Longbridge English Camp

11 Oct

I spent the last week acting as a counselor at Longbridge, an English immersion program for Swiss children (from the section of Switzerland that speaks German). It was a fantastic experience, spending five days teaching the kids English–especially since I was in charge of the group who only had six weeks of English in school. I spent most of my time using flashcards to teach new words, and used “small words” and gestures in order to make sure everyone understood what I was saying (as it is an immersion program, I had to pretend that I spoke no German). It was somewhat fun to see what kinds of words were difficult for them, such as “toothbrush” and “blanket.” For “toothbrush,” they simply couldn’t remember what the word for “tooth” was, but for blanket they kept saying “wool sheet.” This was because the German for “blanket” is “Wolldecke,” and the kids had already learned “sheet” (“Decke”).

I did learn a lot of things about my current situation from talking to the more advanced speakers, those with three or four years of English–they were basically in the opposite position from me speaking German. When they spoke more complex sentences, they had a tendency to use English words but with German grammar/word order. I never really thought about that until afterwards when explaining the camp to one of my German roommates; I realized I was doing the same thing. So now I’m trying to get my roommates to assist me by letting me make mistakes, and then repeating things or correcting me without really saying, “This is wrong,” but giving an example that kind of says, “Here’s how you should say it.” For example, when I asked one girl about her afternoon she said, “I swimming in the afternoon,” but instead of saying, “No, it’s ‘I went swimming,'” I simply replied, “Oh! I went swimming this afternoon, too!” I noticed that any kind of negative reinforcement made the kids self-conscious and less likely to talk as much, but this passive correction was very encouraging. I myself am less likely to try more difficult sentences if I think I’ll mess up, so when my roommates speak with me this way I can understand exactly what the kids at camp thought.

The best part of the camp, I think, is the feeling of pride I came away with after seeing the kids from my group speak English. We had to perform a skit for the meal presentation, and as soon as I broke the news they all rushed to the costume room and starting acting it out, asking me for clarification on certain words. I barely had to do anything to help out, and my language group had one of the best presentations of them all–all in English! There was also an incident where an older couple came in, thinking the building was a restaurant, and when they asked us a question in German, all of the children responded with, “Hello! How are you? I’m good. Are you fine? What do you need?” This couple was quite confused until we got the woman in charge to speak with them, because all of these kids just kept on going in English.

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