After 128 years, Berlitz, the international language instruction giant, is still opening new doors, only now it’s being more conspicuous about it.
Traditionally, the company’s school sites have been nestled in corporate surroundings, closest to the types of people who comprise its largest clientele. But about three months ago, Berlitz’s Princeton school, originally located in its American headquarters in Alexander Park, shed its corporate digs in favor high-profile Palmer Square. The Berlitz Language Center now sits directly atop Mediterra Restaurant on Hulfish Street, while the company’s corporate offices remain on Alexander Road.
Says Anne-Marie Salmon, Berlitz’s U.S. director of strategic planning, the move from the office to the town square is a company-wide trend going back about three years, to when Toru Noda took over as CEO of Berlitz International. In Japan the company’s presence has been more retail than corporate, and the model translated into the United States. In 2007, Berlitz moved 5 of its 54 American locations to storefront space, hoping to shift its image from corporate to corporate/consumer.
"We’ve existed," Salmon says. "We’ve just not been visible."
Salmon, a 1979 graduate of London University who holds a bachelor’s degree in European studies, began her career with Berlitz the same as nearly everyone else in the company – as an instructor. Raised in England and fluent in French, Salmon came to Chicago 17 years ago and started teaching her mother’s native tongue, as well as English – still the company’s major course, even in the United States – 13 years ago. Despite her background in sales, Salmon says she took to the company’s teaching method and eventually moved to the front office.
While there is no change in the methods and business practices Berlitz uses, Christian Mehnert, director of the language center on Hulfish, says he has already seen an increase in traffic. He also has noticed a growing trend in businesspeople wanting to learn Mandarin and Arabic to help them do better oversees.
With its roots in Europe, Berlitz has been somewhat uniquely positioned to have insight into business trends. In the 1980s, when Japan was a global economic powerhouse, learning Japanese was more common than today, when China is fast becoming the country with which to do business. Mehnert says European languages are still very popular at Berlitz, particularly on the growing strength of the European Union, but American English is still the company’s bread and butter.
Mehnert, began with Berlitz as an instructor as well, teaching English and German in Europe and the Pacific Rim. An engineer like his father, Mehnert graduated from Berlin Technical Institute and worked for a German chemical company. Eventually moving into marketing and development with the company, Mehnert traveled the world and soon found he loved to teach languages. He received his MBA in international marketing from Rider in 2003.
Salmon says Berlitz is looking to expand in the United States, but not necessarily in New Jersey, at least not in the coming year. She does, however, see the move to more public locations increasing. She says Berlitz is trying to make itself out to be more of a community member than it traditionally has been. The Language Center is now part of the Palmer Square Association, a business community organization. – Scott Morgan
Berlitz Language Center, 31D Hulfish Street, Princeton 08542; 609-497-6571; fax, 609-497-6575. Christian Mehnert, language center director. Home page: www.berlitz.us.