Global Language Network: Changing the World, One Person at a Time

by Kiana Duncan

Ranked the #1 language school in DC since 2015, the Global Language Network (GLN) specializes in what other language schools struggle with. This 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization tackles students’ obstacles for language learning, while simultaneously addressing a big goal: using language to fix the world.  

GLN’s Founder Andrew Brown was inspired in his small Colorado hometown by his mother’s constant reminders that he make the world a better place.

“I realized that I couldn’t fix the world’s problems if I didn’t first explore the world and understand the problems,” Brown reflects.

From there, he spent summer and winter vacations taking jobs abroad. Through this, he realized, that he didn’t have the resources to fix the world’s problemsHoweverhe realized what he did have was a passion for cultures and languages 

“I then realized that the one commonality of every problem and its solution is the need for communication. Without communication, no problem can be solved properly,” Brown says. 

In 2005, Brown founded the Global Language Network with the goal of helping people connect with others who are different than themselves. Through language, Brown says, we can communicate with each other better to promote a happier and more harmonious existence.  

Global Language Network is an extremely unique program that tackles our built-in excuses for why we can’t learn a languageAlthough quarantine has provided the perfect opportunity for many of us to hunker down and study, life can get in the way. Affordability, availability, difficulty, and even feasibility of finding the language you’d like to study can all be factors in why more people don’t take that step.  

Brown has found ways of tackling these issues. 

“Our classes are once per week for two hours; everyone has time for that. Our teachers are all volunteerswhom we train, and we find students are greatly motivated and inspired to learn from people investing so much time and energy, as a volunteer, for the opportunity to share their language and culture,” he says.  

The other obstacle, of course, is cost. Due to GLN’s unique structure, they’re able to offer students a highly subsidized price of $200 a semester, with half a refundable deposit if students have near-perfect attendanceHow do they do this? Through incredible teachers, of course.  

GLN continues making itself one of the most unique language programs by its teachers, who hold a variety of jobs: lawyers, consultants, translators, diplomats, students, and more. They usually hear about the nonprofit through friends and word of mouth, and nearly all are native speakers of the language they teach. GLN offers training to help those 150 to 200 teachers excited about sharing their language and culture with others to make them great educators. All are volunteers, and along with the joy of giving back to their community, can take a course of their choice for free by participating.  

One teacher, Silvia, found us in 2013 as a welcomed break from her stressful engineering studies at GW that her family back in China were pressuring her with,” Brown shares. “She fell in love with teaching Chinese and has taught with us since then, which inspired her to switch tracks and eventually get a PhD for teaching Chinese, which helped her land a great full-time position teaching Chinese with a reputable institution.” 

This model, while helping teachers enhance their professional skills, also ensures that GLN can offer languages that might be difficult to find or expensive otherwise. From Albanian and Burmese to Farsi and Yoruba, GLN offers more than 60 languages total, and 30 languages in 200 courses a year. Of course, along with the popular French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin classes.  

“We truly believe that all languages and all cultures matter. Each language has a unique value and opens doors to experiences and opportunities entirely different from the next language,” Brown says.  Having a wide diversity of languages not only provides an abundance of options, but it means that we have hundreds of students who might not learn languages at all if they did not have their language choice available at GLN.” 

In total, GLN teaches 2,000 students, so there’s something for everyone. Students are normally professionals, ages 22 to 59, but adults of all ages are welcome. While students are normally attracted by the unique structure of immersion in these classes and tend to take more commonly spoken languages, they opt for GLN over DC-institutions that specialize in their preferred language because of how Brown’s team approaches languages with equal importance, rather than focusing solely on “profitable” languages.  

Due to COVID-19, GLN has taken their classes online, which allows the nonprofit to grow their community of learners and teachers worldwide.  

“We are living in challenging times, and some people believe the answer is to force others to change and to adopt our way of thinking. The reality is that the only person we can ever change is ourselves,” Brown says. He says by growing through language, our change in perspective is what can truly change the world, starting with ourselves, our families, our communities, and finally, our nation.  

At GLN, we do not just teach a language. We are building ourselves as individuals, inside and outside of the classroom, with the intention and conviction that if we can just change the way we think about those who look, think, or behave differently from us, and we can embrace that every human being has equal value and deserves equal rights.” 

For more on this visit https://thegln.org/uncategorized/ending-racism/ 

Read the interview below!

The Global Language Network® (GLN) is a DC-based 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization with a mission to “use language as a tool to help fix our world.” All of us surely want to help fix our world but many of us lack the necessary tools. GLN provides those tools. GLN develops learning communities that break down cultural barriers and bridge the gap between a diversity of people. We offer affordable language classes in more than 60 languages by engaging and training  volunteer native speakers who teach their language and share their culture with the community. 

I wear many hats at GLN. My official roles since I founded GLN in 2005 have been: Founder, Executive Director, and President. I work with our amazing team of full-time staff, Leadership Fellows and interns, teachers and volunteers, and together we stay quite busy offering over 200 language courses  per year, in approximately 30 languages, for over 2,000 students, all while making sure that everything we do is deeply-connected to our mission and vision. I lead our specialized teacher training for our 150-200 teachers per year and, outside the many obligations of our day-to-day operations, I coordinate the meetings, votes, and actions of our Board of Directors, in addition to doing all the work necessary to make sure our 501(c)(3) keeps up with all local, state, and federal regulations, submits all government filings on-time, and continues our commitment to best-practices and the high standard of integrity that we have maintained since our founding. 

I grew up in a small town in Colorado. When I was 13 years old, my typical Jewish mother told me, “Andrew you have to change the world and make it a better place.” At that age I wasn’t sure how to make a big impact so I picked up litter and helped people when possible. At 19, as I started at George Washington University, my mother reminded me, “Andrew, you’re 19 now, what are you going to do to make the world a better place?” I realized that I couldn’t fix the world’s problems if I didn’t first explore the world and understand the problems. I spent summer and winter vacations working jobs abroad and realized quickly that I did not have the tools to fix the world’s problems. I did not have billions of dollars to help people like Bill Gates wants to, nor did I have medical or scientific knowledge to create vaccines or cures. All I had was a love for languages and cultures–and connecting with people very different from me. I then realized that the one commonality of every problem and its solution is the need for communication. Without communication, no problem can be solved properly. In 2005, I founded The Global Language Network with a mission to “use language as a tool to help fix our world” and the belief that if we all make efforts to understand each other and communicate better we will have a more harmonious, peaceful, and happy existence together. The issue is that many of us do not take the necessary time to learn another language. We often make excuses to avoid learning foreign languages: it’s too expensive, I don’t have time, I don’t like the teacher, it’s not fun, my language isn’t available, it’s too difficult, or it’s too expensive. I created GLN to help relieve these issues. Our classes are once per week for two hours; everyone has time for that. Our teachers are all volunteers (whom we train) and we find students are greatly motivated and inspired to learn from people investing so much time and energy, as a volunteer, for the opportunity to share their language and culture. Since our teachers are volunteers it allows us to offer classes at an affordable, highly-subsidized rate. We train our teachers with a unique approach that draws over 2,000 enthusiastic students per year and we very proudly offer any language that people are interested in learning. 

Our teachers are not teachers–at least not before they come to us. They are engineers, graduate students, lawyers, diplomats, consultants, and much more. They usually find us by word of mouth and, while many of them have no prior experience teaching, they are almost all native speakers of the language they wish to teach. We provide them the teacher training and help them prepare their classes. Many new teachers come to us based on a recommendation from a friend. Some are looking to enhance their professional skills, some are looking to gain teaching skills, and all of them are looking for ways to give back by sharing their language and culture, just a couple of hours per week. One teacher, Silvia, found us in 2013 as a welcomed break from her stressful engineering studies at GW that her family back in China were pressuring her with. She fell in love with teaching Chinese and has taught with us since then, which inspired her to switch tracks and eventually get a PhD for teaching Chinese, which helped her land a great full-time position teaching Chinese with a reputable institution. 

GLN has been rated the #1 best language classes in DC by Yelp, year after year, since 2015. We are humbled by this recognition and believe that the biggest appeal of GLN to our students is our mission to “use language as a tool to help fix our world.” It resonates with our network and it makes the entire experience more meaningful and fulfilling. Our students love learning from our teachers, who volunteer their time out of enthusiasm and love for their language and culture and our shared mission. What surprises us is the fact that Yelp also ranks us #1 or #2 best classes in nearly every individual language we teach: German, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and many more. We asked: why wouldn’t students prefer to take classes at internationally-recognized institutions based in DC which specifically specialize in those languages? Our students’ answers were fascinating. Granted, most of them indicate that it’s our unique approach of making immersion learning fun that draws the crowds, many students have said that, while they personally do not anticipate taking any of our many niche languages, such as Yoruba, Quechua, Armenian, Albanian, or Burmese, they love being part of a network that sees equal value in all languages, cultures, and people and works hard to promote each language and culture equally–not just the “profitable” language classes. On a practical level, our students are typically professionals, ages 22 to 59 (but we welcome adults of any age!) and they appreciate that our classes meet once per week for two hours–which everyone has time for. Also, our classes are about as affordable as it gets: just $200 for a full semester of classes and students who have nearly perfect attendance are eligible for our $100 Participation Stipend at the end of the semester as well. 

We truly believe that all languages and all cultures matter. Each language has a unique value and opens doors to experiences and opportunities entirely different from the next language. We also believe that language is not a “one size fits all.” People connect with different languages for different reasons. Having a wide diversity of languages not only provides an abundance of options, but it means that we have hundreds of students who might not learn languages at all if they did not have their language choice available at GLN. 

I had a Spanish professor once who told me the three biggest motivations to learn a language are the three Bs (BBB): Bread, Beauty, and Business. People either have a practical need for the language (bread), have a romantic motivation (beauty), or have a financial motivation (business). While I think that’s a bit over-simplified, the basic reality is that anyone who wants to truly learn a language needs to first identify what motivates them. If they are not motivated they will not learn. 

Our most popular languages are Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. Since we offer classes six days per week at five different levels, all around the DC-area (pre-pandemic) and online, it’s hard to base enrollment numbers on trends or politics; it’s often just a simple combination of practical logistics and how many people we were able to reach in spreading word of the various language classes.   

Since 2005, all our classes have been in-person. We specifically refrained from teaching online because we greatly value in-person interaction. The pandemic has forced us to move all our classes online, as well as our entire office and operations work and teacher training. While this brings its fair share of challenges, it also brings many new opportunities, such as being able to connect with former GLN teachers and students around the world who can now join us online, as well as expanding our network far beyond the confines of Washington, DC. 

Learning a language opens an entire world for the learner. When we learn a language, it allows us to put down our own thoughts, perspectives, and “way of doing things” and enter in someone else’s world like a child learning for the first time. We are living in challenging times, and some people believe the answer is to force others to change and to adopt our way of thinking. The reality is that the only person we can ever change is ourselves. 

At GLN, we do not just teach a language. We are building ourselves as individuals, inside and outside of the classroom, with the intention and conviction that if we can just change the way we think about those who look, think, or behave differently from us, and we can embrace that every human being has equal value and deserves equal rights; if we can just change the way we see the world, we can impact those around us–in our family and our community, our community will impact our city, our city will impact our state, our state will impact our nation, and our nation can then truly change the world.  

For more on this visit https://thegln.org/uncategorized/ending-racism/