With spring in the air in the Northern Hemisphere, and the school year winding down, many parents’ thoughts are turning to summer… and what to do with their children during the summer break!
Summer enrichment programs or camps are becoming increasingly popular, with language camps at the top of that list. Many parents are actively looking for summer immersion programs to teach their little ones a new language.
If you have ever considered starting your own Spanish immersion program, French immersion program or any other language program, a language camp is the perfect way to start — and frankly, you can do it at any time, not just summer!
But you’ll want to make sure you avoid some common pitfalls, so that your Language camp will be fun and profitable…
Here are my top 5 tips for a successful Language Immersion Camp…
Tip #1: Ditch the flash cards.
Colors. Numbers. Days of the week.
It seems like the obvious place to start, right?
Time and again I see teachers start by teaching vocabulary. I get it! It’s an easy way to get started. But here’s the problem with that approach…
Drilling vocabulary is incredibly boring — for both students and teacher! And when you are in an instructional setting, young minds tend to wander, and you will quickly lose the attention of your students. Trust me, I see it happen all of the time.
And worse yet, teaching only vocabulary words won’t actually teach children Spanish — or any other language.
That’s because learning isolated vocabulary is NOT how humans learn language naturally!
(Think about it… You could memorize an entire Spanish dictionary and still not be able to carry on a conversation in Spanish.)
That is especially true for children. Children need to hear words spoken in context, so that they acquire the full “packet” of language — because language is not only words. It’s also phonology (how the language sounds), pragmatics (how the language is used, e.g. for greetings or other social purposes), syntax (the rules of how words go together, also known as “grammar”), etc.
When immersed in a language, the child’s brain immediately gets to task analyzing the ingredients in the “packet” and forming fresh neural pathways for this language. It all works very naturally, because the child’s brain is the best known device to learn language in the world. It is even better than any super-computer. In fact, when it comes to extracting complex rules from spoken language, a three-month-old will outperform an adult.
So if simple vocabulary doesn’t effectively teach a new language, where should you start teaching?
The answer is…
Tip #2: Get them talking — to each other!
Contrary to common belief, to really teach a child a new language, you need to get them to start speaking it as quickly as possible.
The more children start using the new language, the more quickly they will learn and retain it. Their developing brains will make those crucial neural pathways that will stay with them for life. In fact, research shows that the language we learn as children is stored in a different part of the brain as language we learn as an adult!
By the way, when I say “Get your students speaking the language,” I don’t mean just parroting back a few words and sentences to you, the instructor. I mean using everyday language to each other… in other words, real conversation!
But Ana, you may be thinking, how do I get children to start speaking a language they don’t know it yet?!
It may seem like a paradox, but believe me, it is possible. In fact, I can teach you how to get a child to start speaking a few simple phrases within just minutes of your first language camp session.
I will let you in on the secret… Pretend play!
You will be amazed at how quickly kids want to try out a new language when they are pretending — acting out their favorite scenarios or stories.
Let me explain why in my next tip…
Tip #3: Spark Their Imaginations
You may have noticed (perhaps with your own children) that starting around the age of three and a half, children LOVE to pretend and play the part — whether it’s being a fireman, a princess, a pirate, a witch, or whatever else strikes their fancy.
It’s also at this age that children make a spectacular leap in the sophistication of their language. This is not a coincidence!
When children engage in pretend play, they develop social and emotional skills. They also learn how to use symbolic communication (via movement, gestures, signs), e.g. “I am going to use a gesture to pretend that I am eating.” This is an important step in language acquisition and also in literacy development, which is based in complex symbolic communication.
By immersing themselves in imaginary situations, children are able to “try out” language suitable for that situation. That is how humans learn language naturally, by using it in different situations.
Furthermore, you could say that, through pretend play, children begin to discover that language has different functions and that mastering these functions is powerful — it allows them to advance to more sophisticated levels of play, and of life!
That’s why early childhood is the ideal age to use storytelling and pretend play to teach new languages! It’s an approach that goes a long way!
Tip #4: Use Familiar Stories
Another big mistake that new (and even experienced!) teachers make is to try to teach language using themes that are familiar to adults, but completely foreign to children.
Children don’t relate to scenarios such as buying tickets at the train station, or planning a trip. Yet these are the types of conversations that many language programs try to teach!
It’s also a mistake to force foreign culture on young children. Trying to teach your preschoolers or kindergarteners about holidays in Mexico or folk stories from France will be an uphill battle if they have little to do with that child’s previous experience. It’s just too much “foreign-ness” at a time when they are not ready for it (they will be, but not until they are older!).
Instead, start with something your students already know and love!
My curriculum uses popular stories and fairy-tales (such as Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, and The Little Red Hen) to teach new languages to young children. It works because children love to hear familiar stories — ask any parent of a preschooler who requests the same bedtime story every night!
Also, because the child already knows the plot of the story, they already have a familiar context in which to understand new words in another language. Background knowledge is a best kept secret to advance quickly in a new language. Once you have a familiar background, it is very easy to insert cultural content that flows naturally with the context because we all share common human experiences.
Remember how I said you can get a child speaking in a new language within minutes of your first language immersion class? This is the key — acting out familiar stories. By combining the natural love that children have for pretend play and storytelling, you create the perfect situation for foreign language immersion!
Long before a child is ready to enjoy the experience of studying abroad, he will be thrilled to travel to the world of the imagination.
All it takes to transform his existing love for adventure into a great immersion experience in a “new land” (e.g. Wonderland, the Red Hen’s Farm, or Oz)… is to give him the language he needs to play the part!
Tip #5: Get Parents Involved
Parents are an important part of any language immersion program, but many times their role is completely overlooked.
In most cases, you won’t have a lot of time with your students — perhaps as little as a few hours a week.
But that doesn’t mean that your language camp won’t be successful. In fact, my curriculum is designed to be used in any increments of time. I’ve even had a teacher successfully use my lessons to teach Spanish to preschoolers in just 20 minutes a week!
The key is to get your lessons to travel home with the children. Use songs that students can sing at home and teach their families. Create activities that involve the parents.
My curriculum includes iPad apps that parents can download so they can read the same stories their child is learning in their immersion class. It also includes suggestions for fun activities to send home.
Get creative! Talk to parents to get their feedback.
Remember that parents are your greatest resource. Not only can they be your best collaborators in language learning, but also, they will be the ones to recommend your program to other parents! If you can make the parents of your students happy with how much their children are learning, they will be repeat customers, and your best source of word-of-mouth business.
Get everything you need to start a Language Immersion Camp!
Watch a replay of our webinar to learn how to get started and quickly make a profit teaching languages to children. I will show you how YOU can start in a very real yet manageable way – through a 2-3 week language camp – ideal for summer or any season.
Send us your questions about the webinar.