Published in the Courier News on June 14, 2004
Rita McMaster and the importance of

By ROBIN RENEE Correspondent

If you walked into Cafe Josephine in Bernardsville in 1996, you could have easily thought you stepped into a wrinkle in space and arrived in France. Drawn by European feel of the cafe, Rita McMaster of Basking Ridge first began to offer instruction in speaking French here. The casual atmosphere attracted students quickly, and one French group turned to seven. Then, a group for learning Italian sprung up, and it was time to look for a permanent space for all this verbal and cultural expansion.

So were the beginnings of McMaster’s L.E.A.R.N. Language Center. Now located in Liberty Corner, The Language Education and Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.) is thriving with courses in languages including English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, and Arabic.

Born in Finland, McMaster grew up speaking Swedish, the minority language of her country. She became completely fluent in Finnish as well, as a matter of everyday living.

“I was set up with an ease of languages from the beginning,” she said of her origins.

The language bug kept on biting, and McMaster had learned some German by high school and continued on to major in English and minor in French.

“In small European countries, you need other languages to get along,” she explained, especially “now that the European Union is such a central thing.”

McMaster’s true passion for language, rather than a simple utilitarian need to communicate across national boundaries, shines through her. After graduating from business school, she went to England to work in international sales. Her impressive task was to keep in touch with agencies in no less than 50 countries.

Eventually, she and her husband moved to the U.S., had a child, and in the early 90s, McMaster formed a company that offered English as a second language to workers in the hospitality industry. It was after this endeavor that the cafe French lessons took off to grow into L.E.A.R.N.’s full glory.

“I think it’s always tough to start a small business, sometimes harder as a woman,” she mused, “People sometimes don’t think you’re serious. [They think you’re] dabbling.”

All speculations of “dabbling” were easily put to rest by the school’s growth. Now in its third building, some landlords were a bit surprised as classes expanded beyond capacity.

Teaching culture and teaching kids is of utmost importance to McMaster. Very young children learn well through a revolutionary system called “Symtalk,” where “even little kids can make quite complex sentences with pictures.”

Whisking past the See-Jane rudimentary, the system allows children to communicate things like “I love to go to the park with my dog, and we love to eat fries.”

There is also a Chinese language and culture course based on events during the Chinese lunar year, especially for children who have been adopted from China.

“Every night is like a little United Nations here,” she said proudly.

“Teaching languages and cultures is really important to help us get along in the world,” McMaster observed. In a world troubled by war, misunderstanding, and xenophobia, some getting along inspired by learning is always a healthy advancement. McMaster believes that the effort taken to study just a bit about the cultures and languages of neighbors who are different from ourselves can be of great overall benefit.

“Not that you have to be able to discuss philosophy, but just a little bit. [It] helps us to communicate and understand each other,” she said.

There is “tremendous talent in New Jersey [among those] who come to teach and to learn,” McMaster said, “including people well into their retirement years. We provide almost a little home for people,” she said of the center’s cozy, emphatically noncorporate environment. It is a place where classes happen at round tables. Coffee and food is always available, reminiscent of the cafe where it began.

Even today, the teacher herself continues to learn. The most recent language added at the L.E.A.R.N. Center is Arabic.

“I am one of the Arabic students,” said McMaster, “because I want to take all the languages we offer.”

For more info on Rita McMaster and L.E.A.R.N. Language Center, visit

Age: 40 something
Dream Job: UN Ambassador
Hobby: Cooking
In her CD player right now: Sting’s “All This Time”
Favorite Saying: “Learn a new language and get a new soul” (Czech proverb), and “Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is its key” (Thomas Fuller)
Always makes time for: talking on the phone with friends
Wishes she had more time for: exercise
Guilty Pleasure: No guilt, but loves good food and chocolate…
Greatest Achievement: building L.E.A.R.N. from scratch
Wants to accomplish next: continue to expand awareness of the importance of learning other languages and understanding of other cultures
In her next life, she wants to be: a social worker or therapist

From the Courier News website

Courier News (Bridgewater, NJ)

Published in the Courier News on September 10, 2003

In a former Liberty Corner community hall, a place to LEARN languages When one starts a business in New Jersey, it’s usually a given as to what language will be spoken – English, of course, and often, Spanish as well.

But Rita McMaster opened her business with a focus on 13 languages, six of which she speaks herself. She owns LEARN, which stands for Language Education and Resource Network in Liberty Corner, where instructors from around the world share their languages with a keen group of students.

Since 1996, LEARN has been the language program of choice for many students from 3 years old to senior citizens who live in Somerset County and beyond. LEARN students take classes in Chinese, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

Corporate training, including business writing and cross-cultural training, and industry-specific programs in English as a second! language are among the other services offered by LEARN.

Recently, programs such as “Adventure in Writing” has been introduced. Middle- school students learn to enjoy good classical literature and to write fluently and creatively, using correct grammar. There is even a travel program for adults, called “Learn on Location” in Italy, and culinary programs are offered periodically, combining a love of language and food.

“We have always believed that our success can be attributed to our friendly environment and our excellent programs that are nothing like a traditional school or corporate setting,” said McMaster.

She has designed her facility with an eye toward international hospitality, as students walk up the stairs, surrounded by murals and flags, drifting clouds and hot air balloons.

LEARN is housed in an historic building in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards Township, formerly a community hall that dates back to the late 1800s. Complimentar! y refreshments are on hand for everyone at all times.

For more information about programs, visit LEARN’s Web site at or send an e-mail to learnlanguage@earth

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Last updated August 25, 2016