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Meet Jackie Amaya-Garcia of Cultural Bytes in Glendale and Hacienda Heights

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jackie Amaya-Garcia.

Jackie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I had been brought up in New York in a predominately international home and always had access to people from foreign lands speak into my life talking to me about the wonders of the world in languages I never felt uncomfortable in.

I lived in Europe and in South America and it always felt natural to reach out to people in their native language, they would naturally open up about their cultures mysteries more easily.

However, learning about different cultures and language was not so much fun in school or college despite having majored in Modern Languages in France and have a Masters in International Relations. So I set off to make a difference and started as a college professor, and a teacher in private schools and academies. I always insisted on making an impact on my students so more than coming to learn the language they were getting the culture behind it.

Fast forward, I had my kids and needed to get back to work and started little by little as a small classroom teacher again and then Regional Director of Gift of Language until I had the chance to create my own program.

Cultural Bytes was born as an Interactive Program for kids ages 4-12 where we teach Spanish, French and Mandarin with native speakers engaging each little one using fun and games through the total immersion approach.

This all means we believe that authentic speakers are better at transmitting their culture and therefore their language. It brings a little of spice into the class and builds long-lasting bridges of communication.

Kids need to be challenged and nothing better than fast-paced games to provide the competitiveness kids need to master a skill. And, kids learn from their peers sometimes faster than from their teachers, too!

Total immersion can be totally fun because that’s exactly how we all learned our own native language. We’d only listen to it and try to respond until it made enough sense to get what we wanted to communicate.

We’ve been offering our program for the past 7 years through specific classes such as 3-hour Saturdays, all-day summer and winter camps, 90-minute private tutoring and enrichments at different schools. We also teach Spanish embedded within the curriculum at different private schools in the city.

We’re so committed to teaching as authentic as possible that we create our own materials for kids to win or use in class. Colorful albums on topics such as instruments and flags, paper dolls from different Spanish speaking countries, etc.

We also believe it’s important to “go by the book” so we’ve reached out to the publisher’s equivalent of “Dick and Jane” but in Spanish, Susaeta Ediciones “Nacho: Libro Inicial de Lectura” and we’re the sole representatives for them in the US and Canada. We’ve been recognized by the Center of Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C. and we appear on the California Bilingual Education (goCABE) website as the go-to book when teaching kids how to read in Spanish.

We love everything we do! We’ve brought talented people as Dan Garza, recognized puppeteer from the Jim Henson family to teach kids how to create and bring a puppet to life all in Spanish throughout the summer.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It’s been hard to convince people about the importance of learning another language because people and sometimes parents bringing up their kids believe learning a language is not as transparent as learning let’s say Math. Parents tend to believe that focusing learning Math is more relevant for their child than learning another language.

However, like Nelson Mandela brilliantly said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” You can get more out of someone with honey than with vinegar.

I believe leaning a language is like learning like skill. If you attempt this you can attempt anything and fearless. Mostly people and kids fear to make mistakes but in order to learn you have to make mistakes and we make sure it’s safe and fun to do so in class.

Cultural Bytes – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I’m the Program Director and I’m in charge of speaking to parents and introducing our program throughout the city. Our teachers bring out the best of what we ahem to offer in each of one our classes. And we’re known for being REALLY total immersion so kids (and parents) may feel it hard and we tell them it’s not going be easy and we motivate them to take the challenge with us. We believe that even the worst of teachers in school will be delighted to have our students because they won’t be drawn away from the language but will be more critical students thanks to our classes.

I’m particularly proud of the trust people have in our program and we can deliver. One student who wanted to learn Spanish because a new neighbor had just moved in and only spike Spanish. she wanted to play with her. This girl was 5! Another parent spoke to us about a trip their family was taking over the summer and they wanted their kids to learn enough Spanish to be able to handle the whole trip. Lastly, another parent was moving to East coast and need an accelerated program for her student who had never taken Spanish before and be better place into Spanish 2.

Another amazing aspect I’m so proud of the Latino family who feels so guilty they didn’t teach their kid Spanish younger and reach out to us apologetically and how we boost them up by saying you’re already on the right path by recognizing that you have more than most parents would to teach their child to speak and just need a lull boost to get them back on track and in love of the language and culture again

Lastly, we’re also very proud of all the parents recommending us by word of mouth and, who’ve given us raving reviews on Yelp. Our last classes for each program are such a success that parents quickly sign up again for the next one. Leaning a language is liking piano, if you don’t practice it you get rusty!

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I wouldn’t say we’ve succeeded, I’d say we’ve offered the tools so kids and parents can build bridges reaching out to other parents, kids and the community by large so understand each other better.

Our favorite markers are when the parents share with us the kids are now counting or singing songs in the target language or when their grandparents can finally feel the love their kids have rekindled with their culture. Other kids get easily accepted into dual immersion schools in the area or feel confident when traveling abroad.

We’ve also been able to read to kids in Spanish at 3 different Barnes & Noble stores in Studio City 2nd Saturday, 11:00am, Burbank, 3rd Saturday 11;00am and Valencia 3rd Saturday 1:00pm on Saturdays.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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