Even if they’ve had a solid year of French, the first “Tu t’apelle comment?” can catch the kids off-guard.
Granted, “What’s your name?” is practically the first sentence you learn to say in French. But the thick, authentic accents of the Concordia Language Villages staff at Lac du Bois in the North Woods can make those words sound a lot different than your kindly French teacher’s slow annunciation: “Too-taaa-pelll como?”
Of course, after 30 years of bringing students for weekend trips to the language camp, St. Peter French teacher Mary Behrends knows that the total “immersion” is a huge part of the educational benefit. All weekend they hear French, they speak French, and they experience French culture.
A lot of Minnesota schools take students to Concordia Language Villages. What makes Behrends unique is the size of her groups, the inclusion of so many elementary-age kids who haven’t taken French yet, and the number of years she’s been participating in the camps. Recently, Behrends was honored by Concordia for participating in the camps for 30 years.
For the middle and high school group in the spring, she’ll take about 50 kids. Last weekend she brought 21 students in grades 4-6 from North Intermediate school.
“It’s a chance to try something new,” she said, adding that hopefully the experience will lead the younger kids to take French classes later.
Behrends first started bringing students to Lac du Bois in 1982 when she taught at Loyola High School. The principal even let her use his family’s van to drive the students. Over the next few years she took students about three times to the camp.
“I had a lot of really nice students, and I thought, ‘Here’s a fun thing to try,’” she said.
In 1990, Behrends began teaching in St. Peter and took her first group to Concordia in 1992. The trips to the language camp have grown ever since.