Kids Like Languages photo
Claudia Mesa tutors a student in a second language.
Kids Like Languages photo
Claudia Mesa tutors a student in a second language.
Claudia Mesa has figured out how to make learning a language fun for children.

Mesa, a native of Colombia, is owner of Kids Like Languages, which holds classes and sends teachers to 55 Portland-area schools, many of them Catholic. The business is in its 16th year.

During the summer, Mesa and her team of teachers lead camps at St. Therese School in Northeast Portland June 23-Aug. 1.  

Spanish and Mandarin are the most requested languages; she teaches those. But she also offers French and Japanese.

Mesa says introducing students to another language broadens understanding of other cultures, opens them up to the world’s diversity, and prepares them for future language learning. As parents are aware, being bilingual or trilingual is also a boost to a career.

Each session runs five days, Monday through Friday, for two age groups: Pre-K through second grade, and third through sixth grade. Camps are also held in Southeast Portland and Southwest Portland. St. Therese, a Northeast 132nd and Halsey, has been a location for five summers.

Camps are an immersion in the language, using art, drama and games. Children need not know the language already. To help them feel brave at giving words a try, Mesa creates guessing games; children can win prizes for giving the languages a try. Overcoming that fear of being wrong is a key to her method.

"It takes courage," says Mesa, who had to learn English when she came to the United States.  

Her technique recreates, at a more advanced level, the way we learn native languages as toddlers — listening to parents speak, picking up patterns and trying out the words ourselves.  

Summer language camp includes student-organized dramas and other activities children can show to parents at the end of the week.