I'm writing now because I want to write a series of posts on an item I recently crossed off my bucket list: attending a Concordia Language Village (CLV)! CLV is a group of immersion camps put on by Concordia College in (mostly) Bemidji, Minnesota. Each year, the program attracts more than 13,000 participants from all 50 states and more than 40 countries to their 15 language camps.
I should note here that I was not compensated for writing any of this. I would have, in a heartbeat, if offered, but my motivation was to provide the kind of information I was looking for now, as a parent.
So? What makes Concordia Language Villages so special, and why would I want to go?
There are a few other language camps out there. (this one in Washington state looks pretty amazing for French), but Concordia seems to be the gold standard due to the themed-settings, the variety of camp options offered, the international staff of native speakers, the number of languages offered, the home-cooked culturally appropriate food, the focus on global citizenship, and the fact that they have been doing this for so long. (The camp was started in 1961).
What languages are offered at CLV?
Current languages offered, along with their camp name and year of establishment, are:
German: Waldsee (est. 1961)
French: Lac du Bois or Les Voyageurs (est. 1962)
Spanish: El Lago del Bosque (est. 1963)
Norwegian: Skogfjorden (est. 1963)
Russian: Lesnoe Ozero (Лесное озеро) (est. 1966)
Swedish: Sjölunden (est. 1975)
Finnish: Salolampi (est. 1978)
Danish: Skovsøen (est. 1982)
Chinese: Sen Lin Hu (森林湖) (est. 1984)
Japanese: Mori no Ike (森の池) (est. 1988)
English: Hometown, USA or Hometown, Europe (est. 1999)
Korean: Sup sogǔi Hosu (숲 속의 호수) (est. 1999)
Italian: Lago del Bosco (est. 2003)
Arabic: Al-Wāḥa (الواحة) (est. 2006)
Portuguese: Mar e Floresta (est. 2008).
Each village is named "Lake of the Woods" in its language, with the exception of the English villages Hometown, USA and Hometown, Europe, the Portuguese village Mar e Floresta (Sea and Forest), and the Arabic village al-Wāḥa ("the oasis"). The Japanese village, Mori no Ike, literally translates as "Pond of the Forest," but was chosen in lieu of the literal translation for the ease of pronunciation. (information courtesy of Wikipedia)
What kinds of camps are offered?
Within each camp, there are several options: weekend camps, day camps, 1 week camp, 2 week camp, 4 week credit courses (where campers will generally learn the equivalent of one academic year's worth of language), and family camp. Most camps are located in Northern Minnesota, but a few are offered in the Twin Cities. While CLV is primarily known as a camp for kids and teens, they also offer immersion camp specifically for adults and training for teachers and corporations.
Who attends CLV?
Anyone interested in learning about a new language and culture will feel at home at CLV. Some campers may come build on a language learned at school (this was my initial interest). Others may come to learn a language not offered at school. Some students may want to prepare for international travel and/or study. Some come to get a head start on a language they plan to study. Some come to learn about a language spoken at home or by relatives (heritage speakers). My own son wanted to go to Russian camp because he loves space and Russia has a big place in the history (and future) of space exploration. Adults may want to attend to help with business travel. Teachers may want to empathize with what their students experience.
What does "immersion" mean in a camp setting?
Not everyone can afford to visit a different country to learn a new language. In fact, in my experience traveling to the Netherlands to visit my husband's family, many people while switch to English to help you out once they figure out you are not a native speaker. And when I went to China, new friends and strangers wanted to speak English to practice their own language skills with a native speaker.
At CLV, everything is communicated in the target language. (Important note: English is always acceptable when it comes to safety issues!) You hear a lot of singing and see a lot of acting to communicate meaning. One exception to this is family camp, where parents may be spoken to in English at times to help with safety issues or to clarify what is being said. There is empathy for the fact that the older we get, the harder it is to learn a new language!
Repetition is a big part of the immersion experience. For example, each meal time follows a similar pattern. Counselors greet the campers, talk about, act out, and show what we will be eating, sing a song about meal time, talk about what happens after the meal, and sing a song of thanks after the meal. After a few meals, the pattern is recognized and words become familiar.
There's no getting around the fact that this is a pricey camp, especially when you factor in transportation. We attended family camp, which cost $1,840 for the three of us. But, that nearly two grand included:
- a beautiful semi-private cabin for 5 nights, (We shared with one other family, they had the two downstairs rooms and a bathroom, we had the upstairs two rooms and a bathroom. We shared the kitchen, living room, and dining room).
- 42 all-you-can-eat home-cooked cultural meals (14 total meals over 6 days for 3 people at each meal).
- a secure location where our child could explore the great outdoors without concern for non-registered campers, parents, or staff intruding.
- language instruction and resources, primarily from native speakers
- cultural experiences and exposure
- access to target language food, clothing, books, and other items for purchase
- the ability to talk to other international families and to compare notes on how they face our unique parenting experience.
- an absolutely gorgeous setting.
For us, the price was worth it. We spend a good chunk of our budget on travel because we value buying experiences, the concept of global citizenship, and seeing our friends and family around the world. By comparison, we felt we got a lot of what we value for what we spent on camp. We would highly recommend the camp for anyone who values the same.
How much language do you actually learn?
Like anything else, you get into it what you put into it. For Niels and I, our goal was to be able to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet and communicate some basic phrases. For our son, our goal was that he would get over any insecurity or shyness about speaking a new language and sample some new foods that we may not have had yet at home. On all accounts, we were successful. I was amazed by how quickly our minds started to think in Russian and the squiggles we saw posted around camp became familiar words. One week of camp gave us a good feel for the language, but clearly you do not become fluent in that time. What it did give us, though, was the confidence that we could navigate our way around a Russian-speaking environment with confidence. I can see how the two-week camp would be even more helpful if we had a planned trip to a Russian-speaking location, and how the four-week credit course could truly give one a full academic year's worth of language study.
I did read a few reviews from campers at the more commonly-spoken language camps (specifically Spanish) that there was some disappointment at the amount of English spoken by fellow campers. I would guess that the more common the language, the more you might see that due to campers who may not be as motivated as campers for other languages.
How do I know my kids are safe?
Our son is six, and neither he nor I are ready for him to attend an overnight camp, especially one that is a sixteen hour drive away! Family camp was an excellent introduction for both of us to the Concordia way of doing camp. Family camp is set up a little differently than the camps for other kids because the expectation is that parents are responsible for their own children, except when they are signed up with a specific counselor. However, we were there with one-weekers and day campers and could see how they were always with a counselor or two at all times. Based on what I saw, there was about a 1:5 ratio of staffer to campers.
The camp itself is closed off when in session. It's out of the way, and no one comes to the campsite without being signed in. The daily schedule is set up so that assigned counselors know where their kids are at all times. Even during the 45 minutes of free time, the kids use the buddy system and the counselor knows which activity they are doing. At family camp, parents sign their children up on a roster for the times when they are with counselors. It is up to the counselors to know where those children are at all times, and it is up to the parents to get them to the activity and pick them up afterwards.
There is a beach and boating activities. Campers swim with a buddy, and only when a lifeguard is one duty. Boaters need to pass a swim test to go out without a lifeguard with them. The beach is closed when no lifeguard is available.
There is a medical cabin in the middle of camp. The staff nurse speaks the target language and English. English is absolutely acceptable in medical situations.
If you are like me, you want to see what your kids are doing when they are away. CLV does a great job of posting photos, videos, and text to inform family and friends of what campers are doing each day.
How can I get a job at CLV?
Finally, as we were enjoying our time at camp, we thought of many of our international friends and how they may enjoy working at CLV. Staffers are not required to spend the entire summer at camp, so international staffers can work for part of the summer, and then have time off to travel in the States. Many American staffers work at the camp as vacation for their regular job. If you are bilingual and have an interest in working at camp as a counselor, nurse, or kitchen worker, you can find more information on the CLV website.
Other posts in this series:
Concordia Language Villages, part 2: Packing!
Concordia Language Villages, part 3: The Setting
Concordia Language Villages, part 4: A Day at Camp
Concordia Language Villages, part 5: The Food!
Concordia Language Villages, part 6: What We Learned
Concordia Language Villages, part 7: Final Thoughts
If you have any other questions about Concordia Language Villages, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer it.
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