St. John's School in Dover is offering a 2013 summer camp where students will learn Chinese language and culture.

Why is it important to learn a second language, particularly Chinese?

Just ask Dr. Dina Vendetti, principal of the St. John's School on Walker Road in Dover.

"We're living in a global society and chances are good that as our students grow up and go into business, and especially international business, the acquisition of the Chinese language will be very important to them," she said.

So important, in fact, that the school's traditional summer camp in 2013 will be devoted exclusively to Chinese language, art and culture. It will be open to students ages 5 to 14.

The children will be under the supervision of teacher Jianglin Shi, a native of Nanjing, a city in eastern China. Shi holds education degrees from both American and Chinese universities, and has taught regularly at a Chinese community center in Hockessin which specializes in working with businessmen and professionals doing business in China.

It seems a lot of Americans are recognizing the need to discover the Chinese language, Shi said.

"Language skills are important," she said. "Doctors and lawyers and others, all have been learning Chinese."

"We will be giving the children just a taste of Chinese," Shi said. "It will give them a little experience of what it's like learning a second language."

During the camp, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., June 17 through June 21, Shi's students will learn basic phrases in Mandarin Chinese, which is considered the official language of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. The students also will learn Chinese calligraphy, folk dances, games, songs, food and play activities. They'll even learn the proper way to use chopsticks.

Because it's an Immersion Summer Camp, students will be encouraged only to speak Chinese; any time they use English, they'll have to whisper.

"That's the best way to learn a foreign language," Shi said.

Shi will be using a number of methods to teach Chinese. Students will see and hear the language being used by familiar cartoon characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. Games and puzzles will be explored on computers, with interactive lessons for all.

As she holds a music degree, Shi also will be using songs and musical accompaniment in her lessons.

The daughter of a research chemist, Shi went into teaching because she wanted to help others learn and because teaching is a much respected job in China. She came to the United States 14 years ago with her husband, who was studying at the University of North Carolina.

Shi was in for a bit of culture shock as soon as she stepped off the airplane. At the time, she didn't speak English and had never driven a car.

"I'd never even eaten cheese before," she said. "Now I really think cheese tastes good."

After they were finished in North Carolina, Shi and her husband lived in Georgia, California and Ohio before settling in Delaware six years ago.

Remembering what it was like for her when she first arrived in America, Shi and Vendetti hope the Chinese Immersion Summer Camp will help local students if they ever journey to China.

"A lot of times school like ours are looking for a language teacher. They get someone who speaks the language. We were lucky. Shi has learned all the skills, strategies and methods that you need for teaching children," Vendetti said.

Because of the demand, Vendetti has extended the registration deadline for the St. John's camp to May 31.

For more information about the program, call 734-3767 between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.