YES! CLV’s Virtual Village is great remote language learning for kids

COVID-19 tipped at least half the world over, and then we all got to sort through the mess and try to sift a life of our own out of it. For parents, remote learning—and some emergency, un-planned-for home education—has been one of the biggest transitions to negotiate.

school supplies - 1Home schooling challenges those of us who chose it enthusiastically; it’s an even taller order for those reacting to unprecedented interruptions in modern school systems. Finding the right resources can make or break parent-led education efforts. Today I’ll share my child’s experience with foreign language programs offered by Concordia Language Villages (CLV).

I’ve posted in the past about attending in person “family camp” at CLV’s German language facility, Waldsee. Learn more about summer camp here.

Waldsee Wilkommen - 1

Fast Facts about Concordia Language Villages’ online “Virtual Village” programs

I’ll format this as fast facts* in an attempt to efficiently answer the unfamiliar reader’s likeliest questions.

I’m rushing to post this before the spring semester begins for academic credit programs, because attendance is vital—and mandatory!—for those looking to earn official credits. I’ll address any follow up questions in the comments, or add an update if I discover I’ve missed covering any major questions.

What is/are Concordia Language Villages?

In 1960, a Concordia College faculty member suggested an innovative immersion program for teaching foreign languages to children. Each language gets a summer camp “village” in Concordia’s home state, Minnesota, where participants hear, speak, live, and eat according to their target culture.

Visit CLV’s Who We Are page to hear their own full answer to this question.

The key point here is the language immersion approach. Showing up at camp, kids—even complete beginners—are immediately plunged into a monolingual world in their chosen target language. CLV has spent decades building their unique pedagogy to support an efficient transition that brings children from their comfortable native language to at least basic functionality in a new one.

It’s amazing how fast that can happen in a prepared environment!

Which languages are taught at CLV?

Fifteen (15!) languages are offered in CLV’s full program, but I’ll stick with those available in virtual form in 2020-21 for this post. Those are, in alphabetical order:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Danish
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

It is important to note that only the most popular of these languages are offered in the longer term, more intensive sessions at CLV.

What kind of online class is a “Virtual Village”?

First let me clarify that CLV is offering three types of virtual experience for kids. There are

  • Clubs,
  • Classes,
  • and Academic Year High School Credit programs.

Some languages offer adult learning and there’s also German family programming. Since I’ve not tried those, I can’t offer a review, but my in person Family Camp experiences with CLV have been excellent.

Most languages only offer Clubs. These meet once a week for one hour per week, and sessions are six weeks long. Consider this a playful supplement to home or school education. Clubs make sense for kids who still attend hybrid or remote school who would like to practice a foreign language or gain exposure to a new language they may be curious about studying.

CLV Classes are akin to many other “online home school” courses I’ve found for my own kids. These meet twice a week for an hour per session (30 minutes for grade schoolers); as with Clubs, a Class is a mere six week commitment.

High School Credit virtual village programs are offered in:

  • French,
  • German,
  • Italian,
  • Japanese,
  • Norwegian,
  • and Spanish.

The spring term starts soon—January 26, 2020—so don’t hesitate if you want to enroll your teen.

Because the High School Credit program is accredited and offers 180 or more hours of instruction for the full year, home schoolers can rely upon it as a complete unit of study. When my son applies to college, for example, CLV’s Virtual Credit German class will appear on his “high school” transcript alongside the courses he’s taken at local colleges.

Pupils enrolled in institutions may be able to transfer this credit to their school in order to advance levels or free up time for taking other courses, but that would be at your individual school’s discretion. I’ve had arguments with friends about the value of credit programs outside of public school enrollment when said school disdains anything they didn’t offer themselves. I can’t prove it, but I’d guess colleges will always be more impressed by the kid who studied anything extra vs. those who stuck with the routine offerings of narrow-minded, parochial districts.

Who can join Virtual Village sessions?

  • Clubs are open to kids age 8-18
  • Classes are offered for Elementary (30 minutes/week), Middle, and High school levels
  • and Academic Year High School Credit programs are for 9-12th graders.

Is a CLV virtual offering worth the steep price tag?

My family’s answer is a resounding: Yes! That doesn’t mean the numbers will add upso well for every family.

The basis for my answer? Our older child attended two weeks of Virtual Villages summer camp, in Russian and German. He has been enrolled in an academic credit program this fall, and we opted to continue with the spring session based upon the program’s quality.** Our younger child will be joining a CLV Club in January 2021.

Virtual “summer camp” weeks in 2020

One week of CLV Virtual summer camp cost $325 in 2020. We were so grateful they pulled together a program at all, and my son enjoyed participation online better than he did going in person. Note that this opinion comes from a true introvert!

Online “camp” was not really the equivalent of a traditional week on site at one of language villages, however. It wasn’t nearly as immersive. Then again, it was 1/3 the cost.

Academic Year Virtual High School Credit for 2020-21

By autumn 2020, CLV started hitting its virtual stride. Probably because there was a lot of relevant course material available from their history of hosting on site academic credit programs, this experience has been a valuable one for my home schooled kid. There are two class sessions a week, plus required homework assignments to be completed in the meantime.

A couple of mandatory book purchases were required for the year to the tune of about $35. Admittedly, I didn’t follow up on more esoteric borrowing options after ascertaining my local library was unable to supply a copy of either European title.

Be aware that CLV credit programs cost more than in state tuition for courses at our local community college. Our local community college doesn’t offer German or Russian, however. It’s more aligned to the cost of private college tuition: expensive! That said, if you have a younger teen or concerns about how your child would fit in with a mature college crowd, CLV’s program is designed specifically to educate secondary school students.

In a good language class, it’s vital for the students to mix and chat with each other. Not all 14 year olds are ready to engage in casual conversation with college students.

I’m very comfortable describing the educational value of Concordia’s unique methodology as being equal to or better than my own experience of college level language courses, which I’ve taken at three universities, one public, two private. My experience at CLV family language camp compared favorably to the most challenging, stimulating class I ever took: a semester of full immersion Japanese at Cornell University.

For dollars and cents specifics, take this comparison I pulled off the internet: Harvard University offered a 7 week, virtual due to the pandemic Chinese language class (4 college credits) for $3,340 in 2020. CLV’s Japanese language spring semester program lasts 24 weeks, offers one “high school credit,” and costs $3,860. In my planning notes from previous years, I’d noted that the CLV summer “sleepaway camp” credit for which the participant would earn high school credit cost $4,830 for the four week camp.

Comparing these programs is more apples-to-apples than looking at less sophisticated local offerings, though lucky you if you can find something better and cheaper in your neighborhood!

CLV Classes

For those who can’t even imagine spending so much on an extracurricular program—or for home educated kids who already use other resources to form the bulk of a year’s language credit—the CLV Classes might be a great fit. This is the one offering in CLV’s arsenal for which I haven’t enrolled either of my kids, so I’ll just share the posted details and price to put it in context.

A Class will meet twice per week. It costs $395 for a six week session. There are two more sessions available for registration this academic year in Spanish, for example. That would give you (2 hrs × 6 weeks) of instruction, possibly multiplied by two if your child does both sessions.

As a home educator, I use the “Carnegie unit” method of approximating how much time my kid should spend to equal a high school course. That means 120 hours of instruction. If you want to create a home school language class for your child, you would want to spend another 96 hours on other work in that language to roughly equate to a school class if you’ve signed up for two sessions of CLV Class; if this were just a spring semester course, cut that down to 36 additional hours.

I offer these numbers as a ballpark for concerned parents who didn’t intend to be home schooling, yet find themselves a year into a pandemic with under-educated children. I highly recommend free resources like Mango and DuoLingo for language skill supplementation; along with Mango access, I get Pimsleur audio CD’s from the local library for my home educated kid.

I’ve written about language acquisition tools for myself here and here and here. Presumably these same resources would be useful to teens and young adults.

CLV Club for extra-curricular, after school enrichment

Finally, the least expensive, least intensive CLV offering is the Club product. Clubs meet for one hour per week over six weeks; each session costs $195, and there are two more sessions this school year. I have enrolled a kid in one of the clubs, but it doesn’t start until tomorrow, so I can only describe the claims for now.

Campers at CLV Waldsee playing chess outdoorsClub will meet once per week, after school. It’s a 60 minute session, and it’s designed to be fun and enriching. My younger child gets a little language instruction at school, but, like most American middle schools, it doesn’t match my idea of academic rigour. I’m not expecting the Club to replace school language instruction, but to enhance it. I have a lot of trust in Concordia’s ability to make that happen.

Bottom line: why give CLV your tuition?

Growing up a middle class nerd in Oregon, if I’d have heard of the CLV program, I would have begged to attend. My parents would have told me it was too expensive! I’ve heard that a famous daughter of a president went, but I don’t have evidence for that assertion.

I highly recommend CLV’s summer camps for families that want to learn languages together, and for outgoing kids with a mild- to moderate- degrees of interest in foreign languages, or introverted kids with a passionate interest in the same. I’ve heard it argued that a family should just travel to the target nation for the same amount of money… but that will be less effective IMHO if you head to a nation where average adults speak excellent English when compared to your minimal-or-less knowledge of their tongue.

CLV has spent over 50 years developing a highly effective process for coaxing children into assimilating a new language and culture with all of their senses. The virtual programs are not quite as robust as the live experience, but they still represent an enthusiastic and thorough offering that brings knowledge to kids wrapped in a joyous appreciation for the value of cultural immersion.

The educational quality is undeniable, and the level of fun is pretty good, too. If schlepping your kids to Minnesota for an expensive camp was never a possibility, consider taking advantage of this year’s virtual offerings like my family has. Perhaps you will be as sold on CLV’s value as I am. Either way, your child will definitely further his or her knowledge of a foreign language, so long as s/he shows up and takes part in the exercises.

* Because anyone who has visited my blog before will know that I wasn’t blessed with a gift for brevity. There’s always more I want to say!

Accreditation by Cognia

For example, we would be in a position to consider enrollment in a private high school if our child hadn’t preferred home education. Subtracting tuition for CLV and community college courses, we still come out ahead financially vs. the full cost of prep schools in our region.

** Those who have studied German through the widely available Goethe Institut program will appreciate my son’s positive comparison of the CLV academic credit program with his prior level A2 Online-Kurs with that institution founded by the German government

DuoLingo rank in top 3% explains how I passed pandemic time

Perhaps because the pandemic gave me fewer distractions, I stuck with DuoLingo for most of 2020, primarily studying German and Spanish this time. I practiced there more than ever before, and I earned my longest continuing streaks.

I believe I created my DuoLingo account sometime during DS1‘s first year of home schooling, which would put that half a dozen years ago or so. My history with the platform is therefore fairly long, but my use has been sporadic. I come and go with all of my language studies, often in preparation for a trip, but I also use Pimsleur tapes and other resources, and I jump around between languages including those I started in school (Spanish, German, Japanese) but also occasionally French, Russian, or any other language I’ll be encountering in my travels.

Books foreign language learningI’ve tended to view DuoLingo as a game, a dabble, or a linguistic lark. I’m already on record on this point: I am a dilettante.

According to the 2020 Year in Review report Duo sent me this December, I ended up in this year’s top 3% of users. Who would’ve thought it? Yay, me!

DuoLingo 2020 Year in Review analysis

Whether these reports are a new feature, or if I’ve simply been “inactive” by winter in the past, this is the first time I remember receiving such a summary.

2597 minutes of language learning only averages out to about 7 minutes per day, roughly 50 minutes per week, so my minor obsession with the platform over the summer wasn’t too pathological. Nor is such a commitment sufficient, really, for anything except a nifty end-of-year ranking worthy of a self-congratulatory blog post.

Am I great at German now? Na ja, I’m afraid I still require subtitles to watch Nailed It! Germany or Dark on Netflix. Fluent, I ain’t!

Then again, the power of spaced repetition for retaining knowledge is undeniable. I’m hardly fluent in any language but my first, yet I have certainly cemented additional vocabulary in German and Spanish in 2020.

DuoLingo’s tag line is something like: “Learn a language in just 15 minutes per day.”

Analog wall clock showing 12:06The reality is that few will actually commit to the process, and almost no one can achieve fluency using any single tool. Even if you do commit 15 minutes per day to DuoLingo, you’ll be unlikely to be ready to address the United Nations without a whole lot of “something else” under your belt.

Also, the CEO is the person who invented CAPTCHAs, so there’s that working against DuoLingo’s place in my heart, too. I despise those stupid things.

Screen grab from DuoLingo showing 129-day streak achievementMany of us are susceptible to game-ification, however, so I encourage langauge learners to give DuoLingo a try. Extrinsic motivation isn’t such a bad thing for a necessary—yet repetitive—task like vocabulary study. I jealously guard my months’ long streak of continuous* days’ use of the platform. No stack of flash cards has ever kept me on track so continuously; not even the fear of low grades in college courses was as compelling as hoarding an imaginary currency called Lingots.

I’m 21 topics away from completing Level One of every available topic in German, the language I study most often on the platform. I’ll earn a completely meaningless Achievement dubbed “Conqueror” when I make it to that lofty(?) goal.

I’ve only topped out at Level Five on a single topic, Basics1 before the castle icon indicating Checkpoint One. It’s interesting, actually, recognizing from perusing the DuoLingo chat boards how some of us approach a language breadth-first, whilst others prefer a deeper dive, completing each topic up to its max in turn before moving on to the next.

I suppose the choice to do otherwise feels as obvious to other learners as mine does to me!

German has five Checkpoints or collections of topics, whereas Spanish has seven. Some languages are more popular than others, and the platform seems to offer more content for the languages users demand. Rational of them, I suppose.DuoLingo screen shot showing one more Topic to complete before Checkpoint 3 Castle is reached

I’m just shy of Checkpoint Three en español.

DuoLingo is free, so it is well worth its price. Ads are a significant annoyance when using the iOS app, but I don’t see any in the web version running on my desktop though I do employ multiple ad blockers.

The number of ads shown seemed to increase with total usage on the iOS app; I might not have kept up with it if I’d seen ads after every lesson from the beginning like I do now.

It’s worth noting that the ads in the app occur only at the end of each topic lesson, so I can and do cover my screen with my hand until the close button becomes available, and unwanted screeching video noise pollution can be silenced when it does occur. Moderately annoying still ads outnumber intensely annoying video ads on DuoLingo in my experience, but the ads to which you will be subjected are no doubt dictated by some algorithm outside my ability to predict on your behalf.Calculation of 41 weeks + 3 days times minutes per day = 417,600 minutes

I appreciate DuoLingo’s year end report for an accounting of how I spent 2597 minutes of pandemic isolation. Now if only I had such complete records for the other 415,003 minutes of it. I have some doubt that the balance was spent in so edifying a manner!

* Full disclosure: I have used a “Streak Freeze” save at least twice, so my current 129 day streak is somewhat less impressive than it looks.

FYI French has nine, Russian has five, and Hebrew has seven. You’ll have to do the resources yourself for any of the other 32 languages available to English speakers that are not in my DuoLingo queue.

Language learning gets silly: Duolingo and a love of mayo

I’ve read on the internet that some people think the worst part of Duolingo is its silly sentences.

Really? Wirklich?

Silly sentences are my very favorite part!

Screen shot of DuoLingo lesson about love and mayoA recent example?

Ich liebe dich nicht, ich liebe nur Mayo.

If you guessed that this sentence means:

I don’t love you, I only love mayonnaise,”

you would be correct.

Now the question becomes, do you love this sentence, or do you hate it?

It’s okay by me if you love this sentence and you love mayonnaise. This is a place for Really Wonderful Things, not judgement, at least so far as condiment choices go. Just don’t expect me to join you in tasting spicy hot sauces.

Condiment bottles: ketchup, mayo, mustard, harissaAt least one language learning blog complains that nonsense sentences do budding polyglots great harm. No one needs this sentence! Why study this?

And yet, for me, the process of practicing vocabulary can get a little dull. By the third repetition of the same phrase, I start to act out, if only in my mind.

Okay: more often than not, I act out outside of my mind, and by proclaiming dull stuff in loud, silly voices from my desk. My kids just adore this behavior while undertaking distance learning, as you can imagine…

Music iPod headphonesI suppose that there are dutiful users of Pimsleur and other audio language study programs who slog cheerlessly through the spaced repetition of those early, monotonous phrases.

My name is X.

I am from Y.

What is your name?

Do you come from Y?

I speak Z.

Do you speak Z?

For me, this inevitably leads to acting out these phrases in the most extreme accents and postures I can manage whilst attempting to approximate the correct “target” foreign accent in a Monty-Python-esque masquerade.

When I’m laughing, I’m learning. Rote repetition turns into a bit of fun. If I’m internalizing the correct grammatical construct, does it matter if my sample sentence borders on insanity? I expect there are lunatic speakers of every living language.

Duolingo loves to talk about ducks and what they do. It’s quirky, but I think it is actually one of the better aspects of the program. The weirder the sentence, the more attention I end up paying to an otherwise predictable practice question. Contrary to what the critics suggest, I can see differences between how the platform presents unique languages that reflect each diverse culture.

I have less loving things to say about the evolving intrusiveness of ads in the ecosystem. Duolingo is far from perfect, but very much worth its price: free.

With a little sprinkle of silly spice, Duolingo has recently kept me committed to a 58 day streak where I’m practicing two to four languages every day. There are worse ways to season one’s studies!

My level varies between 1 and 3 between each of the languages I study on Duolingo, so I’ve seen more than just the most basic introductory lessons for at least German and Spanish.

I would advise, however, that beginning a completely new language on Duolingo seems unlikely to be satisfying or particularly effective, especially where a new alphabet is required. I’ve had classroom exposure to both Russian and Hebrew, but my alphabetic weakness renders the lessons too hard on the mobile platform where you get five strikes (lose 5 ♥) and you’re cut off for the rest of the day. I only study non-Roman-alphabetized languages on my desktop computer with Duolingo for that reason: you don’t run out of hearts on the desktop! Even French stymies me in writing; silent letters are my kryptonite. Sigh.

“Misuse of the lavatories will be punished” heard on Deutsche Bahn train from Austria

Stuff you don’t want to hear as a visitor on a foreign train:

Misuse of the lavatories will be punished!

img_7012This was heard aboard the Intercity (IC 118) train from Austria to Germany.

Further statements by the conductor made it clear his admonition was regarding violations of the smoking policy on board the train (i.e., No Smoking, not even while hiding in the WC.)

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Intercity First Class compartment on IC118 train from Austria to Germany in 2018

I will admit that I was a bit nervous before he clarified. One assumes one’s restroom behavior is similar to that of others, but, after all, it isn’t something easily brought up in conversation with one’s compartment mates whose native language and culture differs from one’s own.

Though the finer nuances of European international relations are beyond me, it seemed clear that the German conductor, upon taking over after the border crossing, was speaking specifically to Austrians on board.

I’m guessing he did so because Austria’s national attitude toward public smoking lags so far behind that of most modern states, but it might just be because the Germans are more strict about rule enforcement than the smaller nation sharing its language and a border to the south. Or maybe Germans just have a thing about bossing Austrians around?
As a tourist, I simply followed every rule as carefully as I could and took special care not to get up to any hijinks in the lavatories. One thing I definitely don’t want to experience of another culture is how they punish people on trains!

Prevalent smoking should, perhaps, keep you from visiting Austria

Austria is a lovely place to visit. It has gorgeous scenery, world class art and architecture to enjoy, and a population that generally struck me as warm and welcoming.

img_0895Bilingual acquaintances from the German language learning camp in Minnesota we attended told us that we would be given more opportunity to practice our speaking skills in Austria when compared with Germany. I found this to be true.

Austrians were, as a rule, friendly and helpful. They really didn’t immediately switch to English when they heard my attempts to speak deutsch. (Germans generally do, in my experience. And, yes, their English is better than my German, almost to the man, and woman, and very small child...)

 

Perhaps the one overriding negative experienced by an American tourist in Österreich—if the language barrier is a benefit to you as it is to me, as opposed to a real barrier—is the constant exposure to second hand smoke.

img_1055.jpgI’m old enough to remember the bad old days of smoking sections in the closed compartment of an airplane, though, thankfully, those disappeared before I began flying several times per year to attend college. Smoky bars and restaurants where I wouldn’t go with my friends due to air pollution were a real issue well into my young adulthood.

Being in Austria is like being transported into the past in this regard. It took me several days to adjust. Young people in the USA today probably don’t have the adaptive response to scope out a cafe before taking a seat lest one inadvertently land in the stinking smoking section.

Though there was some Austrian legislation enacted in recent years to create separate smoking and non-smoking sections in restaurants, I still experienced unpleasantly smoky interiors several times during my trip.

Worse yet, it seems that Austrians don’t feel a need to segregate outdoor space for both smokers and non-smokers in any way. Some of us are sensitive enough that, no, even being seated the great outdoors is not enough to make it okay to sit at a table adjacent to or downwind from an active smoker.

My eyes water, and I start to cough. It’s not posturing; the smoke simply does affect me that quickly. My tearing eyes swelling shut and the irritation in my throat make me look around for the source, not the other way around.

Worse yet, because smoking is taken so much for granted in Austria, newcomers into a restaurant or onto a terrace who plan to smoke don’t think to take seats at a maximum distance from non-smokers who are already there. Try though I did to sit “far away” from all the smokers in otherwise lovely cafes, I was constantly being smoked out by new arrivals in Austria.

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These polite Austrian smokers sat at the stern of our pleasure cruise ship on the Danube, but the entire open top deck stank of cigar smoke from one man sitting forward at the bow

I gather that the xenophobic right wing government* currently in power is working to defend the rights of smokers even more violently valiantly in Austria. What a tragedy for the health of Austria’s citizens. Because, while I am easily swayed by libertarian arguments on many issues, smoking is simply not the same as free thought or speech.

The smoker has at least the option of a filter between himself and the known carcinogen he opts to ignite and inhale; standing nearby, my right to breathe freely is stolen from me.

Smoking in public places fundamentally infringes on the health and safety of others in the space. There are few other vices so directly malevolent to the public good.

Heavy drinker? While you could overindulge and vomit onto my shoes, you may be a quiet, maudlin drunk and not affect me at all. There is no equivalent for smokers. Anyone in the presence of a lit cigarette is being affected; the only remedy is to leave.

When someone invents the “smoker’s spacesuit” that operates with complete isolation of its user’s air supply and exhaust, there will be room to discuss the rights of smokers to light up in crowded public spaces.

I acknowledge your right to smoke, but I’d say the responsibility you shoulder when exercising that right is to maintain a great distance between yourself and others while you do so. The fact that you can no longer smell smoke from a few feet away is a part of the burden you’ve elected to carry with your habit; healthy people can be negatively affected at a dozen feet or more.

I was charmed by many kind, witty, thoughtful Austrians whom I encountered there. It was otherwise a wonderful place to visit, and there are many sights around the country I’d love to come back to see. Until a more modern and health-conscious public smoking policy has been enacted, however, I will probably stay away, and I would most certainly never take my asthmatic child to such a dangerous place.

Schade. What a shame.

*Self styled as the “Freedom Party,” though formed by former Nazi party members after WWII. Once again, do we see the same party harming others to grant themselves more freedom to enjoy their own lives?

A NY Times article I read while writing this post goes into more details of the political situation.