Ways to Keep Language Learning Going Over the Summer

8 Fun Ways to Keep Language Learning Going Over the Summer

Combat the “summer slide” with these easy tips for continuing your student’s language study during summer vacation.

June 23, 2014

Ahh, summer... Swimming, popsicles and sleepovers—at least that’s what I remember of my childhood summers. In addition to the fun summer brings, it’s also a great time to learn a new world language or continue on the path to language proficiency. Continued practice and the reinforcement of learned skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking, are crucial to second language acquisition. While there is no research specific to language education, the so-called “summer slide” for student learning in all subjects is a serious issue. In general students lose approximately two months of instructional time over the summer, which requires teachers to spend one month re-teaching material that was lost over the summer, according to a study from the National Summer Learning Association.

Many students don’t have the opportunity to speak a second language over the summer, which can contribute to the “summer slide.” Here are eight fun ways to keep your son’s or daughter’s language learning going over the summer. (Teachers, share these tips with your students and help prepare them for back to school, because, as you know, it’ll be here before you know it!)

1. Prepare a Special Meal in Language: One of my favorite activities as a kid was acting as sous chef in the kitchen. Food is a fantastic way to learn about a culture and can be a fun in-language activity for the whole family. Have your student research a traditional dish (think paella or gazpacho for Spain, schnitzel or spätzle for Germany, crêpes or soufflé for France and potstickers, wontons or dumplings for China.) After finding a recipe in language, use it as a tool to learn new vocabulary terms for food items and food preparation while making the dish together. 

2. Host an Exchange Student: A few summers during my early childhood, we hosted exchange students from Kyoto, Guadeloupe and the Basque region in Spain. I was enthralled as these exotic visitors taught us about their culture, cooked their native cuisine for us and exposed us to new languages. To this day (20-some years later), my family still keeps in touch with them. Foreign exchange programs such as YFU USA and CCI Greenheart feature exchanges with a variety of program lengths, from one week to a ten-month high school term. Opening your home to an international student is a rewarding experience and a good chance to interact with a native speaker on a daily basis.

3. Take an Online Course: Having access to a self-paced, independent study course over the summer months can be an excellent way to reinforce language skills learned during the school year. Middlebury Interactive’s courses feature task-based activities that provide immediate feedback that allows for individualized learning. The interactive nature of the courses makes language learning fun, and the course activities can be completed in short time increments, such as 15 or 30 minutes every morning.

4. Visit with a Local Native Speaker: During high school, I visited weekly with a Russian babushka (or grandmother), who spoke to me only in Russian. We watched Russian cartoons, ate borscht and listened to Russian radio. Although frequently I smiled and nodded having no idea what she was saying to me, access to a native speaker gave me confidence communicating in real-life settings and accelerated my language learning. Find a local organization (maybe an elderly services group or YMCA) that could pair your son or daughter with a native speaker.

5. Take a Day Trip: Wherever you live, there is likely a community of Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Russian or Arabic speakers nearby who you could visit for a day trip to experience a cultural event or authentic cuisine. There might even be a celebration in your local community for a foreign holiday during the summer, such as Bastille Day on July 14.

6. Attend an Immersion Academy: There are many day and residential language summer camps that allow students to continue their study of world languages during the summer. Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy is a four-week, full immersion language camp during which middle and high school students pledge to communicate solely in their target language 24 hours a day. By living immersed in language and culture, students come away with tangible language skills that are applicable to real-life settings.

7. Find a Pen Pal: Family-friendly websites such as InterPals and Global Penfriends pair similar-aged students from around the world to communicate either through letters, e-mails or online chats. These digital communities not only help with language practice but also expose students to native speakers who can provide an insider’s view to their culture, customs and current events happening in their local community. 

8. Host an International Movie Night: One of my favorite ways to experience the world without leaving my couch is to watch a foreign film. Amélie, Cinema Paradiso, Il Postino, Life is Beautiful, the Red Balloon and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are just a few of my favorites. With or without subtitles, watching a movie (or cartoon) in another language exposes you to language in native speeds and helps you come familiar with varied accents and pronunciations. A simple Google search can give you countless kid-friendly foreign film ideas to rent from your local library or Netflix, for a night of foreign language immersion through film.

Erin McCormick
Originally a Jersey girl, Erin fled the traffic of the tri-state area for the quaint town of Middlebury for college and never left. She runs Middlebury Interactive’s marketing team, where her passions for technology, languages, writing and design collide. When she’s not tweeting new marketing trends or critiquing TV advertisements, she’s likely shopping on Etsy, road tripping on the back roads of Vermont or sampling craft beers.
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