What Are Language Summer Camps?

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Spanish Program - Courtesy of Concordia Language Villages

Spanish Program – Courtesy of Concordia Language Villages

I hadn’t really given language summer camps much thought because I believed Vanessa was too young. I mean, she is still too young for actual going-away type camps, but apparently not for just day summer camps. And I have to tell you, the more I’ve researched this topic, the more fascinated I’ve become.

In case you don’t know, in general, most language summer camps are run the same way a regular summer camp would be – a bunch of different activities both in and outdoors so your kids don’t get bored during the long, lazy summer months – except that everything is done in a language other than English. In other words, not only will the kids be entertained, but they will also be immersed in the target language you’re trying to teach them.

I was actually surprised with the amount of options out there and although they are not cheap, some of the programs offer financial assistance in the form of scholarships – particularly the ones where your kids get to sleep over. But maybe I should start by explaining the differences.

A day summer camp is exactly what the name implies. Your child attends camp daily for however many weeks you’re interested in (or you can afford.) Obviously, the longer your child attends, the better the end result. As far as I understand, the daily curriculum is taught in the target language, which depending on the program you choose, can range from Spanish to Arabic. Normally, age requirements are a bit more lax in this type of setting. At the one I’ve been looking into for Vanessa – the Denver Montclair International School – for example, they accept kids as young as three. By the way, their Spanish program is so popular, it’s pretty much sold out for the entire summer!

“Day camps work really well for really young kids,” says Carl-Martin Nelson, the director of communications at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota. “We find that half the time it’s the parents who are not ready for regular summer camps and the other half it’s the children”

Concordia Language Villages offers both options – day and regular summer camps – and it’s the kind of place that I would love for Vanessa to be able to attend when she gets older. They have been around for almost 50 years, their curriculum is truly impressive and they firmly believe in immersion as the best method to learn a language.

“We communicate with the children almost exclusively in the target language,” Nelson explains. “There is very little translation going on.”

Children must be 7 years old to be able to attend one of their summer camps in any of the 15 different languages they offer. Each camp can last anywhere from one to four weeks. This means your child is actually away from home for that period of time, just like the thousands of other summer camps that abound in this country, except that they spend their time immersed in the target language.

So how much can your child actually learn in one or two weeks? The truth is probably not much – although you’d be surprised. For most of you; however, who are already raising bilingual children, it can be a great source of reinforcement – especially when kids get to the age that they start refusing to speak in the target language, as we discussed in this recent post.

“We not only teach kids the language, we improve their attitude about learning the language,” says Nelson. “Our primary goal, our job, is to make it the coolest thing in the world to speak the target language.”

Nelson also brought up the fact that this type of program is perfect for families using the OPOL method because it helps to reinforce the language that the child may only get from one of the parents in a completely fun and different way. The same goes for those children who already attend dual language schools. In other words, it’s a great way for them to brush up on their language skills in a non-school setting before the new school year because the emphasis is not only on the physical aspect, but also on the academic one.

“Our experience has been that these kids go back to the classroom excited and enthused about the language they’re learning,” Nelson says.

Sounds like a win-win situation, right?

Before I sign-off, I wanted to share with you that even though we – all of you and I – have gone back and forth (in this post) about whether or not it’d be a good idea for me to send Vanessa to a dual language program in a language other than Spanish, I’m seriously thinking about sending her to the French summer program offered by the Denver school I mentioned above. I just kind of want to see if she’ll pick up some of it if she’s immersed in it during a whole week. I feel like it’d be easier for me to continue once she has somewhat of a stronger base which I’ve failed miserably at providing. I guess I’ll keep you all posted…

Since I can’t include all the different language summer camps available out there, I suggest you check out this website and hopefully you can find something around your area that might work for you and your kids.

And, if you know of any language summer camps that you’d like to recommend or you’ve actually sent your kids to one in the past, we’d love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below and/or start a new topic in the forums.

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