Episode 37 of America the Bilingual
Concordia Language Villages: Waltzing with Mops, and Other Adventures

Walt Disney might have loved the dramatic setting that reveals each new world just around a bend in the road.

In our continuing series of dual language summer immersion programs, in Episode 37 of the America the Bilingual podcast, we learn what it means to “live the language” at Concordia Language Villages — from learning opera in Italian, soccer in German, volleyball in Spanish, and French while waltzing with mops.

Concordia has become famous over the past 50 years for language learning, and its campus in Bemidji, Minnesota, is one that Walt Disney might have approved of as part of his vision for EPCOT.

Each EPCOT-like “village” at Concordia is hidden from view of the other villages, all of them nestled in wooded settings around a big lake. More important, each village is out of hearing range of the others. In these villages, English is rarely heard, nor is any other language but that spoken in the particular village — be that Danish, Korean, Arabic or something else.

The magical kingdom of Concordia

Concordia is for language learners aged 8 to 18, and is generally a two-week camp experience. Often students come back to their “village,” which is part of Concordia College, every summer for multiple years. All the summer programs provide excellent preparation for study abroad.

One of the Concordia alumnae I had met earlier at a conference on language learning technologies was Raia Lichen, the founder of Language Lifestylist. She attended the two-week Spanish Language Village when she was in high school. She had already studied Spanish for three years in school.

Concordia was a summer dream come true. Raia explained to me its magic, and once again I thought of how pleased Walt Disney might be about this magical kingdom of languages.

“The mistake we often make with language learning is that we tend to want to teach ourselves as we would program a computer,” she said. “We want to create very linear experiences to make it easier to explain and easier to understand. But lines only take us so far. The human brain is not two-dimensional. Our learning thrives tenfold in 3-D environments.”

This is what Concordia offers, Raia explained, and it results in a special kind of empathy. “You develop your ability to connect to the heart of a native speaker through curiosity and care for the words that are native to them.”

Hear the story

Listen on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes. Or on SoundCloud here. Steve comments on Twitter as well.

Read the complete episode notes on America the Bilingual.