This summer, my family and I will be spending a week in Minnesota at Concordia Language Villages for a Spanish immersion week. It’s something I’m looking forward to more than I could possibly communicate. I have so many reasons for wanting to attend this summer camp, and I love how it’s allowing everything to fall into place for me.
Personally, I attended Concordia Language Villages back when I was a kid. The camps have been around for over 50 years actually, starting with German in 1961 and expanding to a total of 15 languages now from Finnish to Russian to Arabic and more. Since I had lived in Belgium as a child, I attended Lac du Bois – which is the name of the French camps – for several years.
When I first started attending the immersion youth programs, there were just options to go for two weeks at a time, which is what I did, and for high schoolers, to go for 4 weeks and get a year’s high school credit. While I was going, a one week overnight session was added, which also allowed younger campers to attend, and Concordia Language Villages have since added family weekends (during the school year) and family weeks as options, with essentially the same format as the other programs.
I had such an amazing experience (hello, I went back year after year) while at Lac du Bois that I knew it was a camp I wanted my own children to attend when they were old enough. To this day, I can still tell you about so many of the activities we did their daily (and I will), as well as singing so many of the camp songs.
We may live in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean that Concordia Language Villages isn’t for us. Even when I attended in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I made friends who came from Arizona (hi Sam!), California (Ethan!), South Carolina (Farrell!) and more. Concordia Language Villages has campers come from all50 states, as well as over 20 countries around the world because this is such a unique and powerful experience. Trust me, I looked locally to see if I could find something that would mimic what I gained from Concordia Language Villages and came up with nothing.
That said, I am not quite ready to send my 8 year old (let alone my 10 year old!) off to camp in another state by themselves for their first overnight camp experience. Call me a helicopter parent, but I’m not quite ready. I’m actually planning to send at least Little Miss to a one or two week camp session next year, but this year, I was grateful that the family week option exists. It’s a great way for me to introduce the wee ones to camp life where they can venture out on their own a bit but still have the safety net of my husband and I if they need it. It’s the perfect balance of independence and chaperoning that I need right now.
Why do I care so much about having this language immersion experience? Well, we’ll start with the fact that Little Miss is in a Spanish immersion program at her school. She started speaking nothing but Spanish in kindergarten (well, having it spoken to her anyway), knowing not a word but quickly picking up a lot. She’s almost finished with third grade, and it’s amazing how her language has grown. But trying to get her to speak it outside school is worse than pulling teeth. Everything is, “I don’t know” – said in English.
She simply isn’t comfortable standing out speaking Spanish, and in a way, she sees speaking Spanish and taking it at school as a chore. My hope is that with the Concordia Language Villages experience, she will see that it isn’t just a language, it’s an entire culture that is open to her. While we are there, everyone will be immersed. We will hear no English (aside from what we speak amongst ourselves), the food will all be culturally authentic, and we’ll learn and be exposed to songs, dances, activities and more that are relevant to Spanish speaking countries.
Couple that with the fact that Little Miss will most likely be head and shoulders above the majority of campers in terms of her facility with the Spanish language, and I am hopeful that she will have a greater appreciation for what she’s already learned (and confidence with it), as well as a realization that there is so much more than just learning Spanish and how her knowledge of the language will allow her a much deeper integration into the culture and world when she explores those countries.
Selfishly, I also want Mister Man, my husband, and I to bone up on our Spanish. Mister Man takes Spanish once a week during the school year so has some exposure to it, but he doesn’t actually speak it. Yet. My husband, on the other hand, took high school Spanish yet has such an ear for languages that he was able to speak fully in Spanish throughout our honeymoon in Mexico. And me? Well, I do French, so every time I hear or see Spanish, I translate it to French and get confused. And given that Little Miss will soon be a teenager, I figure I’d better learn all the Spanish I can before she and her Spanish speaking friends start sharing open secrets in Spanish as teens when they want to hide things from me.
A one week immersion Spanish summer camp won’t solve everything, but it’s a great start. It’s a fun and relaxed environment, which means that you learn without pressure, and you learn in real life situations, which is one of the major benefits. You aren’t drilling on vocabulary or learning how to call for a taxi. You are doing every day things in Spanish, just like you would were you in a Spanish speaking country, whether it’s withdrawing money from the bank, ordering something at the bakery, getting mail, and so forth. Every person who attends will learn at a different rate and come out with a different improvement in their language ability, but there is no way you can spend a week hearing nothing but Spanish and not come out learning an impressive amount.
I’m counting down the days until August when we arrive at El Lago del Bosque (yep, every camp is named the same, but in its native tongue). Follow along on my journey as we prepare for camp and then actually attend. Have questions? Ask away, and I’ll answer them in future columns.