Maximilian Berlitz grew up in the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a family of teachers and mathematicians. He emigrated to the United States in 1870. The language fan, Maximilian taught Greek, Latin and six other European languages there, using the strict, traditional "grammar-translation" method.
After he had successfully taught as a private tutor for a while, he joined the Warner Polytechnic College in Providence, where he became Professor of French and German. However, the college was not as impressive as its name. Berlitz was soon the owner, dean, head teacher and the only member of the faculty, all rolled into one.
As he needed an assistant for French, Berlitz employed a young Frenchman named Joly, who obviously came with top references. When Joly arrived in Providence, he found that his employer was completely exhausted, feverish and very ill. The situation only worsened when Berlitz found out that his new assistant did not speak a single word of English. Desperately trying to find a way to use Joly in his teaching, Berlitz instructed him to explain objects using gestures and to act out verbs as well as he could. He then returned to bed.
He returned to the classroom six weeks later, expecting his desperate students to be angry with him. Instead, he found his students engaging in an animated exchange of questions and answers - in elegant French. The normal venerable atmosphere of a traditional classroom had disappeared. His students were also much further ahead in terms of what they had learned than Berlitz would have achieved in the same period of time. Berlitz came to a significant conclusion: the "emergency solution" had formed the basis for a completely new method of teaching. The strict learning method had to give way to an animated process of discovery.
From the founding of the company in 1878 onwards, Berlitz primarily focused on the needs of travelers and private individuals. However, customers' demands changed in the 50s. Berlitz, the company, found itself faced with a growing number of business people, professionals and technicians preparing for assignments abroad and needing language skills for their new tasks. Large companies were booking courses for many of their employees and their families, where rapid learning was top priority.
Berlitz developed new programs, that were then run in addition to traditional language training. After a few years of research, he caused a sensation with the launch of his Total Immersion teaching program. Total Immersion imparted new language skills extremely quickly, for example, for business people about to embark on an assignment abroad.
The faster pace of learning called for by the students also led Berlitz to develop a new application for his basic teaching method. Thus, additional supporting material was also introduced for vocabulary training and pronunciation exercises, for example. A development that Berlitz students around the world continue to benefit from today.