While living in Italy in her early 20s, Erin Janklow developed fluency in Italian. The experience of learning a language as an adult was part of the inspiration to start Entrada ESL, a D.C. startup that works with service industry employers to help workers learn to speak conversational English as they work.
In developing the TalkBack Method, as Entrada’s offering is known, Janklow reflected on what helped her learn the language. Working with a linguist, she set out to address the barriers to learning a language. Grammar and vocabulary are important elements, but the platform focuses on teaching pronunciation and conversation, which Janklow calls the “building blocks to further assimilation into the community.”
There are other unique aspects that go beyond learning the words, as well. Activities help build muscles to speak a new language (including through song). Since language learners often avoid making mistakes, there are also elements intended to make errors part of the learning process, and build confidence. Janklow said it also emphasizes developing skills that teach the language learners to create practice opportunities.
Some of those chances can come in the workplace, and that’s where another differentiator of the startup’s model comes in. Instead of requiring sitting in front of a screen, the 100-day program is designed specifically to be completed with an audio player while doing repetitive tasks at work. Hotel work is an early area of particular interest.
The program is broken into three segments that take up 30 minutes a day. Entrada ESL works directly with employers to offer the program.
“Involving the employer creates opportunities within the work ecosystem to further both English skills and company culture,” Janklow said. “The workplace provides a supportive group of peer learners and practice partners that empowers learners in their learning process.”
For Janklow, 2017 has been a year of growth as the startup looked to move forward following initial development. Janklow called it a “year of firsts” for the company. For one, the startup is working with an Embassy Suites hotel outside of Chicago as an initial customer. Janklow said 100 percent of participants are still engaged with the program.
The startup also made its first appearance at conferences including the World Bank Youth Group Summit. There was also a first tradeshow appearance, and Janklow spoke at the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit.
— Entrada ESL (@EntradaESL) December 4, 2017
D.C. has also played a role in the company’s growth. Janklow initially found support from the startup community at 1776. When looking at larger businesses for potential partnerships, she pointed out that large hotels including Marriott, Hilton and Choice Hotels are headquartered in the area.
Heading into 2018, Janklow is moving into the incubator at Georgetown-based Halcyon House after being accepted as a member of its spring 2018 cohort, where she’ll look to continue as part of the District’s community of social innovators.
Of D.C., she said, “There’s been so many doors that have been opened, and it’s been a very supportive place to grow a business.”
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