Burlington businesses are arming themselves with another language.
Vermont has always depended on its Canadian tourists. But now as the Canadian dollar trades on par with the U.S. dollar, Vermont is stepping up its game to keep our northern neighbors heading south. Part of that outreach is learning the language.
The Alliance Francaise of the Lake Champlain Region, the Church Street Marketplace and 20 local businesses are hosting french lessons paid for by local realtor and philanthropist Ernie Pomerleau. His company is the largest property owner on the Marketplace.
About twenty employees from various Burlington businesses gathered at The Body Shop after hours to practice. The weekly hour and a half class is designed to teach the conversational skills needed to interact with French speaking customers.
"It is not easy at all," said class participant Kim Kanios, "But our customers are just so excited that we're even trying that they will help us through it if we stumble."
Elena Carter is the language outreach coordinator with the Fletcher Free Library. Although she speaks four foreign languages -- French -- wasn't one of them. She says adding another language to her repertoire will help her to reach out to even more people.
"That is why I'm so grateful that now I can speak a little bit and I hope that I'm going to improve it. And for sure it will help me do my job better."
The growing strength of the Canadian dollar has many French speaking tourists coming to Burlington to shop, dine and vacation which is why the participants say a class like this is critical.
"It totally has opened lines of communication that we may never have had with those customers," said Kanios.
The 10 week crash course is all about practicality. Instructor Kim Chase focuses less on "French 101" and more on targeted customer service based vocabulary.
"I took a very minimal amount in high school way back when. I remember about two phrases of it neither of which are really useful," said class participant Jonathan Wheeler.
But Wheeler says what is useful, working in downtown Burlington, is being able to give directions. And because the class is tailored to what the employees need to know -- directions were Thursday's lesson.
In just two and a half months, with role playing and repetition, previously non-French speakers are on their way to breaking language barriers and boosting business in Burlington.
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