From July 1st through 5th, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain proficiency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities. Did you notice the name Xie Laoshi? You read correctly! TNCS campers welcomed back their dear former teacher, and she brought along some new friends from her current school to join the fun. The group also included a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School (see more about that program in this post from summer 2018)! Students came from all over the city; other schools included Greenspring Montessori and Baltimore International Academy.
You may be wondering, with such a varied group of students, how did Chinese immersion camp come together? In fact, the 14 campers ranged in age from 4 to 12, but Jewel—like always—rose to the challenge. Instead of focusing on a single theme as past camps have done (see here and here), Chinese Immersion Camp 2019 took a slightly different approach and emphasized interaction. This meant lots of practice communicating with each other and partaking in various activities in groups.
Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. (She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp the following year.) She employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate. Now let’s take a peek at camp!
Camp Day to Day
This year, Jewel was joined by assistant Miss Pung, which allowed the camp to subdivide for part of the day, with older campers working on skits to be performed at the end of the week and younger campers practicing conversation while working on related art projects.
Although camp was not specifically themed, each day had a standard framework. Mornings were devoted to lessons, which progressed to applying what they just learned in practice.
Even the vocabulary lessons, however, were extremely interactive. See Jewel and her devoted students in action!
After lunch and recess, afternoons usually meant art (working with clay, making dragon fans, creating blue “porcelain” plates) and other cultural activities—singing, dancing, cooking, and so on . . . even some martial arts displays!
Building Blocks of Conversation
Key here is that everything was interrelated; vocabulary was specific to the day’s activities—in other words, campers were acquiring the tools they would be using throughout the day. In addition to placards and the whiteboard to teach language, Jewel also employed Chinese Buddy, a collection of YouTube video songs designed to teach discrete conversational units and grammar points. Campers watched and sang along, clearly enjoying them. Each unit built upon the next, and campers ultimately used what they learned to write, produce, and perform their end-of-week skits.
If your child is learning Mandarin, you’ll want to meet Chinese Buddy. The songs are funny, catchy, and adored by kids. Start with the very memorable, “Stinky Tofu Song (臭豆腐之歌)” that focuses on how to communicate “want”:
Now see TNCS campers!
How about the “May I/Can I (可以吗)” song?
Move and Learn!
Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity took place each day, and multiple benefits accrue from this approach. Kids obviously need to move around and release some of their boundless energy, but research shows that learning while moving deepens learning. (Read more about this theory called Total Physical Response here.) In the following short video clips, you’ll see campers competing in short physical contests. They comprehend Jewel’s commands given in Mandarin effortlessly, and she mixes in new vocabulary with the Mandarin campers are already familiar with, like counting, which gives them both practice—so important for language proficiency—and new brain food to chew on. They are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning! And don’t forget the cultural component—in China, school children do daily calisthenics, much like what TNCS campers are doing here!
And Now, for the Skits!
In their skits, campers put it altogether. They were all, thus, variations on a theme, but each group put their own stamp on it! The basic premise was a child asking a parent permission for something, the request being denied, and the child moving on to another parent, who then grants the request. Some marital friction might ensue, depending on the group. Or, dad might be Captain America—again, it depends on the group. Jewel said, “They didn’t have a lot of practice, but they really did an amazing job and did everything by themselves.”
Míngnián Zàijiàn (明年再见), Chinese Camp!
Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers prepared and gobbled up Chinese noodles with gusto! What did Jewel think of camp? “I was very happy to be at The New Century School and working with the students here again,” she said. The week went great, and we had fun together. I felt like I have never left. TNCS is always close to my heart.”
If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—and Jewel—to thank.