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About Us

Established in 1995, Palabras Language School and Cultural Services is independently owned and operated and is not affiliated with any other language school. Palabras offers a fun and relaxed environment for group, private, semi-private, tutoring and online instruction to suit the students' individual learning needs.

Over 25 years in the business, Palabras is proud to offer specialized on-site language instruction to businesses, individuals, or other private groups. Learn "The Best Way" in a short amount of time.

Palabras also offers unique cultural services and experiences such as Latin-American cooking workshops, translation services, tutoring, and special events to fully immerse the student in the language's culture. The main office and classrooms are located at 583 Frederick Street in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

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Our History

On Saturday, July 16th, 2005, we were featured in the Kitchener Record special report on multiculturalism in Waterloo Region.

Love of food a cultural tie that binds

3 generations of Latina women stir up memories of El Salvador 

Pulling off her ring, Carmen Garmendez grabs a ball of corn-flour dough and rolls it in her hands. Her daughter, Susy Garmendez, wearing a matching apron, does the same.
Wanting to help, four-year-old Karina reaches for the bowl, but is scolded by her mother and grandmother.


"Wash your hands or you can't help make the pupusas," Susy tells her.
Before she can finish the sentence, Karina is running at mock speed for the sink.
As they do many evenings, three generations of Garmendez women are cooking up memories from El Salvador, which was home to both Carmen and Susy. Karina was born in Canada.
It's a tasty way to spend time together, and also a way to keep in touch with their roots.
The three pound the dough, making pockets that they fill with cheese, meat and vegetables before slapping the pupsas down on the grill.

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"I like to make this because I don't forget my culture," Carmen explains. "My mother used to make them, and now I do. You will see whose pupusas are better." She flashes Susy a competitive smile and Susy chuckles. "Mine are better, you'll see," she says, and Karina pipes up, "Mine is on the grill!" Although each has her own style, Susy says technique doesn't really matter. What counts is that food is such an important element of her culture that she's decided to share it with others. 

 

Now she not only runs the Palabras Spanish Language and Latino School in Kitchener, she also teaches groups how to cook a latino meal. She says the kitchen classes are an easy, fun way for people to learn about her culture. "If there is a group, we do dancing and games," said Susy, who sets the mood by playing Latin music during the cooking class. "I tailor lessons depending on the amount of people." The Garmendez family of seven fled from El Salvador to Belize during the civil war so Susy's father, José, would not have to fight. He then applied through the United Nations to come to Canada and Susy says her family was among the first 35 refugee families from El Salvador to move to Waterloo Region in the 1980's. They arrived with summer clothing, and "we were excited... and cold," she said. "We left everything behind when we went to Belize." Settling in Canada was hard for Carmen and José, who struggled to learn English. "People weren't welcoming at first," Susy said. "They said, 'You foreigners came to take our jobs'." The family consoled themselves around the dinner table, where they were comforted by the traditional meals they had missed while in Belize. 

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In the 1990's, Susy graduated from Conestoga College as a registered nurse, and says her background inspired her to help others discover healthy ways of eating. Five years later, in 1995, she began teaching Spanish, and decided that food was too big of a part of the Latino lifestyle to not include it in her lessons. "When you first go to a Spanish-speaking country, the first thing people do is offer you something to eat or drink," Susy said. "We offer, and don't expect anything in return." Now she is also hired to teach cooking classes at corporate events. "It's almost like travelling," she said. "I bring that experience to them. The dishes are fun to make and you don't find them here."

"In El Salvador, you go to the market every day to buy food," Susy said. She sometimes takes her language classes to local Latino food stores to show them where to buy ingredients for their pupusas. "Afterwards, my customers go all the time." Although she has lived in Canada the 80s, she has recently returned[visited] to El Salvador three consecutive years. "We all have the urge to connect with our culture. Through language and food, I keep that connection."

Susan Mohammad, Record Staff

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