Dr. Clara Mesonero knows the challenges of learning English as a second language – or, in her case, a third.
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., she spent her first 10 years in Germany and before her family moved to Spain, where she graduated from medical school. She learned English through full immersion when she started her medical residency at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
That life experience made her sympathetic when she learned through a friend that there was a shortage of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses on Cape Cod.
“We just put our heads together and said, ‘Let’s start a language school here,’” she said. “After we asked our Brazilian friends and Spanish-speaking friends, they all were so excited.”
Mesonero and co-founder John Vazquez opened the Cape International Language Academy (CILA) in September 2021. Classes are limited to eight students and offer three levels of ESL.
CILA’s mission, according to its web site, is “to empower our international community on Cape Cod to participate fully in the local economy through world-class language instruction; to provide foreign language instruction to English-speaking business owners, health care professionals, law enforcement, and first responders; to enable English speakers to engage with people from other cultures using different languages, both locally and abroad.”
She said she saw the need, among other places, when she remodeled her home. “The crew came and only one spoke English. It was very hard for us to communicate. In many niches on the Cape, it’s a great benefit to have access to learning a language,” she said.
ESL classes offer people a greater variety of economic options and also can help ease into the Cape’s melting pot, she said.
“What happens is that when someone is new to the United States, they get together with their family members and friends and they kind of isolate themselves,” she said. “That’s how they feel safe. We teach them English and say, ‘The world is yours. Walk out the door. Try to mingle.’ At first, they are very shy and scared.”
Mesonero, who’s lived on Cape Cod since 1988, is well-plugged into the community. A pathologist at Cape Cod Hospital, she’s a past president of the Osterville Rotary Club and owner of Linguistic Communication Services.
“As I got involved with the community, I realized there were so many Spanish-speaking people on the Cape that I hadn’t met,” she said. She formed a Spanish club that now has 15 countries represented. “We get together for cultural events and share our lives and problems and successes. We also realized that there’s a lot of people here who are very educated and cannot represent themselves well because they don’t speak the language very well.”
Among CILA’s instructors is Marineti Matos, who teaches ESL and a course on U.S. citizenship. Her students’ primary languages include Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. “I had one student who was American-born but spoke no English because she had been taken back to Brazil when she was little,” she said.
Matos grew up in Brazil, primarily speaking Portuguese, but had early exposure to another language.
“My grandparents on my father’s side were from Portugal, and on my mother’s side from Italy,” she said. “So I grew up with my grandmother yelling at me in Italian, so I’ve always been involved with the languages one way or another.”
Matos began learning English in grade school. One of her teachers told her she had a gift for languages. When she finished high school, she found a job in a manufacturing plant and took English lessons after work. Two years later, she qualified to become an instructor and began teaching English to children. When she was 23, she moved to the U.S. to work as a translator and interpreter.
“I love to share my knowledge,” Matos said. “I’m a very excited person inside a classroom, and I can make an hour and a half class seem like 30 minutes. And I keep on learning. I learn every day, I study every day, I keep on growing. You can never stop learning a language, even if it’s your own.”
In addition to ESL classes, CILA offers small group and private classes in Spanish, Portuguese and German for people who want to learn a new language. “There’s already people waiting to learn Italian,” said Mesonero. “We’ve gotten a lot of demand from the community, people that we didn’t think were going to be interested. It’s amazing how many teachers, for example, are eager to learn Portuguese to get to better know their students and their families.”
“Yesterday, we had the first class of Portuguese, and the teacher said the first hour, the students wanted to know about the culture,” she added. “How do I address them? If you say this, do they get offended?’ I think by learning each other’s language and culture, we can all work together.”
For more information about Cape International Language Academy visit www.cilacapecod.com, email CILAcapecod@gmail.com or call 774-552-2609.