At LuckyKids International Camp the official language is English. Parents often ask how communication between the camp team and the children takes place when the children are beginners or do not speak the language well enough.
The goal to communicate only in English with the children is to be able to create an artificial English environment in which the child has the opportunity to unlock the accumulated passive vocabulary or to create a directly active one.
Strategy means that we purposefully strive to engage the child’s mind in English-speaking conversations for most of the day. Even with Bulgarian friends, the presence of 1 member of the team is enough for all children to engage in conversation in English.
How long does it take for a child to adapt to the new language environment?
For children up to 7 years of age this process takes about 2 days (in most cases). Children up to this age are still very flexible in their perceptions and receive information mainly in a non-verbal way.
Or their main task is to immerse themselves in the new language environment and to be able to connect the right word with the right action, object, state. For them this process is extremely easy.
The communication strategy includes the whole camp team (even colleagues who are not directly involved in childcare). When you communicate in English all day, your whole being adjusts to perceive in that language and you do not need a translation to understand a word.
For example, when we speak our mother tongue, we know that the object “ball” is round, filled with air, often colorful and with it we can play games. In the same way, when we change the language environment, we learn through characteristics, not through direct translation into the mother tongue.
And here is the following paradox: a 5-6 year old child stands in front of his parents at the end of the camp and says “I don’t understand anything in English.” Then a member of the camp team spoke to him in English and asked him to take action. The child not only performs the action, but also responds to the teacher – again in English. Then he turns to his parents again and repeats the thesis that he does not understand anything. At this point, the child cannot make a connection between the two languages and translate the conversation from English to Bulgarian.
Why does this happen? Because in the head of the child the events of the camp in English and the events outside the camp in Bulgarian are two separate universes. And it, at this stage does not make any connection between them. After the eighth year, the children manage to connect the two pictures and draw a parallel.
In children aged 8-12 years, who have never encountered the tongue before, it can be more difficult to adapt and the time is doubled – 3-4 days. At this age, if the child is not on “You” with the language, it is important to what extent there is camp readiness:
- Is this his first time camping?
- Has he separated from his parents (including grandparents, babysitters and other close relatives)?
- Is it social: does it adapt quickly in an environment with unknown children, but with unknown adults?
- How does the child react when visiting a new place?
The important thing in this case is that we have the information in advance and have discussed the individual approach to the child with the parent. Then we have a smoother transition to the English-speaking environment, which is the main purpose of staying in the camp.
In older children, we very rarely have difficulty adapting.
If the child (regardless of his age) has a sufficiently rich vocabulary in English, even passive (one that has not been used so far), his adaptation is very fast and smooth.
How does the camp team overcome the barrier in the beginner groups?
In beginner groups, teachers often understand Bulgarian, but do not advertise it to children. At the same time, they hear what the children are saying and can respond adequately with the right question and gesture-addition, so that they can facilitate the child’s expression or if the child is thirsty or needs to go to the toilet – the teacher immediately responds to English:
- Do you need to go to the toilet? (do you need to go to the toilet?)
- Do you need water? (do you need water?)
The child recognizes the words and reacts immediately with affirmation. Next time the child will try to repeat this question? And the teacher will encourage him. A connection is created through the language without the need for translation.
When creating such a relationship, it is important to be aware of the following qualities:
- Such a learning format is slower than direct translation – it takes more time and requires patience.
- In this format of learning, knowledge is very lasting – often forever.
- In this format of learning, the child may not be able to tell exactly what the rule was in a Bulgarian language class to a relative.
- In this format of learning, children directly build an active vocabulary, which “shines” the moment they are placed in a similar environment even outside the camp.
It’s very easy for school-age children – every word is explained by means of a description. Children aged 8+ ask themselves if they do not know the meaning of a word.
Such communication is encouraged between children. When children ask each other questions, it also helps to build good relationships between them.
How do we – the camp team – manage to engage the children in conversations and activities in English, especially when the majority of the group is Bulgarian-speaking?
The main accents of the main part of our strategy are:
- The camp has a theme that changes every 14 days
- We learn through games and projects
- We listen to music in English (and often have a favorite hit) – we discuss bands, styles and concerts
- We watch movies in English (and it often turns out to be a different experience than watching it dubbed) – we share opinions about actors and favorite scenes
- We learn terms from our favorite games in English – football, volleyball, folk ball, etc. (It is quite different to be told that you are “out” in English 😉
- We name foods with their English names during meals
- We praise and encourage in English
The whole life of the children is in English, at least for these 14 days. And so, when they hear from their parents in the evening, they begin to switch language unconsciously and speak to them in English. If parents have the opportunity, we recommend that they maintain this communication and also communicate with their child in English. , during his stay in the camp.