The Languages of Summer


Evan Boucher

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


“What’s your favorite word,” I asked Miles, a student at The University of North Dakota summer language camp.

Miles responded “mariposa,” a Spanish word that translates to “butterfly.”

The UND summer language camps began three years ago as the brainchild of Karen Cisek. In the beginning the classes were funded by a mini-grant from UND Summer Events, which originally offered French, German and Spanish. Progressively, the program added Chinese and Sign languages, as the previous year’s courses filled up almost immediately. The program continues to fill to capacity.

From July 18-22, day camps focused on Chinese for ages 8-13, and Spanish for ages 6-9.

Instructors of Spanish Mare Thompson, a Spanish and music teacher at St. Michael’s Elementary School, and Alex Sidels, a student of chemistry at UND, discussed their thoughts on the camp.

“[Students] take Spanish in the public schools starting in the third or fourth grade,” said Thompson. She continued, “At our school, I teach an hour of Spanish a week to each grade. I teach music the other three days. I do a lot of songs. Music works so well [to teach languages], like a hook. It’s how we remember things.”

“My original plan was to be in pharmaceuticals,” said Sidles. He learned Spanish because, “there are a lot of fields where knowing Spanish would be helpful.” Loving his new role, he said, “It’s not even work. I get to come and have a good time with the kids. I get to do more with Spanish and I always have a good time with Senora Thompson.”

The inspiration for the camp came from Cisek’s and co-coordinator Kathy Twite’s own desires to offer their own children exposure to foreign languages.

Cisek is volunteering as a coordinator for the program, while holding a full time position at UND’s medical school. It’s quite the balancing act, given the amount of classroom demand and popularity of the camp.

“The first year was a pilot. I wanted to expose my daughter to more languages,” said Cisek. Now, with so many students eager to learn, the pilot has advanced and, “we sometimes connect people with tutors, if they want private or semi-private tutoring.”

Chinese instructor, Hongxia Fu, previously taught English as a Second Language at a Chinese university. She commented, “We have a lot of activities. We learn language, we learn culture, the food, the songs. Pronunciation is the hardest part of Chinese. The grammar is very easy.” She continued, “[Students] write very well,” talking about Chinese characters. “They think it’s a picture [rather than a letter]. They are quick to learn.”

Spanish is what is called a “romance language.” Romance languages are a family of languages that include Italian, Portugese, French, and Spanish. Contrasting this, Chinese belongs to Sino-Tibetan family, a language family native to mainland East Asia.

It is the variety in this that allows the Summer Language Camps to offer children broad exposure to new cultures and different language families (three to be exact). Program growth is indicative of our increasingly globalized world, and it is difficult to imagine that shrinking any time in the near future.

These opportunities for children are the building blocks they’ll use to learn and explore as they become young adults and eventually head into their own careers.