Interview with Catherine Alapont, Founder & Director
How would you concretely describe the core activity of LaPont Language Centre?
LaPont Language Centre is a small boutique international and friendly language school headquartered 138 Albert Street in Brisbane CBD. At LaPont Language Centre, students can learn French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and soon German. We offer small lively adult classes averaging 6 students, as well as one-to-one private tuition. All our teachers are native teachers qualified or trained in-house and use our own communicative method which consists in engaging the students in conversation right from the start. With the help of visual and audio tools, we focus on everyday life situations and basic grammar. For the more advanced students, we often base our conversation practice on current news issues and go deeper into grammar. With our method and international expertise, students improve rather quickly. Our students are primarily Australians, but we also attract a fair number of international students. French, Japanese and Italian are currently our most popular courses.
In complement to our classes at our Brisbane CBD premises, we also teach at other locations: Manly West, Hawthorne, Newmarket and soon Clayfield. We currently employ 30 part-time native teachers. LaPont Language Centre is a proud corporate member of the Modern Language Teachers Association of Queensland and ATA (nationally).
Out of our CBD premises, LaPont Language Centre also offers corporate Language tuition for major corporations, including law firms, international banks, mining, technology, International corporations and high profile French companies… training their staff and sometime preparing whole families for relocation/expatriation. The syllabus is customised according to the companies’ needs. For instance, we have set-up a Survival Spanish Class, to help whole families getting ready for relocation to South America. Our most popular corporate languages at this stage are Spanish and Mandarin. We of course also teach at corporate offices on demand.
Finally, we run our own French Immersion Programme in France and organise regular French Immersion Tours and Courses at our newly inaugurated Chateau Ecole in Burgundy. This is the perfect opportunity for those wanting to fast track their French language skills but also experience the best France has to offer in terms of Culture and Gastronomy. Each trip stretches over 17 days, including 8 days in Burgundy, 4 in Cannes on the French Riviera and 4 in Paris and is limited to 8-10 people. Time is divided between classes, typically in the mornings and tourism in the afternoon and evenings. Our Immersion Program has attracted participants from all over the world and has recently received great international media attention.
Can you tell us about your personal background, the history of LaPont Language Centre and your role as Director?
Born in the French culture, I had the opportunity to travel extensively with my family and was very fortunate to be exposed to many cultures and languages at an early age. I studied at the University of Valencia in Spain and Université de Lyon in France, obtaining degrees in Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies for French, Spanish & English. I later completed extensive European Cultural Studies in Bruxelles and also studied Media and Communications at the University of Melbourne.
In 1995, I started to provide language services and courses in Melbourne to the diplomatic corps, as well as major event management consulting. I’ve been closely involved with the European Chamber of Commerce and the Delegation of the European Union in Victoria. Over the years, I built a solid network and reputation. In 2003, I was invited to work on a major communications project by the Governor of New York City and in 2004, I was fortunate to obtain a citation from the City of New York, for my outstanding professional achievements and contribution towards the development of a Diplomatic Language Communications Program which involved 25 European EU countries.
When I moved to Brisbane in 2008 for family reason, I created Lapont Language Centre under the umbrella of the prestigious Moreton Bay College, and thanks to their support I was able to set up classes and introduce languages to the Bayside Brisbane area. Less than 2 years later, in 2010, we decided to expand with a new centre in the Bulimba/Hawthorne area. Following the success of those two centres and due to high demand, we opened our CBD premises in Queen Street Mall in 2014, before relocating in 2015 to 138 Albert Street. Finally, this year we are launching two new centres on the Northside…”on the other side of the river” stay tuned…
Nowadays, I don’t really have the time to teach anymore, but I still personally create the syllabus to ensure quality and excellence in the delivery of the Language courses we propose. I assist and work closely as a team with my teachers. Managing the school, from admin, to marketing and business development, is more than a full time job! So far I have managed on my own, beside high technology and IT support from my partner, but this year I am planning to hire a full-time assistant. Twice a year, I am lucky enough to accompany my French Immersion group of students to France.
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can FACCI help you achieve your objective?
In the last few years we’ve started developing our kid’s programme in partnership with selected kindergartens in Brisbane, teaching mainly Spanish and Mandarin for Kids. We are now ready to roll out the programme to a new kindergarten in West-End and are looking forward to expanding it further. Our Corporate Personalised Tuition is the second area we would like to strengthen in the future and joining FACCI was a no-brainer in this regard. The Chamber offers us many opportunities to attend quality networking events, especially industry related events where I am sure to meet corporate executives. However, networking with the Chamber has also enabled me to find potential teachers and casual admin or marketing support.
We have been a Small Business member for a year now, and beside the many opportunities to network, I am also very pleased with the exposure the company was given via the Chamber’s E-news, social media platforms and Members to Members Benefit Programme. Overall, I feel more engaged with the international business community and I am now much more aware of what’s happening in the local business community. It made me see Brisbane in a different light.
Of course, I also decided to get involved and be active with the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce because I am emotionally very much attached to France and want to support the community abroad. I cannot wait to renew and upgrade our membership for 2016 and I found the team at the Brisbane Chapter very professional, helpful and very supportive.
For more information, please consult LaPont Language Centre’s website: www.lapont.com.
Interview conducted by Claire Dupré and Camille Martin on the 14th of January 2016.
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