I applied to be a residential advisor for the Middlebury-Monterey Summer Language Academy on a complete whim. When I was accepted to the program’s Spanish academy based out of Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT, I had very little idea of what I had gotten myself into.
Campers and staff alike took the Language Pledge on the second day of camp, committing to speak only in our target language during the four-week session. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling apprehensive about how we would get through daily activities in a second language. However, with willpower, patience, and lots of humor we made. In fact, we not only made it, we thrived. Friendships were formed, inside jokes cracked, soccer games won–and we did it all in Spanish.
That summer I saw the uniting power of language, as middle and high school students, some with no Spanish experience at all, learned together. And I learned with them; I got more practice with the command form than I ever would have in an ordinary immersion experience — ¡Siéntense! (Sit down!) ¡No se muevan! (Don’t move!) ¡Ten cuidado! (Be careful!) ¡Esuchen! (Listen!) We all relied on each other to communicate, mime, or translate and somewhere between singing boras and making goofy crib videos of our living groups a community was created.
It was an absolutely incredible experience that showed me how quickly we can pick up languages and how little we need to really be able to communicate. Without a common native language we turned to pictures, charades, and circumlocution. Students that were completely novices acquired a tremendous amount of vocabulary and were piecing together basic sentences. Those with more experience improved with their fluidity and confidence. Watching my students get so excited about their own Spanish successes motivated me to continue to better my own language skills here at Oberlin. I hope to return to Green Mountain College this summer to help another group of young language learners gain confidence speaking Spanish.