Language camps: more than words


Camps that teach a world language offer kids the fun of traditional summer camp activities while preparing them for life in our global society.

In these programs, campers with or without prior experience with a foreign language can learn to converse in the language and explore a different culture

Fun and informative

Campers don’t sit at desks drilling vocabulary words at most language camps. At French for Fun Summer Camp at the French International School of Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd, PA, development director Joan Gallagher says, “Campers absorb their new language through games and activities. In the same way they learned their native language — by listening, watching, singing and playing — they soon begin to understand French words and phrases.”

Little English is spoken at most language camps. By playing well-known games, using familiar art supplies and cooking with common ingredients, campers are able to figure out the foreign words being spoken, explains Marcela Summerville, owner and director of the Spanish Workshop for Children, which offers summer camps for ages 3-11 in Blue Bell, PA and Cherry Hill and Princeton, NJ.

A deeper understanding

It is important that children understand more than words when they communicate with people of other cultures. Particularly for older children and teens, many camps strive to provide a deeper understanding of the underlying culture.

As part of the National Security Language Initiative, the University of Maryland’s STARTALK program offers summer residential and day programs for kindergarteners through college-age youth in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Persian and other languages not widely offered in schools but that are strategically important to national security, trade and diplomacy. Programs are offered throughout the U.S. with several locations in southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Catherine Ingold, executive director of STARTALK, says that along with language instruction, “the programs help students develop an appreciation of how those people live and work as well as their customs. Because many of the STARTALK teachers are members of the cultures they’re teaching about, they are eager to share information about the countries they grew up in.”

Full immersion

Older children and teens can experience a foreign culture firsthand with programs that place them within the culture they’re studying. The Chinese Language and Culture Immersion Summer Camp takes children ages 8 to 18 to China, where they study the language, play games, visit historical and cultural sites in the Beijing area and interact with locals. Camp director Anna Yu says, “Kids can learn as much Chinese in three weeks in China as they do in a year in the U.S.”

Wayne, PA-based Travel for Teens takes kids to countries all over the world. They can choose to focus on a community service project, cultural exploration, language or another special topic such as photography.

“Teens live as locals. They learn what it means to be Italian or Costa Rican,” explains Ned Clark, vice president and program director at Travel for Teens. “And as they learn a new way of life, they also gain perspective on their own ways of life.”

Susan Stopper is a freelance writer.


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