The language of summertime is the noise of picnics and fireworks, kids splashing and diving through water, seagulls at the beach, and of course the many sounds of cultural fairs and carnivals, parades, and even summer nights of film festivals showing international and independent films (some of which we provide subtitles and language translation service for). And of course, let's not forget the many sounds and sights of summer camps. Despite the fact that summertime is filled with multicultural celebrations, when most people think of summer camp, they imagine hiking, canoeing, night time bonfires, swinging from the rope swing into a cold creek, and sleeping in cabins or tents. These, however, aren't the only type of camps that your kids can benefit from during the summer. While summertime is a break from school, there are still opportunities for kids to exercise their minds and increase their learning capacity - all without feeling like a chore or too much like school.
Language camps are hosted by most public schools, both at the elementary and high school levels. These camps are offered in a variety of styles, places, and durations, and they include a wide array of activities. They also provide an opportunity to get children and teenagers alike interested in one or more languages, or improve their knowledge of a language they may already be learning.
When I was going to high school in Denver and taking Russian language class, there was an opportunity every summer to attend a week long Russian language camp in Nebraska. For an entire week, the teachers and students were encouraged to speak only in Russian – and there was no Russian translation provided. We watched Russian films without Russian to English subtitling, listened to Russian music, and read Russian literature without translated Russian subtexts or vocabulary glossaries. Any kind of Russian language translation tools were discouraged, and technically not even allowed. While challenging, it provided the opportunity to give a kind of turbo boost to how much Russian we could speak and understand.
The language camp was not solely for Russian language students. It was combined with German language students as well as Latin language and Spanish language students. Each student group was divided into their specific languages except for once a day, when all four language student groups were brought together for multilingual and multicultural arts and crafts, games, films or other activities. Each of these students were immersed in an intensive week without even educational German translation, nor any Spanish or Latin translation. It forced everyone to use the Russian, German, Latin or Spanish language they had learned to communicate, while also quickly learning and acquiring further language skills.
One of the biggest criticisms of our educational system is the lack of a second language learning requirement. While foreign languages are offered in high school, they are usually optional, and even after four years of taking high school French language class or German language class, students have only a basic or elementary grasp of the language. Summer language camps are an opportunity to provide your child with the opportunity to boost their knowledge and the desire to learn a second language. Many may not realize what a huge advantage they are giving their child when they encourage – or even insist – that they learn a second language. Anyone fluent in another language has a huge advantage in all areas of life. Imagine your child becoming an important translator for a Fortune 500 company in German business translation, or an official Italian translator for government or military operations. They could write professional French literary translation, historical Latin document translation or choose to go into educational translation as a foreign language instructor, whether at home or abroad. The possibilities for someone fluent in a second language are endless.
In another week, my son will be attending a week long Spanish and Latin language camp. Even though he is only in elementary school, the more exposure he has to other languages at an early age, the better it will prepare him for more intensive language learning later on.
Obviously we can't change the educational system anytime soon, or force it to require secondary language classes intensively enough for kids to be fluent in a non-English language. However, taking advantage of summer language camps, and any opportunity possible that exposes children to other cultures and languages, is a step in the right direction.