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Camp immerses students in French language
Gainesville High students visited Camp Rock Eagle in Eatonton
Gainesville High School junior McKinney Pierce practices French composition Wednesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When Gainesville High School senior Lindsey Watts explained the rules of volleyball to friends at camp last month, she was tongue-tied.

Watts had studied French in school, but using the language full time was nothing like studying it in books.

"Explaining things you know perfectly well in English was the biggest challenge," Watts said. "We used a lot of hand motions and used the dictionary a ton."

That challenge was also the draw of the camp, said Gainesville High French teacher Marsha Friedman.

A group of students from the school recently spent three days at Camp Rock Eagle in Eatonton for French Immersion Camp.

As soon as they set foot on the site, the students said, English was prohibited. They also agreed to give up their cell phones and iPods to help prevent text messaging.

"We had punch cards they'd use if they caught someone speaking in English," junior McKinney Pierce said. "The first time was a warning, but if you got enough you could be sent home."

"They were pretty serious," Watts added.

Friedman said the camp was a chance for students to boost their skills of the language in a short time.

Most students on the trip had only enrolled in two French classes.

"I thought the teachers would speak slower for the kids, but they didn't. The first night, the students were completely lost," Friedman said. "By Sunday afternoon, they understood everything."

Many of the instructors were native speakers from countries such as France, Canada and Haiti, and activities centered on French culture and language.

The students learned French folk dancing and French sports such as petanque — a game similar to bocce ball. They also practiced making crepes, very thin pancakes.

"That was the best part, but all of the recipes were in French," sophomore John Stenzel said.

To encourage interaction, the camp included projects that required intense collaboration. One day, the students were asked to create a skit using props such as a raincoat and fake beard.

"At first we were all silent. We had ideas, but we had to think about how we were going to express them," Pierce said.

Each of the teens said they had a similar motivation for going: gaining practice to become fluent in the language.

"It was great to see what it's like in a real-life situation," Pierce said.

Friedman said it was the first time she brought a class to French Immersion Camp, but she expects to make the trip again. The camp, which is offered for a fee, is open to French high school students across the state.

"It's infectious. More students already want to go next year," she said.

She added that many of the lessons have stuck with the students. Friedman encouraged them to compete at a Foreign Language Association of Georgia spoken language contest this month.

Junior Victor Covarrubias said he also noticed a significant change.

"Saturday night at the camp, I was going to sleep and I was thinking in French," he said. "That was interesting."