English Camps for Kids Who Speak No English

Hey guys, how’s it going? You may be wondering if I’ve dropped off the map and the truth is, yeah, I kind of have. But no worries, I’m back from “teaching English” for a week at an English camp located in the province of León. It was my first time in León, and I loved it—apart from the bitterly cold mornings! León is a beautiful province, and its capital city is home to a strikingly beautiful cathedral.

Catedral de León

Rosetón León

I love Gothic cathedrals for one reason: L-I-G-H-T.

At this campamento de inglés, the children are expected to speak in English with their native camp counselors (monitores in Spanish). It sounds good, right? Send your kid to a camp, where he/she will learn English from native speakers! Awesome, yeah?

Yeah, about that. The problem starts when the children’s level of English is so low that they cannot convey basic desires in English. If a child does not know the word for milk, how can he/she be expected to speak only in English, to follow commands in English, to understand a native English speaker? You got me.

This camp wasn’t about teaching English really. There were no classrooms or lessons or exams. It was just meant to be a camp in English. That’s it. But I came away having spoken more Spanish than English.

And that’s the irony of English camps in Spain.

Have you ever taught at an English camp in Spain? What was your experience?

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14 comments

  1. Wow. Can you go up the stairs in the León cathedral? I’ve always wanted to do that in lots of cathedrals I’ve visited, just to get a different, more forest-like perspective. Cool photos!

  2. What a beautiful cathedral! Those windows that look like roses (I’m sure they have an official name but I don’t know what it is) are just so stunning.

    As for the English camp… One of the schools I worked at last year had an English camp during the summer. I ended up switching schools but I know someone who worked at the English camp at the first school. She told me everybody spoke mostly Spanish since there were no native English speakers (she herself was Russian and spoke English fluently but again not a native speaker). The mayor of the town came to inspect the school’s summer camp and he was outraged that nobody actually spoke English.

  3. I taught at an English only summer camp in Italy last summer (and will again this summer!) and didn’t speak a word of Italian…..because I don’t speak a word of Italian! Ok maybe a few. I had “materna” for two weeks and the little munchkins could barely say “my name is ____” With lots of hand gestures (Italians love them), loads of patience and energy I was able to get by. I think that if I were to do a summer camp in Spain I’d be tempted to move things along quicker and speak Spanish with the kids, something that I think really sours their experience. I should, however, give myself more credit, it’s April and my 2nd graders in Madrid have no clue I speak Spanish. If they don’t know a word in English and say it in Spanish I give them a completely confused look and say the word in English as if I’m checking if that’s what they meant. They’ll nearly always blindly say yes and repeat the word without me asking. I see how this could get exhausting and must admit that after camps I spent a week beach-bumming in Sicily to unwind!

    1. Yeah, these kids couldn’t even tell time in English so it was hopeless. I know my 6th graders in Madrid would have been okay. They’re from a bilingual school, but the ones I was with weren’t, so they struggled with very basic things.

  4. I’m really surprised that kids whose parents could afford to send them to a camp had such a low level of English. In my experience, the ones who have the money to spend on camps and private classes usually have a pretty good level of English, especially compared to kids of their equivalent age in England, who tend to have zero foreign language skills. It’s the ones from less well off families who are literally clueless. How frustrating for you! I guess you probably practised your Spanish more than they practised English!

    1. Children who attend bilingual schools don’t go to English camps because they don’t need to. The ones going to English camps don’t have the level required. It’s always the same.
      After a disappointing experience, we are finally planning to go somewhere in the UK for three weeks and enroll our son in a summer camp for British children, so that it can be an actual English camp.
      Hey Kaley, I’m enjoying your blog. Thank you.

  5. I am currently teaching English to 2nd and 3rd graders in Sevilla, and I’m supposed to only use English in the classroom (no Spanish at all), but I’ve found that I end up speaking English veeery slowly to the entire class, and then having to answer their individual questions in Spanish and re-expain everything. At different schools I’ve observed, it’s the same thing.

  6. I studied in Sevilla for a semester and lived with a host family. The oldest son of my host family was in his late 20′s and the family was excited to introduce me to his (Spanish) girlfriend who was an English teacher. When I finally met her, I said VERY slowly in English “Hi, I hear you’re an English teacher”. Her response was “¿Qué?” So I repeated my question and again she said “¿Qué?” I wasn’t getting anywhere so I said “Me han dicho que eres profesora de inglés” and then she smiled and her face lit up and she said “Sí” with enthusiasm. I was thinking….”Some English teacher!!”.

  7. I worked at an English-language summer camp where the kids didn’t speak any English too. I remember a little five-year-old girl burst into tears when I read her a princess story in English. She kept wailing “Pero no hablamos inglés!” I tried explaining that was WHY she was there and that it was okay, but of course she wasn’t having it.

    The kids who don’t speak ANY English are tough, because they’re miserable and frustrated. I had a really hard time with it because I got frustrated too!

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