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Lancaster Entrepreneur Speaks Everybody’s Language

September 30, 2010

Entrepreneur Michelle SalinasKnow Burmese? If you’re living in Lancaster County, PA it’s likely you don’t know anyone who speaks this Asian tongue. But Michelle Salinas does. In fact, this entrepreneur makes teaching and interpreting languages her business.

Her company, Your Language Connection, offers public classes and private instruction for children and adults at two locations: Lancaster Country Day School and the Lancaster campus of Central Pennsylvania College. Michelle and her staff offer courses in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Italian, German, French, Japanese, and American Sign Language (ASL).

Michelle’s core goal is to make communication immediate and easy, whether it’s speaking Spanish with an employee or learning Italian for a dream vacation. “There’s not always time when you have a family and job to become fluently bilingual,” she says. That’s why she focuses on teaching students the conversational language skills that will help them communicate comfortably.

One of Your Language Connection’s fastest growing services is instruction customized for the specific needs of a non-profit or business. Students in these on-site classes aren’t only taught the language skills they need to communicate with stakeholders, such as employees, they also gain insight into the culture with which they’re working.

Her company also provides interpretation services and document translation. During the summer, the firm also operates camps, which introduce children to languages and cultures through games, vocabulary, and songs.

Your Language Connection operates with a small administrative staff as well as a team of instructors fluent in other languages, including tongues hard to find in Lancaster County, such as Nepali and Turkish. Michelle says, “We find people who are interested in part-time work and know a language; then we teach them how to teach.”

Michelle wasn’t always an entrepreneur. She graduated from Millersville University and then spent two decades working in an urban public school, where she taught a variety of classes, including English as a Second Language (ESL). Her road to business ownership started when she began to teach language classes in addition to her day job. The first classes were held in her basement. “I had no website, no staff—just a yellow pages listing,” she says.

The longtime teacher eventually resigned from her public school position and turned her language business into a full-time endeavor. Realizing that her talent was in teaching the languages and not necessarily in managing the business, Michelle began to interview professional business coaches. And although she recognized the importance of a mentor, she admits to feeling sticker shock when she saw the price tag—up to $500 a month. “I wasn’t growing that much at the time. I had to ask, ‘How am I going to afford this?’”

Enter SCORE Lancaster, the non-profit business counseling group. Michelle found out about SCORE’s free services through a colleague. She says, “The fact that it’s free is great because it’s one less stress on me. Business counseling is valuable, but it can be hard to answer the question: ‘Do I buy supplies or do I pay someone to give me advice?’ I’m grateful I don’t have to make that decision.”

Michelle appreciates the nuanced guidance of counselor Jim Foster and other SCORE team members. “They’re not telling me how to teach. Instead they encourage me to look at other avenues. For example, they’ll ask, ‘Have you ever considered this?’”

Her path to success has been peppered with the same day-to-day issues that many business owners face, from staffing challenges to the mid-summer death of an air conditioner. Michelle attributes her ability to overcome problems to a supportive circle of family and friends. “Running a business is always challenging so I take each situation day by day. I talk to people and it gives me perspective by letting me know I’m not the only one in the world who’s been through a problem.”

Michelle says she’ll continue to leverage the power of her resources, including SCORE, to transform her business into Lancaster’s go-to place for language instruction, translation, and interpretation. Learn more about how Your Language Connection helps individuals and businesses by visiting www.yourlanguageconnection.com.

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