real moments, I’m pretty sure I had migraine every day for the first couple of weeks. And I would plan out, “Okay, what am I going to say to this? What if they say something else?” And that’s very real, it can be scary for people to be immersed in it. But when you’re surrounded by the right people and you have the right motivations, and you’re living the joy, it comes naturally through experiences, whether it was in the art museums and some of the academic experiences. I was in school at the time in Aix-en-Provence in a great program. Although, much to my father’s dismay, I didn’t take any classes that were relevant to my undergraduate business classes at the University of Texas. I took things like painting and art history.


0:07:13.4 Norah Jones: You were in France, for goodness sakes.

0:07:14.6 Elizabeth Mack: I was more French. Right. So I lived the language and it did put me behind in school but it was not the wrong thing, and really just learned how invaluable it is to take those experiences and learn from the context. The painting we did was in French, everything that we did was surrounded by French. And little by little, you repeat the sentences, you put it together, help you, and over a period of months and friendships, it becomes glued, so extrapolating that. Then flash-forward, I don’t know how many decades, when I was teaching, I had that adjunct lecturer, professor position at the Texas State University, and loved it for quite a number of years, but slowly I was realizing “My gosh, there’s none of how I learned my French,” and then later my Dutch, that’s part of my heritage. And I had the good fortune to live in Holland for three years, and while you don’t need to learn their language, that was another thing that really informed the power and the joy of it.

0:08:16.8 Elizabeth Mack: I thought, “But why wouldn’t I want to communicate with the local people in their language? This is so much more fun, and I want to answer the phone and I want to do these little things.” And they were so kind to tolerate me in that journey, I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait, I got to figure this out.” That, flash forward, those years at the university, I thought, “Oh, wait a minute, I’m caught up again in the same system, and I see these learners stressed and these endless charts and conjugations and exams.” And I started to sneak in the authentic materials and the experiences that I knew that they needed, and started slowly to get in trouble for it, I was a little bit of a disruptor. [laughter]

0:08:54.6 Norah Jones: Interesting.

0:08:55.4 Elizabeth Mack: Yeah. I just knew there was a point I had to jump and use those, as you say those things, I extrapolated in building our own model.

0:09:04.2 Norah Jones: Now, there are so many aspects to what you have done, and the podcast is an opportunity for us to get a flavor of that and to evoke interest and action on behalf of the listeners in their own personal situations. But for just a moment, I want to take a look at, you went to a culture, you mentioned the immersion, the relationships within it, the migraines. And you then took a look at, here is this system into which you were placed and paid, it wasn’t doing what you knew it could feel like, yet it’s not being in the country. So you have taken some of the aspects of it, and organized it in a way that helps people to experience those relationships and immersion, help to share how it is then that one can transfer that joy and that experience.

0:10:09.3 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. Really, I think it all goes back to the language learning science, and our friend Stephen Krashen, who did this research long ago. And it wasn’t until later that I realized that. I thought, “Wait a minute, this is how I experienced it, and there’s language learning science behind it, but nobody’s really using that, so why not? What if we take those elements and interject it, and you can do that without having to be in that country?” And thanks to… I know this is a crazy idea for a lot of our community members and listeners, but we really, really, really want the world to understand how riching, how enriching and rich it can be for online learning, because you can use immersive experiences to learn. We, for example, in let’s say our Saturday cafe for our B2C model, for our individual learners, adults who want to learn, whether it’s for their career benefits or brain benefits or travel benefits, whatever that is, they join as individuals.

0:11:13.7 Elizabeth Mack: And so that part of our model, and we carried into other parts of our model as well, we can use those immersive experiences more easily than we can in in-person classrooms that feels so one-dimensional right now. And so online we’ll do tours of the great art museums in that language. It’s almost like having artificial intelligence, but we’re more connected while doing it, and we’re putting things, fun things in the chat, and we’re using technology, and the ed tech tools are just getting richer all of the time. And so that’s just one of the many reasons we’ve decided not to go back in-person because that feels so one-dimensional. When we can stay online and immerse ourself in a market in Spain, well, yeah, we’re going to do that. And so we can get those things, the authentic materials, the experiences, and the connectedness and community. We’ve got an intern right now, for example, in Paris, she’s having a blast, we connect with her all the time and our learners, it’s like a digital equivalent of a pen pal, really. You can do it. Yeah.

0:12:17.7 Norah Jones: See, and one of the things I absolutely love is we, spontaneously, and I lead you there, ’tis true, but we spontaneously start with the enthusiasm, with the rationale for making such experiences available. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to let folks get a feeling for the excitement that you bring, let’s set the stage a little bit. What is Freestyle Languages, this Elizabeth Mack vision? And give folks an idea about what overall now, what is it, what can they experience with it, what is it doing? So that there’s a foundational understanding of your company.

0:13:02.0 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. Well, and I’ll start, I think the most important thing to say about it is that it’s a proven language learning model, and that’s really important for us because again, to share this passion with the world, it can’t be done if it’s not working for people. And I was so frustrated with people putting in so much effort, you know, with the university and other places. Not that there aren’t other great models out there, but I wanted to be my own for other [laughter] stubborn and whatnot reasons. So it’s a proven language learning model, and what that is, is based on the pure science and the pure joy of effective is fun, and that is language learning science. We’ve created our entire model around those pieces of language learning that needs to be relevant, and it has to matter to people, what are we talking about in their daily lives? Every class session that matters, what are they doing this weekend? Why are they learning for their trip? Do they want to learn for this other reason?

0:13:58.9 Elizabeth Mack: So it’s got to be relevant, it has to be frequent, it has to be created through authentic materials. And so we don’t just infuse. We don’t use textbooks. We created our own entire curriculum, through film, music and multimedia. We don’t just infuse our lessons with it, it comes from those things. So you’re experiencing the way a language is spoken, the rhythm, the lyricism, the culture, and using the things that people talk about in that target language. So Freestyle, yeah, it’s a proven model, but it’s based on those things that are in language learning science, but ironically, that’s all about fun and community, and there’s science behind that, so why not do it?

0:14:44.9 Norah Jones: Interesting. Who takes what kinds of courses, or what types of things are people experiencing, and who are those people that are experiencing?

0:14:56.0 Elizabeth Mack: Oh my gosh. It’s an interesting mixture, really. And I have to say it, it’s a beast for anybody in marketing, [chuckle] because our lifelong learners are everybody from... Now we have late high school, for kids working on tutoring and that sort of thing, we’re available to the world now, but most of them are adult lifelong learners eager for the connection, the brain benefits, their career boost. But it’s a little bit different for everybody. A lot of people just join for a little while because they want to enhance their experience traveling. Now, most often what happens, and again, this is in our B2C model or individuals, most often what happens is they get a little taste of that, it does improve their travel and then they come back and they want more. “Wait a minute, what if I really could connect and have deeper and richer conversations? So yes, I can order for a menu now, I can navigate the streets and the metro and whatever, but what if I could have richer conversations?” And so we’ve got learners still who have been with us six, eight and all 10 years, they won’t leave, and they’re learning a second and third language. [chuckle] So they’re experiencing what… It’s really reflected back on that, whatever joy, a mission they put into it, they get out of it. And it’s all mindset, it really is.

0:16:18.1 Norah Jones: I cannot help but reflect on the fact that it is an experience, a repeat experience in your company’s work that people begin with worthy, but if I may put it this way, badly perhaps, superficial desires, “I’d like to take a trip,” “I’d like to be able to find the bathroom,” “I’d like to be able to go on the metro.” And they come back in order to be able to do the Nelson Mandela heart. Am I speaking accurately about what they’re experiencing from your…

0:16:56.8 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. I wish that were more of the majority. A lot of people have different motivations and that’s okay, but those who do pick up the bug because it’s definitely contagious, [chuckle] a little bit. They spread that back to everybody else, and they want to share their experience and they want to be around like-minded learners who also want to experience this, and it gets richer and richer and richer. And we’ve had learners who, yeah, come in just knowing a little bit and thinking, “Gosh, let’s do this for myself, and maybe it’s something I can put on my resume,” which by the way, it is, right, bilingual people make more money. And not to mention, multilingual people. And so whether that’s, you and I would consider maybe superficial or not, it’s real and it’s so so powerful. And some of these learners are then becoming so advanced over time that they’re actually leading advanced discussions over what’s… Again, we have the advanced class, for example, through the news and media. We’re using what’s powerful out there in the world right now, videos, and you know what it’s like to try to understand TV shows in other language, right? [laughter]

0:18:08.0 Norah Jones: Yes.

0:18:08.9 Elizabeth Mack: But they go out, they learn what’s interesting to them, they figure it out, they bring it, they present it to their peers, they have these lively discussions, and it just keeps spreading from there, and they’re teaching each other things. And this idea that the best learning is done through teaching is what we evolve into in our most advanced classes. And so really, our instructors become guides, and that’s what learners can experience is, learning that’s crowdsourced, really, and that we share, and the instructor is there to just guide and that’s where our skilled instructors come in.

0:18:45.0 Norah Jones: That’s phenomenal. For the record, I want to be sure that it is noted that I would never consider the ability to get a job, improving a job and bring multilingualism into a job to be superficial. [chuckle]

0:18:58.4 Elizabeth Mack: Oh. No, no.

0:19:00.7 Norah Jones: Just for the recognition.

0:19:01.0 Elizabeth Mack: Right.

0:19:02.0 Norah Jones: No, no, I know. The thing is, I thought it was great because it is important, and it is a very important part of everything that you and I talk about all the time in language, there is that identity and heart piece, and there is that application, which is also part of identity of course, in one’s practical life, and both are true. So, thank you for making sure that that was part of what you explained beautifully. And speaking of explaining beautifully, who are your instructors? And what is the model? I believe we’ve talked about in our conversations, flipped classroom, wherever you want to take this, the instructors and the ways that they come about things. Explain that a little bit because that elucidates a lot about how language learning in the Elizabeth Mack mode comes around.


0:19:58.7 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely, I’d love to talk about that more. Thank you. It really is so much about our instructors. I’m tempted to say 100%, but because so much of it is also about our credible, the rest of our team that brings so much effort, and of course, the learner mindset. It’s not about our instructors, it’s about the learner mindset. And so many people, that’s a whole another element, show up thinking, because of some false advertising out there, that there’s some magic secret and they’ll be speaking in three months, they come in with false expectations, or different types of expectations, it’s really hard to change. Either way, whatever the mindset is that learners have, our instructors really, really become second language acquisition experts, and they might not come in that way, but if they have a passion. So our bar really for hiring for our team starts with a passion for what they do. And so nobody needs to be an expert in a flipped classroom model, but they have to love what they do, because that is the critical element that keeps other people in it and that spreads that joy that we’re talking about being infectious. And of course, the will to learn and want to understand how our model is proven and how do they do this?

0:21:10.1 Elizabeth Mack: So yeah, we start with that component and curating our culture really is based on that. And then thanks to Dr. Clem Ozel and the instructors, they do biweekly and monthly pedagogy workshops non-stop. And a lot of that, as you mentioned, involves the flipped classroom model, because now that we’ve decided to stay online, that really, as data shows, is the only way to do it online. And so what I would like listeners to know and people to know more in the world is that, if people and learners are experiencing online learning that is one-dimensional, it’s because so many people and models will send a link and say, “Hey, let’s meet up and practice conversation,” but that’s a meet-up. Unless it’s guided and by pedagogical experts, nerdy word that we get into the idea of learning how to teach of that subject, that pedagogy, the chances of it being successful are so much more slim. So we make sure that all of our instructors are not only experts in it, but that we stay up on the cutting edge. And had we not started learning about the flipped classroom model two or three years before the pandemic, we wouldn’t be where we were today.

0:22:22.1 Norah Jones: Interesting.

0:22:22.7 Elizabeth Mack: And it was just by sheer, I don’t know what, [chuckle] craziness and coincidence and opportunity that this all happened. But we knew. We’re based in the middle of Texas, so we knew we wanted to reach more people because our mission is to connect to people, and there’s only so many people in the middle of Texas. [laughter] Most people won’t be surprised to hear that, that want to learn a language, so we knew we wanted to reach out to the world. So we started working on our flipped classroom model, and it took a year and a half to get one class right. And again, because we don’t want to sacrifice those outcomes. And if a learner isn’t speaking in conversational by the end of so many classes, then we’re not doing it right. What that takes is so much more for the organization. So what we have to put in to our flipped classroom model, so that it’s easier and more fun for our learners, is worth it. But our team rose to that occasion, they still rise to the occasion. And that flipped classroom, that whole idea, turns basically, as the name implies, traditional instruction on its head.

0:23:26.3 Elizabeth Mack: Instead of sitting in a classroom where an instructor gets a little lecture-y, “Here’s this and here’s how this works,” and explains charts and puts up grammar things and, “There’s your lesson, any questions? Bye, I’m going for now.” It’s the opposite where learners are provided, and in our case, videos, dynamic videos, might I add, of course I’m also very biased. H5P, for example, this new technology that allows for engaging videos, to engage with the videos, in real-time is so cool. These videos gets sent to all of our learners about that week’s main concept and they’re guided into understanding what it is. They’re not lectured to, they figure it out themselves, because again, language learning science shows us that if your brain, an adult brain figures it out yourself, you’re going to retain it. So we guide learners into understanding, only providing the rules and the charts and that sort of thing at the end to reinforce what they’ve already figured out, and then it sticks, right?

0:24:26.2 Norah Jones: Yes.

0:24:27.3 Elizabeth Mack: Then the rest of the flip. So that’s how it starts, happens in the virtual face-to-face classroom, where, after engaging with this preface and video and materials beforehand, they come to our virtual face-to-face group classes, whether it’s for individuals or our corporate clients, it works the same, where then they get to spend that whole time practicing and engaging and using it. And you know how many hours, according to ACTFL, it takes for using the language. So it puts this priority on time and engagement, which data has shown to be the two main issues with language learning. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of engagement. Well, the flipped classroom model puts priority on both of those things and allows for that. And then of course, what learners can do on our online platform between classes, and fun things, whether it’s crossword puzzles and all this. Yeah. There’s just so much technology for practice and to learn. So the flipped classroom… I’m sorry, stop me, because it’s so rich that we don’t want to go back in-person. Yeah.

0:25:31.3 Norah Jones: This is such a tool that you make it so personal because you are immersing people. This is brilliant. Thank you so much for that. And there’s just so many things I would continue to ask you questions about.

0:25:43.4 Elizabeth Mack: Yes, yes, yes. Please.

0:25:45.9 Norah Jones: But here’s one that I would like you to go to. You mentioned there, corporate clients. So let’s talk about what the purposes are for corporate clients to engage, what are some of their objectives with regard to language, and/or the complete language, plus cultural experience that you’re working with?

0:26:08.7 Elizabeth Mack: Absolutely. And this is just getting more impressive and powerful all the time, it’s really blown me away. There’s such an incredible return on investment for organizations and corporations to invest in language, you know, the data was already out there, Harvard Business Review, all these. Everybody knows what, at least who’s paying attention to science, why there’s a return on investment for organizations. But the fact that many are coming to us is really a great, great honor, and so it’s allowing us to specialize in these industries, particularly where there’s the largest language gap, which is in the construction industry, and that ACTFL has actually identified it. The ACTFL research, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, they identified the industries with the largest gaps, I think it was a 2019 research. And the construction industry is widely known as the industry with the largest gaps, and those language gaps present enormous risks for them and issues, in terms of retention for their teams, safety for their teams, certainly in the construction industry. And then in the last two years, it’s also become a lot more about DEI initiatives, and rightly so. So I’m so impressed and honored to see these national and large international corporations investing in language so that they can create empathy on their teams, and they’re doing it.

0:27:40.1 Elizabeth Mack: DPR Construction, I’ve got to shout-out to them because they have teams in all four time zones in the United States, connecting through Spanish and English. And their craft, as they’re called, who are out there, those hot days building those buildings, tune in to our English classes. Specifically, English for Spanish speakers is one of our niches in the construction industry. And they tune in because for them, they understand it’s a path to wage equity and an opportunity and a life skill, and the company understands that to be able to retain their teams, is to invest in their people and increase communication and increase safety. Yeah, the word is out, and it’s really cool. Particularly in the construction industry. We’re starting a pilot with Turner Construction this fall, and they say it, they’re like, “We need to create equity, how do we do that?” And so in our work with them over the past few months to create the ideal pilot for them, like, “Yes, this is how you do it, there’s nothing more… ” Well, maybe there’s something more equitable, but I think you and I will agree that language can… Literally, speaking another person’s language creates equity and empathy.

0:28:52.6 Norah Jones: It does indeed. And I’m going to go ahead and ask this because there’s so much emphasis in society on everybody learning English, and here, in this, this, this, you’re beautifully saying about the equity and the expanse of possibilities and opportunities. It sounds like what’s happening with the programs is not a, “We must now all speak English,” but rather, “Let us add this language to your toolkit.” Am I speaking correctly about that though?

0:29:30.8 Elizabeth Mack: Yes. And it is something that you, by the way, have talked about so beautifully, my favorite podcast of… Well, there are many, but one that really stuck in mind is the one that speaks to this idea of language is additive, and that’s exactly what’s happening. DPR Construction, their supervisors and managers and teams are learning Spanish, or the English speakers are learning Spanish, so that they can better communicate with those that are actually doing the building. And that’s not the only language certainly, but they see it as a real priority and they are showing up in numbers, and it is so cool. And they’re seeing that it’s fun also. ‘Cause it wouldn’t be working if it weren’t fun. [chuckle] Whether it’s a corporate client or not, we make them fun. And then we use the customized language that they need, so that going back to that relevant piece, so three days a week. Let’s say DPR Construction and Turner Construction will function the same, is that, on this third day they’ll take what they’re working and playing with for the week in terms of their language pieces, to adding on, “Okay, now let’s use that with construction, and not just plain vocabulary, but how do we communicate this idea and some project-based learning?

0:30:42.9 Elizabeth Mack: For example, we can use online building tools in Spanish to create these hypothetical models and we’re just having a blast with it.” But it’s also, yes, it’s not about teaching Spanish-speakers English, but it is companies investing in their teams learning other languages to become more powerful and more competitive in the world. And man, I just love that, I really see those as the more, we’ll call it woke companies, setting the standards high for the world. They’re more competitive that way, and they get the retention. Their teams are loyal. In fact, I have to give you the small detail, tell me if I’m going on too long, [chuckle] but we had one of the DPR Construction English learners show up after a long day of work building the buildings, and let’s be clear, it’s 101 in the afternoons in Austin, showed up for one of our meetings that we were having last week as a part of the Texas Anti-Poverty Project that I’m involved in. He showed up to, basically, bear witness and talk to this community about how his company is investing in language, and that now he is doubly, two times more grateful and loyal to his company because of that, and he’s spreading the word.

0:32:07.2 Norah Jones: Wow.

0:32:08.1 Elizabeth Mack: And actually, now that I think of it, I think I’ve forgotten to share that back with DPR. [laughter] But, here we go. I’ll share this with them. Yeah. So their loyalty pays off alone.

0:32:19.1 Norah Jones: And we’d have to go: to a hammer, everything is a nail. Language, which is, again, part of both the identity and the opportunity is bringing about this excitement such that he would bring this to this program, and let’s do a shout-out about that indeed to the world because there are so many companies that need to be hearing this message. There’s an appropriate but cold, sometimes, statistics about language learning and helps with the business line. But look at the loyalty, look at the passion, as well as the skillset and the profitability, profitability that comes from saving money, [chuckle] by not having to keep re-training people, and the kind that brings in more money. This is a powerful message for businesses and organizations.

0:33:15.3 Elizabeth Mack: It really is, isn’t it? And yes, his name is Adrian Barrios, and I keep thinking him in that moment because… Well, and the other angle is that we won’t miss an opportunity for language learning. He delivered his message in English, and we know how hard that is to deliver a message in your target language to a group of those who speak the language, and he did beautifully, and I was very, very touched that he thanked Freestyle for that in his learning opportunity. And yes, shouting that out to the world, but he wanted that be known because by the way, in the room were a lot of representatives from Tesla and the Gigafactory in Southeast Austin. And while there’s a lot to be commended with a company who is creating electric vehicles, our TAPP organization, the Texas Anti-Poverty Project, is trying to create an alliance in a community surrounding this idea that supports the community, many of whom are living in poverty because the Gigafactory is settled in a 80% Hispanic area.

0:34:16.2 Norah Jones: Interesting.

0:34:17.4 Elizabeth Mack: And then they layered on this English speaking requirement.

0:34:20.9 Norah Jones: Oh my.

0:34:22.2 Elizabeth Mack: Now, and why that set off my alarm bells is because they didn’t just say English speaking, I’m working hard to help communicate this idea to them and with them, and with some of the other stakeholders in their organization, is that they’re saying it’s also written and spoken command of the language.

0:34:41.5 Norah Jones: Oh my.

0:34:41.6 Elizabeth Mack: And you and I know how much that takes. That’s not going to happen by saying, “Hey, good luck and come back to us in a year when you’ve got written and spoken command of English.” No. Trying to empower an organization such as Tesla, which has the resources to do this, and I think it sounds like they are investing in some employees and then sending them off to training and other things. I’m very, very hopeful that they will listen to these messages and employ some of the people in that region who are so so excited about the Gigafactory landing there. And of course, there are many other concerns right there, environmental justice, don’t even get me started, that’s a major issue. Living wage, and employment, and affordable housing, and all of those issues we worked on with the Texas Anti-Poverty Project. But this language piece is critical to that path to wage equity and to employment, because they won’t get those jobs if they’re not speaking English. So basically, we’re holding up a flag and saying, “Hey, who will join us in this mission to help these people learn this language to get jobs?”

0:35:49.2 Norah Jones: And I come back to the experience that you have had with DPR, where the management set aside its, well, monolingual-seeming approach, and themselves engage with learning that which can create the community of work, so that the need for equity and the opportunities is more directly realized. You can repair whatever it is I have said that…

0:36:21.1 Elizabeth Mack: No, that’s exactly right. There’s a video I’ll have to share with you and re-share for our listeners, where DPR says themselves, they gave a great testimony, say, “We have no problem telling everybody that we are on a mission to become bilingual.” So it’s not just, “Hey, aren’t these fun classes?” A lot of companies now, whether it’s Google or Facebook or whatever, say, “Hey, we’ve got yoga, and we’ve got chefs and we’re doing these things to keep our employees at work longer and happier now,” but they really mean it. This bilingualism is, yeah, it’s just so powerful.

0:36:57.5 Norah Jones: That’s the feeding that they’re doing for the people, it’s a whole different kind of…

0:37:01.4 Elizabeth Mack: Exactly. Yep. Different nourishment, isn’t that perfect?

0:37:04.7 Norah Jones: Yeah, it’s definitely different nourishment. So, taking a look then at where you have come from that, “Uh-oh, did I land in Italy?” opener [laughter] The establishment of, and if we dare say, based on the fact that it was a pandemic, serendipitous recognition of the power of remote and digital interaction, where now is the future, where are we headed? What’s Freestyle’s breakthroughs coming? What do you recommend to, what do you encourage others to do based on what you are doing and what you see in the future?

0:37:49.7 Elizabeth Mack: Oh my gosh, the future is so so bright. I’m also stubbornly optimistic, though. [laughter] I suppose it’s good and bad, everybody who knows me knows me to be stubborn, but at least it comes with some optimism. We definitely want to keep leaning into this organizational language at work, arm of our business, and yes, it’s a B2B model, is definitely where it’s at on a global scale, but different industries are so interesting to us. Right now, we’ve got language also for the legal profession, in North Texas, for example, the federal public defenders and… What is it? Oh, let’s see, a couple of cities, Fort Worth, Dallas, Lubbock, Amarillo, of North Texas, and we’re hoping their Central and West Texas College will join them. But the reasons that they need it or what we love getting into, yes, we customize their content and we stay true to our model, in terms of it being fun, and being authentic, but they need to successfully handle their cases and clients to connect with their clients, most of whom are Spanish-speaking. We’ve got Spanish in the legal world now, we’ve dabbled some in healthcare industry, where it certainly sees the need.

0:39:03.4 Elizabeth Mack: And then education, and of course, education is the sector that we’re in, and I’ve always loved schools, and I’d say… I think back to where… I think I shared this story with you already where, in elementary school I moved around a lot, and I had a hard time making friends, partly because in a new place I would ask them to come home to play after school, and they said, “Well, what are we going to play?” I’m like, “Well, obviously, we’re going to play school.” Right?


0:39:33.4 Norah Jones: “Yep, I’m headed back home. Thanks a lot.” [chuckle]

0:39:34.5 Elizabeth Mack: What? “Well, is there anything else?” “Why would you want to do something else?” So yeah, I actually didn’t have that front of mind growing up, but you look back at what you did, and what you loved, and where you felt joy and where you felt supported, that for me is education. And this arm of teacher training that we have, again, thanks to Dr. Clem Ozel, we do it not only for our own internal teams to keep them up on pedagogy, but now we’ve been approached by school districts and regions to lead teacher training programs. And they’re saying, “Well, gosh, a lot of people need that flipped classroom model now,” in pandemic or not, it’s applicable to also in-person things. And while we’re not feeling really the burning desire to go back in-person, partly because now our really awesome cool team is spread all over the place. But there are other reasons. We just love this online model. So this idea that districts are coming to us for pedagogic or language instructors is incredibly empowering, and we welcome those partnerships and we want to get further into it.

0:40:39.7 Elizabeth Mack: And currently we’re on a pretty steep learning curve about what that is, but I think I shared with you… In fact, we share this colleague, friend in common, a shout-out to Dr. Amy Anderton of the Dallas Independent School District, who is assisting us and advising us about a pilot program to be started for Spanish for educators, and she knows districts all over the country who need this, so we’re working on it. That should launch in September. When we see this need, and those are the sectors we’re seeing it, and it’s where we feel compelled. It’s also a, yes, there’s a lot of bottomline issues for any bootstrap small company with a big mission, but it’s about what it is they’re trying to do that inspires us. And Clem Ozel right now is so excited about the Spanish for educators, she… [laughter] I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’ve done what already?” And so when we get excited about what we do, empowers everything. And then our English for Spanish speakers, we want to take that more to Latin America, we’re working on that. So yeah, we’re taking one year at a time trying to do the whole five-year vision thing, but man, five years can throw… [chuckle]

0:41:53.8 Norah Jones: Yeah. That’s interesting. And you can imagine, with much of my background being with younger learners and so forth, see the school systems reaching out for various ways and to see how these principles can be applied and shared in ways that can help others that land in Southern France, maybe have an opportunity to actually understand the French…

0:42:21.7 Elizabeth Mack: Right. A little better.

0:42:23.0 Norah Jones: A little bit better. If that’s part of what seems to be unfolding, that’s exciting as well.

0:42:29.2 Elizabeth Mack: It gives me a lot of hope. Yeah, isn’t that exciting? And so, you and I both could name a few school districts and regions who really don’t put the emphasis on it, but for those who do, and for those who get it and love it, like Dr. Anderton, and tell us, they’ve grown their language program from six languages to 11 and are going places with it. Yeah.

0:42:48.4 Norah Jones: Well, it reminds me of your corporate clients, is there are corporations that do put out a hand to stop process. With this experience that, say DPR is having, they’ve come to recognize that they are going to fall behind and that’s an appropriate way, whether it comes initially from the heart, or whether it comes from recognition of some of the realities of competitiveness, it hardly matters, language is in the center anyway. I just can’t help but say it that way.

0:43:26.5 Elizabeth Mack: Yeah. It is. It is.

0:43:28.0 Norah Jones: Now, I have the last… We could talk for hours.

0:43:32.6 Elizabeth Mack: I know, Norah.

0:43:34.0 Norah Jones: I love this, but people will finish walking their dogs.

0:43:36.8 Elizabeth Mack: I know. [laughter]

0:43:37.2 Norah Jones: And they have to go feed them and get on with the rest of their lives.

0:43:38.7 Elizabeth Mack: Wrap it up, ladies.


0:43:41.6 Norah Jones: But before we do go, what is it that you would like to make sure you say to the listeners before we finish today? What’s on your heart and mind that you want to either emphasize or say because you hadn’t yet had a chance to say it?

0:44:00.9 Elizabeth Mack: I would have to say it’s this idea, again, I’m a little bit incurable and not just as a Francophile, but now this idea of the power of language is that, language really in the United States can and should no longer be an accessory to anything, to any sort of learning, for individuals, for our public school system, for organizations, and even in terms of our national agenda. We are handicapped by our monolingualism, this idea that we could spread the power of it and somehow affect, even if it’s one company and one individual and one school system, can affect that direction. I don’t know if we can change the national agenda overnight, but look, 1%, perhaps I need to update myself on the data, but last we checked, just 1% of Americans speak another language, it is that they would have learned at school, this isn’t for those who by their background and heritage speak a different language. But for those that we would have learned in school, it’s only 1% of us. Most of the world, most of the world, majority of the world speaks several languages. We are way behind in terms of competitiveness and our own growth and seeing the world… Back to your… My favorite point. Language is additive. It doesn’t have to be fear. People aren’t seen as other when we understand their language and culture. So for all those reasons, it can’t be this accessory, like, “Oh, let’s add this program,” we just need to lean into it. But thank you for what you do to enable that.

0:45:42.8 Norah Jones: Yeah. Thank you. And elective no longer would be a great rallying cry for all of us who understand the power of language. And Elizabeth Mack, this has always been, when we have a chance to talk, a great, great pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, your passion, and these pathways. Again, I’m going to continue to invite folks to check out Freestyle Languages, to take a look at my website, see more about you, more about your wonderful team that you have honored, and to watch your progress and to ask to be engaged with what you do because it is transformational, and I thank you for that.

0:46:23.2 Elizabeth Mack: Wow. Thank you so much, Norah. As a small female-owned business, I appreciate that, and I appreciate you and what you’re doing in the world. Thank you for this.

0:46:31.3 Norah Jones: Thank you. Take care.

0:46:32.0 Elizabeth Mack: All right.

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