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ECU Language Academy students practice communication with campers

By Melanie Jock
ECU News Services

Guitar in hand, Brazil native Sabrina Calado stood in the multipurpose room of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville. Smiling, she waited for her audience to arrive.

“I’m excited,” Calado said.  “I’ll be teaching them to sing ‘Happy Birthday to You’ in Portuguese.”

Calado is a member of the East Carolina University Language Academy, an intensive program for individuals wishing to learn the English language while gaining exposure to American culture. Participants who earn a high TOEFL exam score that demonstrates English proficiency may then enroll at ECU.

Calado and her fellow students practiced their communication skills July 6 at St. Paul’s by presenting information about their native countries to campers from the Pirate SP.E.E.CH. (SPeech/language Education and Enrichment for Children) Camp, for children with autism and severe communication impairments.

Language Academy instructor Paul Morin supervised the visit to the Pirate SP.E.E.CH. Camp.

“I think the most important thing the students learn is that, outside of the English as a second language environment, they will need to be able to think on their feet in English—to react quickly and express themselves coherently in English,” Morin said.

ECU instructor Lori Kincannon, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, directs the Pirate SP.E.E.CH. Camp, now in its fifth year. She said this is the first year the language academy students have visited. Their visit was timed to coincide with “All Around the World” week, when campers learned about the foods, flags, music and dress of people from other countries, Kincannon said. 

Three Saudi students showed campers photos of animals from their country, as well as native dress. Ahmad Alqair showed images of camels, reptiles, a wild cat and an Arabian Leopard, allowing the children to reach out and touch the photographs.

Khalaf Alswit showed campers a white thawb, the traditional robe worn in the summer months. Alswit and Alqair modeled the robes. The children laughed as the two ran around the room, demonstrating how to run while wearing a thawb. Then Alswit and Alqair helped the campers try on Alswit’s traditional Saudi Arabian headdress.

Pirate Speech Camp

The five-week Pirate Speech Camp meets three mornings a week and serves 16 children ages four to 13. 

The camp provides structure throughout the summer, ensuring an easy transition back to the classroom in the fall.

The Speech camp provides skill-building activities in a five-week program to address deficits in speech and language. Children learn how to ask questions, how to initiate and maintain conversations and how to interact with others. ECU graduate students in communication sciences and disorders plan activities and work with the children.

“The camp program is a theme-based, language enrichment program that is structured to include the language of the classroom,” said camp director Lori Kincannon. 

“We work on language and communication skills and…the familiarity of the classroom structure is there," she said.

Read more about the Pirate Speech Camp at

“I was especially pleased to see that some of the kids were eager to try on the traditional Saudi clothing,” Morin said.  The campers showed no fear, though the visitors might have looked out of the ordinary in their native apparel, he said.

At another learning station, more laughter and excitement greeted a second group of Saudi students who were teaching children about their national flag and how to find the country on a map. They shared with campers their favorite American food – macaroni and cheese.

Music and song erupted from Calado’s station as she taught the children to sing along to  “Parabéns Pra Você,” the Portuguese version of “Happy Birthday to You.”  Calado shared pictures of animals from Brazil and spoke about the Brazilian flag.

The children practiced interacting with visitors by asking questions of their visitors, such as “What are your favorite things about living in America?” The language academy students responded: the friendly people, hamburgers and pizza.

Kincannon was excited to see the children interacting so well with their visitors. 

“Some children may read to their peers, some may hold up signs, and some may use augmentative communication devices to participate,” she said. An augmentative communication device is a form of assistive technology—a device that increases, maintains or improves functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

All students participate in their own way, Kincannon said. “We find their strengths and allow them every opportunity to participate using those strengths.” 

While the campers benefited from interacting with visitors, the language academy students gained experience in communicating using the English language.

“The Pirate SP.E.E.CH. Camp was a perfect opportunity to give our students experience…in a real-world setting,” Morin said. He said he would like the collaboration to become an annual event.

“I hope the children at the speech camp enjoyed our visit as much as the Language Academy students did,” he said.

For more information about the Language Academy, visit

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