- Associated Press - Saturday, July 26, 2014

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - “La derecha, la derecha! La izquierda, la izquierda!”

It’s one of the many songs and dances that Lisa Brown-Olsen teaches the children in her Immersion Ranch Summer Camp, a week-long Spanish class for pre-school and elementary students.

The “ranch” part of the title is because many of the activities are based on the “Wild, Wild West.”

“La derecha” means “the right” and “la izquierda” is “the left.” In a series of steps, Brown-Olsen, director of curriculum and training at The Language Project in Grand Island, taught her 6- to 10-year-olds basic directions on the first day of camp at the YWCA this month.

The curriculum for the camp is play-based. The kids learn Spanish through various games and activities. Because it’s an immersion camp, there are only 10 minutes throughout the three hours where the kids speak freely in English.

Before they hit puberty, children are predisposed to learning a language well because they don’t use their cognitive ability to methodically think out everything they do, Brown-Olsen said. “There’s a huge advantage by studying younger,” she said.

Adults, on the other hand, are always thinking about things, she said, such as when they need to pay their bill, what they will eat for lunch, and how they are going to make that lunch. “Thinking gets in the way when it comes to language,” she said.

Most of Brown-Olsen’s conversation with the kids is in Spanish. Granted, there are many times where they don’t understand what she is telling them. But that is why she points to different objects and makes gestures that are relative to the word or phrase.

She repeats this learning technique several times through different games. Rather than simply asking the kids what the word “horse” is in Spanish, Brown-Olsen shows her students a picture of a horse and presents them with two animal Spanish words to choose from.

“A person needs to experience a word 75 meaningful times in order to own it,” she said. “It’s not enough to just say a horse is “caballo.”

Brown-Olsen’s camp is rhythm-based. First, the kids participate in an active game, then they’ll perform a calming task such as yoga, or they’ll design the Mexican flag out of recycled materials. This helps prevent them from running out of energy from moving around so much, or becoming bored from not moving enough.

There’s a benefit to teaching kids a language when they’re younger because their minds are like sponges, Brown-Olsen said. And later on, they’ll retain those words and phrases more easily than kids who start studying a second language in high school, she said.

Take Evelyn Vega for example, a junior studying education at the University of Nebraska Kearney. Vega is helping Brown-Olsen run the camp this week as one of The Language Project’s summer interns. In the fall, she will teach Spanish for The Learning Project’s after-school programs in Kearney.

Vega moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 6 years old. Her first language was Spanish. She said the way language is taught now is different than when she learned English in her ESL class.

“Lisa’s program is based on a lot of activities and movements,” she said. “She keeps students interacting. When I came, I noticed we didn’t do much of that. It wasn’t as entertaining or engaging.”

This is the sixth week that the camp has taken place this summer. The final one will start Monday. The camp costs $139. However, if a student has been involved in past Language Project classes, has a sibling participating in the camp, or is homeschooled, there is a discount.

Those interested in the camp Monday can sign up by calling Judy Weston at Central Community College at 308-398-7445.

“We tend to be afraid of what we don’t understand,” Brown-Olsen said. “When you understand a language, you’re open to the culture.”


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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