The Berlitz story
Maximilian Berlitz grew up in the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a family of teachers and mathematicians. He immigrated to the United States in 1870. A language prodigy, Berlitz taught Greek, Latin and six other European languages, using the traditional "grammar-translation" method.
After he taught as a private tutor, he joined the Warner Polytechnic College in Providence, Rhode Island, where he became professor of French and German. A standout in the small college, Berlitz was soon the owner, dean, head teacher and only member of the faculty, all in one.
Needing an assistant to teach French, Berlitz hired a young Frenchman named Joly. When Joly arrived in Providence, he found that his employer was completely exhausted, feverish and very ill. The situation only worsened when Berlitz found out that his new assistant did not speak a single word of English. Desperately trying to find a way to use Joly in his teaching, Berlitz instructed him to explain objects using gestures and to act out verbs as well as he could. He then returned to bed.
The birth of the Berlitz Method®
Berlitz returned to the classroom six weeks later, expecting his students to be angry with him. Instead, he found his students engaging in an animated exchange of questions and answers – in perfect French. The normally staid and quiet atmosphere of a traditional classroom had disappeared. His students were also much further ahead in terms of what they had learned than Berlitz would have achieved in the same period of time. Berlitz realized the efficacy of his "emergency solution" and used it to form the basis of a completely new method of teaching. The traditional learning method had given way to an animated process of discovery.
A changing world
From the founding of the company in 1878 onward, Berlitz primarily focused on the needs of travelers and interested individuals. However, customer demands changed in the 1950s, and Berlitz, now a multinational company, found itself faced with a growing number of professionals who needed language skills to prepare for assignments abroad. Large companies were booking courses for groups of employees and their families, and made it clear that rapid learning was their top priority.
Berlitz developed new programs to be given in addition to traditional language training. This included the launch of the Total Immersion teaching program, an at-the-time revolutionary system that had learners obtaining language skills extremely quickly.
In addition to introducing a faster pace to the learning process, the Total Immersion method involved creating additional support such as vocabulary and grammatical training techniques. This is a development that Berlitz students around the world continue to benefit from today.