Backstory: Pair aim to teach language students with Helpouts' assistance

vbridges@newsobserver.comNovember 4, 2013 

  • Advice from Kate Williams and Fabiola Estrada

    • Embrace change. You have to willing to adapt and evolve.

    • Be bold and have the courage to believe in your good idea.

    • Have a business and marketing plan ready before you launch.

    • For more about Helpouts by Google, go to

— This isn’t your mama’s Spanish language class.

Fabiola Estrada, co-owner and Spanish language specialist for Durham-based A Figure of Speech French and Spanish Immersion, doesn’t just ask her students to recite numbers or the names of different foods. She takes them to Compare Foods, a Latin American grocery chain, and to Latino bakeries. Estrada and Kate Williams, her business partner and French language specialist, are available to help students via private or group lessons, or on Skype.

“Hands-on, customized, topic-based classes,” Williams said. The customized immersion, they said, motivates students to meet their goals as they connect with the subject and the language.

In the coming months, A Figure of Speech will also be connecting with clients through Helpouts by Google.

The owners said they were invited and approved last month to participate in the yet-to-be public feature that will, according to the Helpouts by Google website, provide a way for consumers to connect with experts, such as teachers and personal trainers, over live video. Helpouts also provides an opportunity for businesses to connect with and charge clients. A Google representative declined to provide other information.

“People will be able to choose who to get help from based on qualifications, availability, ratings and reviews,” the website states. “Scheduling and paying for help will be easy, and Helpouts will be accessible from any device.”

Helpouts allowed A Figure of Speech, which was founded in September and has had about 15 clients, to set their own prices ($25 an hour), which owners can adjust after Helpouts’ launch. The service’s users can interact with the classes and teachers and then check out using Google Wallet.

Williams, 25, and Estrada, 29, both of Durham, met in December 2012. Williams returned home to her native Chapel Hill to complete her thesis for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Professional French Masters Program.

While in Chapel Hill, Williams signed up for Spanish lessons with Estrada. After Williams graduated in May, the pair started building a company that would provide private, group and online French and Spanish immersion classes and translation services.

They wrote a business plan, reached out to existing contacts and both kept their jobs. Estrada works in finance at BB&T, and Williams teaches at CHICLE Language Institute in Carrboro and is a seasonal adventure travel guide and language immersion instructor for a Colorado company.

Williams encountered the Helpouts opportunity while on a post-graduation family vacation.

“I went on an REI guided trip to Utah,” Williams said. “One of my fellow travelers on the trip works for Google.”

After that vacation, that fellow traveler contacted Williams and invited A Figure of Speech to apply to participate in Helpouts’ launch. The owners learned they were approved last month after a video interview with a Google representative.

Face-to-face classes are an important part of the language learning process, the owners said, but they hope Helpouts will be an easy way to connect with clients who travel, people who are hesitant about the class, and others who need customized support with the language or a translation.

“I think this will be really cool for language,” Williams said. “A lot of universities and people have really been turning to the Internet to get a new skill.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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