Rachel Meyer and Elizabeth Lunney Zackheim started ABC Languages to right the wrongs of their own paths to becoming certifiable language geeks. Although both are now polyglots, it might surprise you to learn that the story of how ABC Languages came to be was through a series of disappointing experiences in both the language classroom and industry.
Both Rachel and Elizabeth, born 3 days apart, started out as average American students taking language classes with dreams of becoming fluent. Rachel, the more diligent student, chose Chinese and Elizabeth, a middling language student at best, opted for French. Random choices based on what was available. Despite the drudgery of traditional language classes, both chose to spend their junior year of college abroad determined to see this through.
After Elizabeth’s year in France and Rachel’s year in Taiwan, both emerged with a life-changing experience: fluency in the language and a clarity that this was a passion. Rachel, who, despite the blood, sweat and tears she put into her studies, could barely speak when she arrived. She emerged with near native fluency. Elizabeth, went from being one of the worst students in her group to one of the best because, as it turns out, she was an auditory learner with a talent for languages that went undiscovered for 10 years in the traditional classroom. This led to other experiences abroad. Rachel lived in Barcelona and was pleasantly surprised to find learning Spanish significantly easier than Chinese, especially over tapas and Rioja. Elizabeth studied in Italy and lived in Germany continuing to fulfill her now insatiable desire to learn languages and discover new cultures.
Fast forward to the mid-90s when both Rachel and Elizabeth moved to New York City, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to put their passion to work. As it turned out, the options were surprisingly limited. Both ended up working at the same multinational language institution hoping to be able to start sharing their discovery that learning a language is not only possible but can be a wonderful and fulfilling journey. In short order, both found the flip-chart sales, false promises of immediate fluency, and the cookie-cutter one-method-fits-all approach, the complete opposite of what they had set out to do.
Still not having met, both Rachel and Elizabeth had the same idea at virtually the same time: to strike out on their own and to create a language school where teachers could bring the best of themselves and students, no matter what their learning goals and capacities, could create their own journey. The result is that both were able to create two of the few independent language schools to effectively compete with the big brand names that dominated the industry at the time.
In 2002, Rachel and Elizabeth were finally introduced through a mutual friend. Over dinner and 1 or 2 bottles of wine (they were young, it was the early aughts), it was immediately obvious that their philosophies were in alignment, and within a year the two schools were merged.
Since then the school has continued to grow serving thousands of students every year. Rachel moved to the west coast in 2006 to start a branch in San Francisco and has since opened a satellite branch in Menlo Park. Elizabeth stayed in New York and opened a satellite office in the Westchester/Fairfield county area. Over this time their enthusiasm to share their love of languages has not diminished. On the contrary! The core values that inspired Rachel and Elizabeth still hold true today.