International Language Camp

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Portland, Ore.
(503) 531-0451

Objective: To help children learn foreign languages and cultures through immersion.

In a Nutshell: International Language Camp (ILC) is a nonprofit that provides day and sleepover immersion language camps in French, German and Spanish. Throughout the camp session (one or two weeks), youth are surrounded by native and fluent speakers of these languages. “The idea is to help youth keep the language going during all activities – showering, eating, during games – in addition to the classes,” says camp director Susan Schlesinger.

Where It Happens: The day camps are held at a Portland middle school, while the sleepover camp is held at Camp Menucha, along the Columbia River Gorge.

When It Began: The first day camp was held in June 1999; the sleepover camp was introduced the next year.

Who Started It: Schlesinger, a former accountant for a publishing house in Germany, who now teaches foreign language and piano in the Portland area.

Who Runs It: Schlesinger supervises a staff of 10 to 20, depending on the year’s enrollment. The staff is made up of language teachers and youth workers, one-third of whom are volunteers.

Early Obstacles: Finding staff with enough commitment and finding youth who want to spend part of their summer at an intense language camp.

How They Overcame Them: Schlesinger started with a small program, hired staff members early in the year and worked to educate them about the program. She also spent money up front on advertising, and she benefited from word of mouth advertising after the first summer.

Cost: The operating budget is approximately $20,000.

Who Pays: Participants pay $135 per week for the day camps and $475 per week for the overnight camp.

Who Else Has Kicked In: The German American Society donated $1,500 last year for scholarships for low-income campers. A local construction company donated funds for some expenses.

Youth Served: Ages 7 to 16. The older youths also can also be camp counselors. Last year, the day camp hosted 80 youths, while 25 attended the overnight camp.

Youth Turn-On: Although the camp is focused on developing an academic skill, sessions often incorporate many traditional camp activities, such as swimming, talent shows and an annual carnival.

Youth Turn-Off: “Some youth prefer to be surrounded by others their own age and are reluctant to be in a camp with such a diverse age group,” Schlesinger says.

Research Shows: No evaluation of ILC has been done. However, local language teachers have told Schlesinger that her campers enter high school with more confidence and skill than other students.

What Still Gets in the Way: Convincing organizations to help support the camps financially, getting the word out with a small advertising budget and getting families to enroll kids in time for optimal planning and curriculum development.