Zoom Language Center sits on a gray, industrial block in Ballard that's filled with the sound of muffled machinery and the faint smell of...
Zoom Language Center sits on a gray, industrial block in Ballard that’s filled with the sound of muffled machinery and the faint smell of plastic.
But step inside Zoom and the world becomes a blur of vibrant colors and little kids so cute they’ll have you at “Hola!”
Which is how you’re likely to be greeted by Angelica Camargo, the energetic 28-year-old owner and director of the center, which offers Spanish-immersion classes for kids as young as 1. Most of the students come from homes where English is the primary language. But anyone is welcome, regardless of their home language.
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Camargo takes the immersion part seriously.
“We don’t speak English to the kids,” she said. “From the time they walk in until the time that they leave, it’s only Spanish.”
That strategy was among several Camargo developed during the five months she spent on research before launching Zoom in 2006. She turned to her mother, an educational psychologist, and to the Internet to formulate a curriculum based on how children learn a second language.
The Web also proved helpful for Camargo when it came to devising a business plan.
“I never, ever thought of myself as a business owner,” says Camargo, who studied law in her native Mexico City before pursuing a sociology degree at Seattle University.
“But these days,” she says, “All you need to know to start a business is online.”
After college, Camargo discovered she liked working with children during stints as a nanny, a tutor and an elementary-school Spanish teacher. She said parents urged her to open a place like Zoom.
Camargo took up the challenge. A family she worked with previously helped her find the site, her contractor husband worked on the interior, a friend designed a colorful Web site, while another friend subleased space from Zoom.
With that support and a lot of her own sweat equity, Camargo started Zoom at age 26 without a loan.
“I invested a lot more hours than money,” she says.
Her efforts have paid off. Zoom has grown from 10 students during its first summer camp in 2006 to more than 200 this fall, mostly by word-of-mouth. The teaching staff now includes two full-time and three part-time instructors, in addition to Camargo.
Zoom is not just a neighborhood school. Some parents drive from Mukilteo and Mercer Island.
The growth, she said, is hindered only by a shortage of qualified language instructors, a challenge Camargo said she shares with other language schools in the area.
It’s an obstacle that might hamper her dreams for Zoom — opening other locations so parents won’t have to drive so far, and ultimately, turning Zoom into a private elementary school so her students won’t lose the skills they’ve worked so hard to acquire.
“I’m always reinventing, wanting to give people more,” Camargo says.
“The preschool part started (this fall) because parents said, ‘You need to start a preschool.’ It wasn’t in the business plan and it’s much more commitment from us and way more work, but those classes are so rewarding. You can cry to see these kids learning and talking to each other in Spanish.”
Zoom also has a lounge area where parents can hang out, socialize or work, courtesy of wireless Internet access.
One such parent, Stephanie Pizarro, takes advantage of the lounge, knitting while her 4-year-old son, Hugo, attends Zoom’s “roja” (red) class.
Although they speak primarily English at home, Hugo’s father is a native Spanish speaker and Pizarro says she would like Hugo to be bilingual to be able to better communicate with her husband’s family.
“I think Spanish is so prevalent and it’s easier to start now rather than to try to start it later,” Pizarro said. “It comes more naturally.”
Other benefits to learning Spanish at such an early age, according to Camargo: Children who grow up multilingual often have linguistic, cognitive and psychological advantages over kids who speak only one language; multilingualism allows kids to learn about and coexist with other cultures; and down the road, multilingualism is a résumé booster.
All these possibilities may be ahead for Hugo’s classmates, who are wrapping up a session full of music, art and games. Hugo’s mother adds another benefit to the list.
“He has a great time,” she says, and soon after Hugo bounds out of class and into her arms for a hug, all smiles.