Her Historic Family Struggle Inspires Development of Language App

Cristina Guijarro Cazorla worries daily about her younger brothers back home in Barcelona.

During the first quarter of 2013, Spain’s unemployment rate spiked to more than 27 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute. Life without a job can be a struggle.

Guijarro’s brothers currently have jobs. But, they, like many of the Spanish speakers she tutors in Chicago, need to learn English to escape the constant struggle for money. Their stories, and her family’s past, keep Guijarro moving forward.

She, and her husband Santanu DasGupta, are co-founders of Taplingua — a “language learning platform” app. They, along with several language instructors from the University of Chicago, are developing Taplingua to provide a fast and inexpensive way to learn languages.

“I’m an immigrant myself, so I want to give back to the community,” Guijarro says. “I’ve met a lot of people in this country who need it really badly, but they simply didn’t have the time. They’re working two or three jobs and have big families.”

Guijarro has been teaching English and Spanish for 15 years — both in Spain and the United States. Locally, she has taught at Loyola University, and at the University of Chicago — where she earned her Ph.D. in Spanish Language and Literature. Her teaching philosophy is “explanations matter,” which she carries into her work for Taplingua.

While the app is currently for English-to-Spanish users, the team’s ultimate goal is to finish the Spanish-to-English version within the next few weeks. The current version, a testing product for the Spanish to English version, is also easier for potential investors to understand.

The app features video explanations in the user’s native language, cultural tips, and listening drills, followed by writing exercises — which Debran Rowland, a Taplingua customer and avid traveller, says is her favorite part. It forces her to remember the words.

 “It equips you with useful sentences for situations, like buying tickets or boarding a plane, rather than random vocab terms,” Rowland says. “This way, you know what to say in certain situations and you won’t be those horrible tourists slowing up lines.”

Rowland says she purchased Taplingua for about $14.99 when it was released in May, which she says was a fair price, although the current price is $0.99, with additional free lessons for July. DasGupta says the Spanish-to-English version will cost between $2 and $10. Both DasGupta and Guijarro believe language education should be affordable and easily accessible.

“Languages shouldn’t be luxury products,” Guijarro says. “Language learning is not [like] buying a Coco Chanel bag, it should be a right.”

Guijarro’s ability to speak English enabled her to migrate to the United States 13 years ago. She says that English is the ticket to a middle-class life anywhere in the world, and wants to bring this financial freedom to others because it was something denied her family for generations.

“My grandparents fought in the [Spanish] Civil War and fought for freedom and equality,” Guijarro explains. “I think they were on the right side, but they lost the war and were imprisoned. They were prosecuted and, as a result, they were never able to get a good job or go to college.”

The stigma of prosecution attached to the family name limited opportunities for her parents. Neither her mother, who began working at the age of 11, nor her father, who began working at the age of six, received the chance to attend high school.

Her parents worked hard to make sure that she and her three siblings were all able to attend college. Guijarro was the first in her family to graduate.

Today, she is pursuing her passion to help others. As she continues to develop Taplingua, Guijjaro relies on the past and present for her inspiration — the difficulty that her students currently endure, and the lifelong struggles of her family. ❒

[Photo of Taplingua co-founder Cristina Guijarro Cazorla courtesy of Taplingua]

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