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BREAKING LANGUAGE BARRIERS; HOSTING FOREIGN STUDENTS PREPARES BERLITZ DIRECTOR FOR POSITION.

Byline: Victoria Giraud Daily News Staff Writer

Kay Bryant turned her experiences hosting foreign students in her Oak Park home into a job as the director of the Berlitz Language Center in Woodland Hills.

She's still a bit amazed that she was hired about 18 months ago. ``It's kind of a novelty. Most of the directors are younger and bilingual,'' she said.

But Kay is modest. She studied French for years, both in high school and college, and even knows a little of what she calls ``social Japanese'' from being a host family for visiting foreign students when her two children were growing up.

Her first experience as a host was an enlightening one that she considers one of the best things she did for her son and daughter, then 7 and 4. A 15 year-old French boy lived with the Bryants for several months, enjoying the feeling of home it gave him as he watched the Bryant youngsters argue. His fondest wish was to camp at Yosemite, a desire that was fulfilled with borrowed camp equipment.

The Bryants were surprised how easily the boy fit into their family, especially when they discovered that he had come from a wealthy Parisian family.

Kay liked the student exchange organization - EF, a Swedish company whose initials translate most simply into ``educational foundation'' - so much that she volunteered what she called some ``strong, constructive criticism on the program'' after the first experience.

Her comments landed her a longtime job with EF, working with groups of students and eventually coordinating all the Japanese students' participation in the area.

Working with Japanese students inspired Kay to make five trips to Japan.

``I had seven different students stay at our home. You become attached, even in a short time,'' she said.

In the late 1980s, when Kay's daughter Kayla was 11, the two went to Japan for the wedding of one of their former visitors.

``We were treated like relatives,'' Kay said. ``Their hospitality was indescribable. We saw a side tourists don't see.''

Kay says that Berlitz is the perfect employer for her.

``I like everything about the job,'' she said. ``I like the variety the best. I don't want to know what's going to happen every minute of the day.''

She enjoys meeting large numbers of students and others.

Berlitz is celebrating 120 years in the business of teaching languages all over the world - now at about 335 language centers in 35 countries - through its conversation method: listen, repeat and speak.

Kay is even polishing her French. She has completed one four-month course and plans to take another.

The highest demand at Kay's Woodland Hills office is for help learning Spanish and English, but this past year there also have been lessons in languages as varied as Hindi, Hungarian, Russian, Farsi and Armenian, as well as French, Italian and German.

Learning the cultural setting is part of learning a foreign language, especially for those who will be relocated to work abroad. To that end Berlitz offers cross-cultural seminars where traditions, history and behavior in the foreign country are discussed.

Failed relocations cost companies thousands of dollars, Kay pointed out, so companies spend the money to prepare personnel for work abroad. Whole families are taught details about schooling, housing, washing facilities and other considerations.

``The highest percentage of relocation failures are in England,'' Kay said. ``People assume a lot because English is spoken. But the cultural differences are wide and some companies forget.''

Bryant, a Kansas native, and her husband have lived in the Oak Park area of Agoura for the past 26 years. After working at home for the EF for 12 years, Kay decided she needed to get out of the house and see more people, and she applied for the Berlitz position.

She measures her new job tenure with a Berlitz student who, because he was relocating to Mexico, started his lessons in Spanish at the same time she started as director.

``Here's a man that's totally fluent,'' Bryant said with amazement, ``A year ago he couldn't even say hello in Spanish.''

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PHOTO Kay Bryant of Agoura, director of the Berlitz Language Center in Woodland Hills, previously worked with foreign exchange students.

Terri Thuente/Daily News
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 12, 1998
Words:706
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