Alumni ProfilePamela Mulder '91
Immersed in languages

Pam Mulder '91Pamela Mulder ’91 took Calvin’s Study in Spain program to get her language requirement out of the way. That semester changed her major and her life. It also foreshadowed the kind of life-changing experience that she, many years later, would help offer to millions of people.

“I fell in love with the culture,” Mulder said, “and I got really interested in trying to understand the puzzle of the economic transition Spain was going through at the time.”

The once pre-med student graduated with majors in economics and Spanish. Today, as an executive at Rosetta Stone Inc., Mulder persuades people around the globe to immerse themselves in new languages.

When she joined the company in 2003, Rosetta Stone was, Mulder said, “a small family company with a product that was a total breakthrough in how to approach language learning.”

It was an approach she could appreciate. She’d spent the previous eight years traveling the world and working in London, Singapore and Hong Kong as a marketing executive for InterContinental Hotels.

“At Rosetta Stone there was an pportunity to build from scratch a marketing strategy for an innovative product that I knew would enrich lives,” Mulder said.

That product: interactive computer software that immerses learners in a new language without any translation to their native one. That means no vocabulary lists or grammatical rules to memorize.

“It’s similar to the way we learned language as children,” Mulder explained. “We could all speak, read and write before we could diagram a sentence.”

Language immersion is not unique to Rosetta Stone. But unlike other language-learning programs, it doesn’t require a student to find time to attend classes. All learning is done on the computer, and the Rosetta Stone patented, interactive software responds to each learner’s particular difficulties, including challenges with pronunciation.

For six years, Mulder’s role at the company was to get the word out that with the Rosetta Stone method anyone who learned one language as a child could successfully learn another—and even have fun doing it. She headed the brand management group, a design team that creates the company’s marketing materials, and she oversaw its global public relations efforts. On Memorial Day she became senior vice president of international development for Rosetta Stone, based in Caracas, Venezuela.

“I haven’t really come up for air since I started here,” Mulder said.

Since 2003, Rosetta Stone has expanded to offices in Washington, D.C., London, South Korea and Japan. It claims millions of people in more than 150 countries learning its 31 offered languages. In 2007, Inc. Magazine named Rosetta Stone one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the United States.

That hasn’t changed in a sluggish economy. “We do well when the economy is good and well when the economy is not good,” Mulder said.

Her success at selling the rewards of language learning to a global audience has also had a local impact. When her Calvin roommate, Stacy Washburn Vanden Bosch, and a group of parents wanted to start a Spanish immersion program in Zeeland Christian Schools, they called on Mulder to help them garner support.

“Besides the practical side of it—that bilingual kids will have so many more opportunities—we also said to people, ‘Why would you, especially as Christians, not want to understand your neighbors?’ When you speak to someone in their native language, their eyes light up, a window opens, you can really get to know them. It shows you a different side of yourself, too. I’m a living, breathing example of someone whose life has completely changed because I’m bilingual.”