Beyond Trinity and Cambridge – putting language into practice

Summer is supposed to be fun for kids, so why not incorporate English into all the fun! English summer camps are putting language into practice!

Don’t forget what you have learnt in the Trinity or Cambridge exams – reasons why a summer camp in English is the best follow up! Our children have spent a year in bilingual education, with most of them learning English, Science and Art as part of their curriculum. Many of them will be sitting either a Trinity or a Cambridge exam in order to gauge their level of understanding and expression in English. However this month I would like to advocate the effectiveness of sending kids to summer camps in English as a language-learning experience much more worthwhile and coherent than these exams that are so popular in Spanish primary education.English summer camps are putting language into practice!

It is a fact that children learn better and faster when they are having fun.

Children going to a bilingual school need the additional language support of the minority language during the months when school is not in session and summer camps are the obvious solution. The common feature of all the English language summer camps that I mentioned a previous article
is that fun features highly in their programs. Spanish kids have spent the academic year assimilating English – now it is time to put it into practice whilst having a laugh and relaxing in the sunshine!
We all know that summer camps in English seem expensive and that families need to plan carefully how to invest resources, wondering whether they can afford a summer camp for their children or not. I asked Maria Jose Pulido from GNP Idiomas why parents should invest money in sending their children to an English language summer camp when their children already go to a bilingual school. Her reply echoed my opinion on the matter, namely that in school children gain a good academic level of English, whilst in camp they get to put their language skills into practice. Thus they gain spontaneity and ease of expression in English.
When asked whether signing up children to only one week of camp would make any difference to their level of English, Maria Jose was adamant that any amount of continued exposure to English makes a positive impact on a child’s understanding and expression in the foreign language. Her argument is succinct: if we look at how many hours of English the child is exposed to during one week at summer camp, we can see that is the same amount as spending three months going to two 1.5h English classes a week. If we continue to calculate we could say that three weeks at an English language summer camp is the same as one academic year of English in the classroom.
I also spoke to Rebecca Gaspar from IberEnglish about her decision to run the Kids Fun Ideas summer camp for bilingual children like my own. Why do children fluent in English need to go to a summer camp in Madrid that is run in English? As Rebecca explained, the difference between Kids Fun Ideas camp and other English summer camps is that it is the only camp designed specifically for children that are fluent in English. It is where they will “automatically continue to use English as their primary method of communication and thus reinforce their knowledge and fluency”. For parents like myself, this is a very attractive proposal as my children often act as “teacher’s helper” during the academic year because their English is above the rest of their peers. It is a joy to know that for a few weeks in the summer they will be with others who are just as interested in having fun as they are and who are just as fluent in saying so in English as them!

Following on from Trinity and Cambridge

So, why are Trinity and Cambridge exams so popular? Do they serve their purpose or can the language gained through these exams be picked up during a week at a summer camp instead?
I asked Jason Allen, a teacher at Humanitas school in Tres Cantos, to explain to me the pros and cons of the Trinity and Cambridge exams. Both methods are popular in Madrileño primary schools and are generally accepted as a rite of passage for each student as they get to grips with English as a foreign language. Trinity exams aim to engage children in a straightforward mini-conversation where the student answers questions with more than a monosyllabic “yes” or “no” answer. Jason pointed out that although this seems simple enough, some students get nervous speaking English to a complete stranger whose accent could be different to their teacher’s. In the summer camp situations mentioned above, the children will have time to get used to the different accents around them and by the end of the first week will be answering questions and chatting easily in English with fellow campers.
The Cambridge “Starters” exams are divided into three parts: listening, reading and speaking. Despite the fact that they are not supposed to divert attention from the curriculum, it appears that as the exam gets nearer many teachers find themselves using class time preparing children specifically for the Cambridge exams, a tiresome and time consuming exercise which I believe is counter-productive. In a summer camp situation, children will be listening, reading and speaking English naturally, rather than seeing these skills as something to use in order to pass an exam. If the aim is to give Spanish children a bilingual education, less focus should be put on passing exams and more should be put on making language learning at the same time practical and attractive to youngsters.
What are you waiting for you to sign your children up to an English language summer camp?!