Multi-lingual Archbishop Mitty High School seniors Anvee Bhutani and Ishaan Nandwani believe so passionately in the advantages of speaking more than one language that they founded Legato Lingua, a nonprofit organization to teach foreign languages to Bay Area children.
“Our idea to found this came after we noticed the lack of foreign language classes and programs being offered to young students,” said Bhutani.
“Legato Lingua starts classes at early ages with elementary school students, when children’s brains are still malleable, and they can easily adopt a second language. This sets students up for future success in learning languages,” continued Bhutani.
These ambitious teens have team-taught French, Hindi and Spanish to more than 400 children at libraries in Cupertino, San Jose and Santa Clara since founding the nonprofit in 2017. They offer free, eight-week beginning language courses year-round, introducing youngsters to the basics of reading, writing and conversation.
San Jose resident Sarvesh Gharse, whose third grade son Neel took summer classes in Spanish, had initial reservations.
“I was apprehensive at first because the classes were free and the teachers looked like middle school students to me,” he said.
But Gharse was surprised, saying that Bhutani and Nandwani have an impressive command of Spanish and a structured and effective process for language teaching.
“They did an amazing job of navigating the classes with students of all different ages and backgrounds,” said Gharse, who, although the classes are not for adults, ended up sitting in and learning Spanish along with his son. “We would practice lessons together at home.”
“Our curriculum is designed so that students feel almost as if they are not learning,” said Bhutani. “Whether it is through games or partner activities, we always try to make each lesson unique so that the students remain engaged and have fun.”
Bhutani, a Bay Area native and Santa Clara resident, says that her first language is Hindi, which she learned from her Indian-born parents, but says that she is better at English.
“Since I was little, I was constantly spoken to in Hindi by my parents and grandparents, and this causes me to this day to associate Hindi with my feelings of home and comfort,” said Bhutani. “Because I was so connected with my culture and the Indian community in the Bay Area, Hindi stuck with me throughout my childhood.”
“I learned the value in being able to communicate in a second language. I embrace different languages and cultures because I believe they give you a window into experiencing a different person’s life,” continued Bhutani, who is also fluent in Spanish, can converse in Punjabi and French, and is working on Portuguese and Italian.
Nandwani, whose parents are from India, was born and raised in San Jose.
“Although I had learned both Hindi and English as a child, I distanced myself from Hindi when I was in elementary school, as it’s a less practical language living in America,” said Nandwani. “However, when I took an introductory Spanish course in middle school, a spark went off in my brain. This was when I realized the importance and beauty of languages.”
From that moment, Nandwani says he began to work on both his Spanish and Hindi and immerse himself in the art of language learning and teaching.
In addition to teaching languages, Bhutani and Nandwani give 30-minute linguistics (the study of language and its structure) presentations, educating parents about the benefits of bilingualism and the importance of language instruction at an early age. For three Saturdays beginning Sept. 8, they will offer a seminar in Spanish.
To learn about language and teaching, Bhutani and Nandwani did extensive research online, spoke with experts in the field who work at Stanford University, and took online courses and classes “so that we have an arsenal of knowledge that we can use.”
Contrary to what one might expect, Bhutani and Nandwani are both planning on careers in a health profession in the field of neuroscience. They hope their background in languages will allow them to work abroad through organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.
“We would recommend everyone to learn, to [gain] fluency, [in] at least one other language besides English,” said the Legato Lingua founders when asked for a final word to the wise.
“Anvee and Ishaan are extremely good teachers. I’m really impressed,” said Gharse before paying them the ultimate compliment. “I hope my kids turn out to be like them.”
Gharse and his son are now studying Spanish independently, awaiting Level II classes next summer.
For current class information about Legato Lingua, meaning smooth-flowing language in Italian, visit www.legatolingua.org.