Caroline Gear, ILI Massachusetts, US

Published 31/05/2023

Caroline Gear started her career at the International Language Institute of Massachusetts hot off the heels from a spell in Spain. Finding it in the yellow pages, she fell in love with its mission – not just language learning, intercultural awareness and understanding.

In a relatively cozy corner of Massachusetts, which houses prestigious universities like Harvard, MIT, Northeastern University and Boston College, ILI – as Gear affectionately refers to it – lauds itself as a mini powerhouse of both English and world language learning.

While an intensive English program is at the core of the language school’s roster, it also teaches Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and even Russian.

“Right now, we have 113 students from 30 different countries,” Gear tells The PIE.

But Gear’s ILI career also comes with an interesting add-on. The school’s been around 38 years, and Gear’s been there 36 – but not long ago, she began to turn the tables for the school and herself – by branching out into an agency.

“I’ve gotten to know plenty of other schools and I’m thinking, ‘I’m meeting all these agents and they’re sending students or clients to all these schools’, and I thought, why couldn’t we do the same thing?

“We started, little by little, working with some of the schools,” she says. And as we speak, Gear gestures to the halls at the IALC conference in Dublin. “Now we’re here for the first time as agents as well as a school.”

She tells of the students who study in the foreign language classes at ILI – who are most certainly interested in an experience further afield than Massachusetts.

“One of our students has gone to three different schools, another has gone back to the same school three times, so we’re excited. We’re really beginning to love our partnership with these other schools.

“I think that people that love languages know that they’re lifelong learners, and that you’re not going to just learn it immediately.”

“Right now, we have 113 students from 30 different countries”

Her own love of languages stems from a life spent as a lifelong learner herself. Gear studied French for four years, yet claims she doesn’t speak it. However, her trip to Peru, where she learned Spanish, was much more successful, she recalls.

“I got to understand how language should be learned through context. I was in Piura, and the first week I was there was the Fiesta de Independencia. I took a phrasebook and a dictionary and because I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. But one thing I learned very quickly is that it didn’t help me because if you’re trying to look things up word by word to explain something, you lose your audience very quickly.

“So I learned to just immerse myself and learn through context,” she said.

That said, she still advocates heavily for actual language courses, but maintains that immersion is the most ideal scenario.

Gear applied the idea of context to the bulk of her classes, encouraging them to speak more than anything else, dropping her students into the deep end, and it works a charm.

While Gear still teaches, she is also a heavy hitter as a sector advocate. While the US was waist-deep in a global pandemic, she took over as EnglishUSA’s president.

“We did a lot of work via Zoom, but the people on the board of English USA are incredibly committed.

“People that love languages know that they’re lifelong learners”

“It was an amazing professional development experience honestly, and you know that English USA is made up of both private proprietary schools as well as university based.

“It brings a richness of different ways of looking at how programs are run,” she posits.

While she’s no longer president as of 2022, she is still an active member – and is encouraged by a project that is in the works with BONARD to procure data on intensive English language courses – something that hasn’t been tracked specifically before.

“We’re excited about it because we’re finally going to get some data that we can see and can use,” Gear says. While technically also an agent herself, she also advocates for using them in the language sector.

“We’re a hidden gem – we’re not in that list of main destinations, where we are in Northampton,” she says. “So we also need agents out there, just to tell folks!”

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