Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer camp teaches language skills that ought to be taught at school

    I just packed the children off to summer camp – Ash for one week, Lucy for two.
    Ash is going to Camp Yocona, about 30 miles from Oxford. Lucy is going to Concordia Language Village’s Lac du Bois in Bemidji, MN.
Concordia is apparently celebrating their 50th year this year, offering a semi-immersion language camp for kids. Lucy is attending the French camp for her third year. Concordia also offers programs in Arabic, Finnish, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Danish, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, and Portuguese.
    We Americans don’t tend to learn foreign languages and it’s a shame. In virtually every European country, it’s just understood that every college educated person will speak his native tongue, English, plus one and often two additional languages.
    Unlike Europeans, we have less incentive to learn foreign languages. Most Americans will never leave the country. But college-educated Americans will, and they ought to be able to carry on a conversation in more than just English.
    But for this to happen, our schools have to start offering foreign language instruction in kindergarten and the elementary grades for those students who wish to learn. Obviously a child who is already struggling to keep up shouldn’t add one more straw to the camel’s back, but many children would be eager to learn a foreign language. Our schools just need to help them!
    Unfortunately, our schools aren’t helping. Few schools offer foreign language instruction before 9th grade, by which time the brain is so hard-wired that a foreign language is extremely difficult to learn.
    If this year is like past years, Lucy will have a great time at summer camp, and she’ll learn a little bit more French than she knew when she went. But it is a disgrace that her elementary school isn’t teaching the most rudimentary skills of world citizenship – foreign languages.

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