I recently received the following article from 2010 from the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association (PSMLA) about a language camp in our area that’s been around for 28 years. I had no idea it existed before, but I really wish I did! Maybe you are interested in this for your children?
As a side note, if you are interested in a longer, more comprehensive experience for yourself or your children, Middlebury College (based out of Vermont (but they have several locations for their language schools) has arguably the best domestic language immersion experience. It’s quite pricey, but worth it if you are serious about acquiring a second language. http://www.middlebury.edu/ls
Sprechen sie good time? Language camp marks 25 years of summer funThursday, August 12, 2010By Jill Cueni-CohenRobin Rombach/Post-GazetteWill Misback, 14, shows Manon Prokesch, 6, a face drawn on him by a fellow camper during Language Camp at Camp Kon-O-Kwee in Fombell. The two, both from Gibsonia, were writing letters to fellow campers in French that will be read later in the evening. Will is dressed in a costume he calls Super Guido.
Nestled in the rustic beauty of Franklin, Beaver County, Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer has been offering intensive language lessons disguised as fun for 25 summers.
“We are a group promoting internationalism,” explained Helena Schaefers, director of the language camp for the past 15 of those 25 years.
When the camp was founded in 1985 by Ann Jenkins, a retired French teacher from Bradford Woods, German was the only language taught. French was added in the camp’s sixth year, and Spanish was added in its 10th. Next year, Mrs. Schaefers hopes to add Mandarin.
The camp is always held for one week in August, and this year it was held last week
Campers range from second- to ninth-graders and come from communities throughout Western Pennsylvania and Ohio to Camp Kon-O-Kwee, operated by the YMCA in Fombell.
“It’s important to learn a language before the age of 12,” said Mrs. Schaefers, a German teacher who retired last year after 25 years of teaching first-grade students at Linden Elementary in Point Breeze and Manchester Elementary on the North Side. “That’s when research shows that your brain closes down to language learning. We feel these children will have more of a chance of native-speaking ability and native accent, since they started learning it younger.”
Camp enrollment, however, has dropped in the past few years.
“We usually have between 75 and 100 campers at least, but this year we just have 50, and that’s the lowest ever,” Mrs. Schaefers said. “We think it’s the economy, but we started to notice the difference after 9/11 happened.”
Mrs. Schaefers sends thousands of camp applications to local school districts and typically receives a few campers from each. “For instance, there were two kids from North Allegheny this year. Kids are often too busy with all their other activities, but once we get them here, they love it so much, they want to come back.”
The camper-teacher ratio is 5:1, with native speakers as teachers. Drew Richards is the German director from Fox Chapel Area School District, and French native Fabienne Prokesch teaches French in Pine-Richland. One teacher, German-born Sigrid Rother, travels from Ohio.
Campers choose a language to study, but the camp experience makes it difficult not to get a taste of all three.
“We try to maintain a friendship between the three languages,” Mrs. Schaefers said. “In the beginning, we found there was a competition, but we tried to promote this international friendship, so we do interact with each other often. We eat together, and we are together three evenings out of the week. Singing is a great way to get a language into your heart.”
A different theme each year keeps campers engaged in something other than learning words and phrases — almost without knowing it. This year’s theme revolved around saving the environment.
“When they had the 10th anniversary of Germany’s reunification, we built a huge Styrofoam wall and knocked it down,” Mrs. Schaefers recalled.
“We look at what’s current in the world and try to get the kids involved. But most importantly, the children hear native speakers speak the language throughout the day. It’s almost like being in another country, but you’re not that far from home.”
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: email@example.com.