Summer's a great time to dive into a foreign language

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For a lot of kids, summer is a time to travel intellectually as well as literally, to dive headlong into new languages and cultures in a way that classroom learning alone doesn't allow.

For instance, every summer around 4,500 kids between the ages of 7 and 18 travel to one of dozens of "language villages" nestled in the north woods of Minnesota and run by Concordia College. The camps, which also include typical summer-camp activities like swimming and crafts, offer serious cultural and linguistic immersion in 16 different languages.

There is belly dancing and Middle Eastern food at Arabic language camp, for example, or traditional calligraphy, taiko drumming, karate and Japanese meals in Japanese camp.

"Having a foreign language and cultural skills in your background is vitally important. Sometimes it's a matter of heritage or ethnic background, or sometimes it's about community demographic. Or it's just what a child seems to be passionate about," says Christine Schulze, executive director of the program, based in Moorhead, Minnesota. "Korean pop culture, for example, seems to be a big driver of interest in Korean language and cultural studies."

For younger kids, the camps run one or two weeks, while those for high schoolers are four weeks.

The longer high-school-level camps are designed (and accredited) to cover an entire year of high school language learning, Schulze says, and unlike a summer overseas, the camps offer the security and ease of remaining in the United States. Kids also can try out several of the "country" villages to find the best fit.

"Children come in with the full range of language abilities, with some starting at the very beginning and others quite advanced and ready push their skills even further," she says. "Sometimes children do a summer at a village as preparation for a program abroad the following year."

The programs cost roughly $1000 per week, with about 20 percent of the children receiving some level of financial assistance.

Middlebury College, in Vermont, also offers summer language programs for eighth to 12th graders, as do some other colleges and universities.

For older kids, the Washington, D.C.-based Youth for Understanding offers high school study-abroad summer programs in dozens of countries. They include group travel for language teachers and their classes, and more traditional, individual home-stay programs, says Heather Deno, sales director for the organization.

Youth for Understanding was started after World War II to foster peace, and is also known for high school programs lasting a semester to a year, and gap-year programs between high school and college.

In its summer programs in India, Ecuador, Paraguay, South Africa and Thailand, kids stay with a host family and do community-oriented volunteer work.

"Our organization started in the 1950s with the idea that it's hard to hate or generalize about a culture once you know people personally," says Deno.

The summer programs run four to eight weeks and cost between $5,500 and $9,000 depending on airfare; many students receive financial aid. "We give out $2 million a year in scholarships. Many Japanese companies, in particular, offer full or partial scholarships to Japan," she said.

Of course, you don't have to leave home to get summer language study. Many bilingual and language schools across the U.S. offer their own immersive day camps.

The French American School of New York, in Larchmont, offers summer camps for kids, as does the German International School in Portland, Oregon, among many others. Prices vary widely depending on the school and region.

To find such a program, begin with a quick online search of local bilingual, dual immersion or international schools.

For sleepaway camps, Schulze recommends checking that the program is affiliated with the American Camp Association, which sets general and safety guidelines.

And for overseas programs, Deno, at Youth For Understanding, says programs should be certified by CIEST (the Council on Standards for International Education Travel).



Youth for Understanding:

Concordia Language Villages:

American Camp Association:

The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel: