The Magic of Summer Camps

Photo illustrating the news item

Language learning at a summer camp is pure magic! Kids attend an English summer camp, participate in activities, play football, sing and — magic — their English improves dramatically. How does this happen?

Research tells us that quality language input and negotiation of meaning become language acquisition Let’s unpack that.

Quality language input is best when it is just slightly above the current level of the student. For example, if a teen is learning English by watching cartoons, a slightly more challenging task would be to listen to a simple news podcast with academic vocabulary and a meaningful storyline. Teachers assist students to comprehend language input at a level that is challenging, but manageable. Magic = language is learned.

Negotiation of meaning happens when a language learner asks questions or seeks assistance from their interlocutor. For example, when a teen asks “what did you say?” or “can you repeat that?” or simply “huh?” they are negotiating what they understand of the utterance. When they themselves are confident enough to join the conversation, they get help comprehending. Magic = language is learned.

Language acquisition happens when a language learner remembers and can use a new language form or function effectively and independently. This is evident when a teenager gives a short presentation about video games without her notes. Acquisition is the goal. Magic = language has been learned.

Language camps provide the perfect situation for quality language input and negotiation of meaning to become language acquisition.

Teachers provide quality language input by carefully choosing reading and listening texts for students that are both challenging and manageable.

Teachers provide safe spaces and plenty of time for students to negotiate language meaning. Teachers know that students must participate in conversations with conversation partners, not just scroll through their phones.

Teachers provide opportunities to applaud students for their efforts to demonstrate their language skills. Like in a sporting event, campers are rewarded with applause and certificates.

The theory of negotiation of meaning was developed a long time ago and confirmed by multiple language researchers. (Long & Porter, 1985; Brown, 1994; Pica, Young, & Doughty, 1987; Ellis, 1991).

But let’s give a shout-out to teachers in language camps who keep the magic alive!

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

14 Aug 2023