The ShareLingo Project is a Social Enterprise that connects English and Spanish learners to share language and culture.
The ShareLingo Project was developed by James Archer, a serial entrepreneur, and the son of an Air Force officer. James grew up on many military bases around the world, where he developed a deep-seated passion for foreign languages and cultures. But instead of following this passion, he was guided into following a more traditional business path throughout his career and worked in many different fields, including Engineering, Arts, and Software Development.
In 2008, he sold his software business and dabbled in other interests, including inventing a new kitchen gadget. More importantly, he began to think more about returning to his passion for other languages, and began to learn more Spanish. After having tried several language programs, both traditional and boutique, he became frustrated with the choices and their lack of focus on simple communication.
In 2011, James became a certified ESL teacher and taught at Centro San Juan Diego in Denver. While there, he experienced firsthand how two cultures can share, laugh, trust, and come to understand each other. Later that year, he took a six-week “language immersion” trip to Costa Rica to be involved with the culture and improve his Spanish.
While there, he attended four different Spanish language schools and found that in every case, there was far too much emphasis on grammar and far too little on practical and basic communication needs. While gaining great insight into the Costa Rican culture, the language learning left much to be desired. It became even clearer that the market potential was truly enormous for a new, simpler, more effective model that could overcome traditional barriers to learning and could be translated to virtually any language in any part of the world. Barriers such as location, cost, lack of technology, content, and personal doubt keep too many people from even attempting to learn another language.
In 2012, James was serving as President of The Foundation at Rolling Hills, an organization that raises funds for various non-profits within the community. During that year, James also began the process of forming ShareLingo as a non-profit corporation in its own right. And then he stumbled upon two critical items. First, he bumped into Blake Mycoskie’s “Start Something That Matters,” the story of Tom’s Shoes. The second one was the TED presentation by Dan Pallota: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” These two items present a different possibility for helping people and it’s something that has the potential to grow faster and do better.
At that point, James decided to start a new “Social Business” (now more accurately referred to as a Social Enterprise (see Muhammad Yunus, or The Social Enterprise Alliance).
A business that has at its very core a primary objective of achieving social impact, rather than profit for owners and shareholders. A business that pays taxes, not dividends (yes, we think taxes are OK—they pay for roads, and schools, and all manner of good things.) It’s like a non-profit—without all the constraints—so ultimately it can help lots more people.
In 2013, James began to attend lots of networking events around Denver to gain support for the concept, and ran pilot classes with the support of The Jeffco Action Center (a local outreach organization that assists families in need). The classes proved to be incredibly successful. Regardless of age, “class”, or occupation, the English- and Spanish-speakers bonded immediately. They brought food for each other, and laughed, and talked, and helped each other. At that point, James was more committed than ever to making the dream into a reality.
In March, 2014, ShareLingo ran its first “official” classes for a group of individuals that paid for the classes themselves. Both the Spanish learners and the English learners could see the benefits of conversational practice. The group bonded extremely well, and the class included not only conversation practice, but also hands-on activities such as cooking, karaoke, and salsa dancing. (You have to picture Anglos and Latinos cooking together, describing how to follow a recipe, in a mixture of English and Spanish – “Cuchara is spoon, and cucharita is teaspoon?”)
In August, 2014, ShareLingo ran its first “business” class for FirstBank, which brought bank staff together with Latinos from the community. Our sincere thanks to FirstBank for recognizing the community building potential that ShareLingo offers, and stepping up to make it a reality. They are a wonderful organization that truly gives back to the community.
Although currently focused on English and Spanish, other languages will be added as the organization develops. This basic concept of bringing together English and Spanish speakers with a facilitator is highly effective and easily applied to any two languages.