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Language camps offer a window on the world

Northwest Language Academy summer campers pose after a day of the Spanish Olympiad. - Photo courtesy of Northwest Language Academy
Northwest Language Academy summer campers pose after a day of the Spanish Olympiad.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Northwest Language Academy

The Northwest Language Academy is pulling out all the foreign stops for its summer language camp series.

Students between the ages of 2 and 14 will have the chance to explore the world and its myriad cultures all while enjoying the serenity of Bayview and other island sites with camps available in Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish and Latin.

Academy founder and camp director Josette Hendrix, a master of four languages, said what makes teaching so satisfying for her are the “aha” moments when she sees a child’s “language brain” emerge.

“Whenever I teach kids — whether in the camps, or at some of our other programs during the year — I am endlessly amazed by the potential for learning. Children are so quick to pick up both the sounds, to mimic the pronunciation, and also to grasp the meaning when it is presented in a real-life context,” Hendrix said.

That real-life context takes the form of students using the language in practical life.

Campers are presented with a “passport” complete with their name and picture on the first day of camp.

Each day they have to enter through the passport office and answer identity questions and other interactive dialogue about what’s been going on in camp, Hendrix explained.

“So this one little boy — when asked in French ‘How old are you?’ — he answered in a mix of English and French, ‘I am huit ans.’ He was already building the connectors in his brain after just three days of what the numbers are in French and attaching that to his English communication,” she said.

Hendrix is amazed at how easily children just slip into another language. She said they don’t have the filters that adults have that require everything to make sense in a certain way. Children are more flexible, she added.

The language camps are designed with an extra dose of fun in mind.

They include activities such as theatrical productions, farming, trampoline, swimming, crafts, culinary arts, cheese-making, soap-making, participation in a Spanish Olympics and other events fashioned for each of the languages.

During these various activities, the students use whichever language they are learning to communicate with each other.

If you are learning to bake French bread, you better study your ingredients en français.

Perhaps it will help to know how to shout “I’m open!” for the Spanish Olympic soccer match, or to be able sing the Mexican national anthem.

Whichever foreign language a child studies, chances are it’ll be good for his brain.

Hendrix said the public education system is beginning to realize the value of foreign language learning.

“The biggest gift of learning languages at a young age is that the thinking process itself becomes more flexible, more comprehensive,” Hendrix said.

“We are talking about the development of capacity of intelligence — a potential that would otherwise remain untapped. This is not ‘fluff’ or ‘extra’ education. This is a critical component,” she added.

Hendrix said that, for her, there is the bonus of having the first generation of campers return to the island and share the experiences of life and how those early years of language camps helped to present opportunities in their current lives.

“French camp was the highlight of my childhood,” said former camper Tana Lucker.

“I remember suddenly realizing there’s so much more in the world than I knew.”

The 17-year-old Lucker, who was a language camp counselor last year, is in France where she decided to plant herself for the summer in a self-styled immersion experience in Paris.

Lucker’s mother, Helma Lucker, said her daughter believed she could speak French right from the beginning at age 6.

“I can’t help but think that having access to these multi-cultural experiences here at home, in the delightful playful atmosphere created by Josette, were formative and gave her a comfort level and a confidence with the language she might not have had otherwise,” Helma Lucker said.

The academy welcomes everybody to learn a language, no matter what age or skill level.

Languages are taught at all levels of proficiency, so that campers with no prior knowledge of the language are comfortable, and those who already have a foundation can expand their skills.

The academy also seeks to include every interested child, and has a scholarship program that currently has six scholarships available to campers in need.

Hendrix said that she hopes the community can help with more scholarships so that the unique camp experience can be offered to many more children. Donations can be made as full sponsorships or as partial contributions to the scholarship fund.

The camps begin next week and are from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for the 7-to-14 age group.

Parent Preschool Camps are 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Tuition is $275 for preschoolers with parent; $300 for students.

Sibling discounts and scholarships are available. Older participants are welcome as counselors in training and interns.

Registration closes five days prior to the start of each camp. Housing and visitor information is available for off-island families.

For a detailed schedule of camp sessions and other info click here, call 321-2101 or e-mail info@nwlanguageacademy.com.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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