Most of us know how important it is that students continue reading and writing over the summer. Research shows that kids who don’t keep up with their literacy skills can fall as much as two years behind their classmates. And it doesn’t take much to keep kids at the top of their game; studies have shown that reading just four books can help prevent the “summer slide.”
Continued practice is just as important—if not more so—when students are learning a second language. Typically, foreign language students aren’t exposed to any conversation or opportunities to speak the new language during the summer break.
With that in mind, here are 10 fun, hands-on ways students can engage with a second language during the summer months:
- Work on Summer Vocabulary
Before students leave on vacation, talk with them about their plans for the summer and work on related vocabulary (e.g., beach, camping, or various sports-themed words). Challenge students to introduce their friends, co-workers or other summer companions to at least one of these new words during the break.
- Visit a Foreign Language Bookstore
If your town or city has a bookstore that carries materials in the language you are teaching, provide students with the address and a related scavenger hunt. For example, you might ask students to find a poem and email the translation to you. Send back an e-certificate or other special recognition as a reward.
- Host a Virtual Cook-Off
Near the end of school, research recipes written in the language students are studying. Distribute the recipes to students and invite them to prepare one of the dishes over the summer. Have students post photos of their shopping trips or meals on a class webpage or blog.
- Suggest a Summer Language Camp
Many day and residential camps across the country offer students an opportunity to study a new language in a focused, immersive environment. Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy, for example, hosts middle and high school students on its three US-based campuses and two sites abroad (China and Spain) for intensive, four-week language academies in Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, and German.
- Play Online Games
Send home a list of recommended online games that will help students with their language practice. A few that we like: Qué Onda Spanish, Très Bien French and Wie Geht’s German.
- Try a Service Project
Invite students to seek out a summer service project that will also serve as an opportunity to practice their new language. For example, students might volunteer in a soup kitchen that serves native speakers, or work one-on-one with an elderly person or child who would appreciate the opportunity to practice English as well.
- “Visit” Another Country Online…
Give students the opportunity to “see” a country where your language is spoken natively by providing a virtual itinerary with websites to visit and enjoy. Stops you might consider including: the country’s tourist bureau, local museums and sites, Google Earth’s view of parks and other natural phenomena, and blogs or other personal websites of similar-aged students.
- …Or Get a Taste of Culture in Your Own Community
Similarly, you might provide a list of places right in your own backyard that will give students a window to the cultures of the target language. Local markets, restaurants, and museums are a good bet. You’ll find that immigrants from other countries are generally happy to use their native language or discuss the traditions of their homelands.
- Connect With Penpals
Many websites offer the opportunity to connect with similar-aged students around the world and communicate via e-mail. Global Penfriends, InterPals, and Letternet are all good choices.
- Start a Group Blog
Put a spin on the “What I Did This Summer” essay by inviting students to contribute to a group blog where they can share their summer experiences in their new language. Remember: This is not a time to be picky about grammar, but to celebrate the language learning that is happening outside of school walls!
Question for you: How do you keep language learning going over the summer? Please share in the comments!
Special Offer: Download a free guide to Middlebury-Monterey’s Summer Language Academies.