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Interactive web-based language courses provide extra income for Guatemalans

Ode Magazine, April 2009
By Jill Replogle

Twice a week, Margo Griffin, who lives in Denver, Colorado, has a one-on-one Spanish lesson with her teacher, Mayra Juárez, who lives miles and miles away, in Antigua, Guatemala. Both attend from the comfort of their homes via the Internet, a webcam and an innovative socially responsible business called Speak Shop.

Mayra Juárez earns extra money by offering Spanish classes over the internet.

Antigua draws thousands of international students each summer to its Spanish schools. But in the off season, many teachers are out of work. Clay Cooper, founder of Speak Shop, noticed this when he took classes here in 1998, and thought the Internet could connect teachers and students year-round. From those roots, Speak Shop was born. Griffin schedules classes on Speak Shop’s Web page, pays online and “meets” Juárez at a specified time, either using the Internet communications tool Skype or Speak Shop’s Web-based software. Mostly, they talk and review exercises Juárez sent by email. But they can also check a word’s spelling via chat and its meaning with Speak Shop’s translator. “This is the ultimate program,” Griffin says.

Thanks to Speak Shop, Juárez, who also teaches at a Spanish school in Antigua, gets year-round business and makes twice as much an hour as she does at the school. She says Speak Shop has been a lifesaver during a time when tighter travel budgets and the country’s high crime rate are keeping visitors away. “Speak Shop has supported me since August,” says Juárez. “I didn’t have any students at the school, because there weren’t any.” Speak Shop charges $10 a class, plus a monthly membership fee of $9.99 to $39.99, depending on how many classes you plan to take. The class fee goes to the teacher.