Courses, camp offer Spanish immersion |

Courses, camp offer Spanish immersion

Axie Navas

For adults and children looking to hone their Spanish skills this summer, the search ends in South Lake Tahoe.

Next month, the Lake Tahoe Community College will hold its 19th annual Intensive Spanish Summer Institute during the same week as the Bridge Language Academy’s first-ever children’s Spanish summer camp.

Not your typical Spanish classes, both the Institute and the jViva Tahoe! camp focus on getting students out of the classroom.

Since 1993, ISSI has brought people from all over the country and of all different Spanish-speaking abilities to the Lake Tahoe Basin. This year, ISSI Director Sue O’Connor said they’re aiming to enroll about 500 students and a few spots are still open.

Many of those ISSI students work in education, law enforcement, the medical field, social services and other jobs where Spanish-language skills are becoming more and more valuable. Others come just to have a good time while learning a new language.

“Either they want it for their own personal use – we get a lot of retirees – or they want it for their jobs. A lot of it has to do with career relationships,” O’Connor said.

With 94 topics offered over the five-day session, there’s something for everyone. The topics, or cultural breakout sessions, include classes on music, dance, food, religion, literature and much more. And many of those topics are taught by teachers originally from Latin America or Spain.

“Our focus was really bringing native Spanish speakers and English speakers together so that the native Spanish speakers could give their point of view and their history,” O’Connor said.

There are teachers from Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Cuba and more. Many of those teachers are South Lake Tahoe residents.

Both O’Connor and ISSI Co-Director Maxine Alper agree that every year they modify the program in response to student feedback, much of which praises the cultural breakout sessions that augment the traditional classroom teaching.

“One of the other main ideas was to provide a program that wasn’t your standard Spanish class. Most people have a huge fear of languages and don’t want to raise their hand or be called on in class. We wanted something that was really fun, and comfortable and that you’re learning Spanish not just through grammar, but from all of these other things in the cultural breakout sessions,” O’Connor said.

Kathy Haven, founder of Bridge Language Academy, was also looking for fun, new ways to teach Spanish and thus the jViva Tahoe! children’s camp was created.

“We’re basically not going to be in the classroom. It’s outdoor ed in all the best places in Tahoe and it’s all in Spanish,” Haven said.

Those places include the Rubicon Trail, Angora Lakes, Vikingsholm, Baldwin Beach, and the Heavenly Gondola where campers can learn about the Lake Tahoe Basin ecosystems and the human influence on those habitats.

Students range from 7 to 14 years old, with many of the younger children already highly proficient in Spanish from the Two-Way Language Immersion program at the Bijou Community School. Many of the older campers have less Spanish-language skills and are looking for an introduction to the language, Haven said.

Though LTCC’s Institute and the Bridge’s camp aren’t directly affiliated, the programs share a similar mission and the same dates. Both start on Aug. 6 and run through Friday. Part of the idea behind the camp was to provide a place for the children to learn Spanish while their parents do the same at the college, Haven said.

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