WHAT TO EXPECT
The Middlebury Chinese School is an eight-week intensive and immersive residential language learning program on the campus of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Please review and consider the overview and details provided below, and remember them during the eight-week summer session.
Some of the information provided here is also available on our other pages. That’s because they are important!
INTENSIVE LANGUAGE LEARNING
The Chinese School is proud of its dedicated and supportive faculty and staff, rigorous and effective curriculum, low student-teacher ratio, and immersive learning and living environment. The eight-week session offers courses in modern Mandarin at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. These courses are designed to help learners of all ages 18 and over to develop and improve their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills at all levels of proficiency. The curriculum also aims to help learners acquire and expand their knowledge of Chinese culture.
Summer in Vermont is ideal for getting away from it all to focus on language acquisition and practice, with no travel or commuting required, meals provided, quiet places to study and focus both inside and out, and fantastic views on and beyond campus. Being informed about and prepared for this experience will be essential to your success. The pace of our summer course is very fast, and the volume of material is high.
The 8-week session is equivalent to one academic year of college-level language class. One day is roughly the same as one week of classes in a regular college-level semester. Students tend to study 3-4 hours each day, before and after class, in between fitness, social, and co-curricular activities. Co-curricular activities in language provide students with hands-on exposure to cultural information, as well as comraderie and language practice with teachers and students from all levels. By participating in both formal and informal social activities, from classroom lectures and study groups to sit-down meals and volleyball, students will hear new vocabulary, try out different tones, and practice dialogue in our safe and supportive environment. By the end of the term, students who are willing to make mistakes and challenge themselves to keep up with the pace will make amazing progress.
As one of the Middlebury College Language Schools, the Chinese School implements the Language Pledge®, on the first Monday night of the session. The Language Pledge is an agreement between every student and the School that, for the entirety of their stay, they will only use their language of study, i.e. Chinese, for all their communication 24/7. This complete linguistic immersion, as encouraged by the Language Pledge, supports the creation of a learning community within the School, and a solid foundation in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in the language of study. Outside the classroom, the Pledge encourages meaningful engagement and fluency acquisition, as students participate in a vast range of co-curricular activities while in language.
Persistent use of English (and/or other languages) can result in expulsion, as it is detrimental to the learning focus of the individual and their peers in the classroom, dorm, and other campus settings. While students who break the Pledge will be held accountable by the Director of the Chinese School and Dean of the Language Schools, the Pledge is not something to be feared. The Pledge is a tool to push students to make the absolute most of their experience at the Language Schools.
Staying in communication with family, friends, and colleagues during the eight-week session is allowed, but it should be done on a limited basis and out of hearing range of other students. To respect your commitment to your Pledge to learn Chinese, it is best to limit to once a week emails, texts, phone calls, social media, mail, news, and other communications. The more completely you immerse yourself in Chinese, the more progress you will make!
LANGUAGE IMMERSION CHALLENGE
Those who choose to study Chinese in the fully immersive environment created at Middlebury will embark on an incredible and challenging journey which, by the end, many will consider was the most incredible thing they have ever done. The curricular goals of each Level are substantial, as each week of the summer session is about the same as one month of college-level language class. Students at all levels should expect an extremely rigorous and fast-paced course that requires a great deal of time and energy. The beginner student, in particular, may experience the greatest challenge by starting their journey to learn Chinese in such an intensive way, but then may experience the most significant gains in language proficiency. The course of the eight-weeks will require dedication, endurance, recalibration of routine, and trust in the guidance of the teachers. Our teachers are passionate, knowledgeable, and encouraging. The course work and load are hard, but if you push yourself there are ample opportunities to progress in your language skills.
CHANGE OF IDENTITY
Our students frequently report that they are different people in Chinese than they are in English. Prepare for this shift as best as you can and embrace the new identity that you will be nurturing here. For higher-level learners, this may manifest as being more outgoing, more introverted, or as having a different sense of humor in Chinese. For lower level or beginner language learners, this may emerges as a loss of identity. For those who come to our program without any prior exposure to Chinese and are now living in an immersive environment, this can be a great challenge. Without the vocabulary to ask for directions or a favor, beginner students of Mandarin may struggle to express themselves and feel that their classmates and teachers do not understand that they are indeed intelligent, functioning adults even if they have the speaking ability of an infant. Be assured, each of our teachers, as well as upper-level students, have been through this process before and are very understanding and supportive!
HOMEWORK ESTIMATES PER LEVEL
Chinese School students are required to study the material just learned that day, plus the material they will cover the next day. Weekly quizzes tend to take place each Monday. The volume of material accumulates in short order, so it is recommended students quickly find and stick to a routine that incorporates study, social time, fitness, meals, and sleep. On the average, students can expect the following expectations each day:
Level 1: 10-20 characters, 3-4 hours of homework including a required evening study group.
Level 2: 10-20 characters, 3-4 hours homework including a required evening study group.
Level 2.5: 30-60 characters, 3-4 hours homework.
Level 3: 40-60 characters, 4-5 hours homework.
Level 4: 80-120 characters, 5-6 hours homework.
PACE OF LEARNING
The pace of our summer courses is very fast, and the volume of material is high. The 8-week session is equivalent to one academic year of college-level language class. One week is roughly equal to a month of learning and material, so missing a day would be like missing a week of class input and practice. The Level 1 class will focus on the four basic skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, while higher level classes will venture farther and deeper into each of these disciplines. Our dedicated and highly skilled instructors will help each student progress through their assignments and build a solid foundation for future Chinese study. Additionally, the Chinese School students participate in co-curricular activities, such as tai chi, hiking, calligraphy, cooking, and singing, weekly social events, and daily social exchange during meal times, study groups, and free time activities to practice and improve their language skills.
Classes and co-curricular activities for the eight-week session are scheduled Monday-Friday, while films, hikes, performances, and social gatherings are scheduled for the weekends. The daily schedule will be similar to this:
Pre-Recorded Teaching Video – morning on own time
Class Lecture – 8:30-9:45 am (75 mins)
Small Group Drill #1 – 10:00-10:50 am (50 mins)
Small Group Drill #2 – 11:00-11:50 am (50 mins)
Individual Practice – between 1:30-3:30 pm (30 minutes session)
Co-Curricular Activities – 4:00-5:30 pm
Homework – 3-6 hours per day, depending on your level
In addition to the four hours of class time per day (Monday-Friday), students should spend at least 2-5 hours to review (average 4-5 hours for Level 1), do assigned homework, and preview for the next day.
It is extremely important for all students of all ages and skill levels to attend all scheduled meals and participate in one or two extracurricular activities in order to maximize the amount of time spent using the language while interacting with others. Additionally, improving language skills and staying socially engaged will minimize the frustration and sense of isolation that may result with a minimal ability to engage verbally with peers and teachers.
A suggested weekly schedule:
The Chinese School provides five levels of instruction. Placement level will be determined by three assessments: an online reading test to be completed from home prior to campus arrival, plus a writing test and an oral interview to be done on the first Saturday of the session, and placement results sent by email on Sunday. Acceptance into the Chinese School does not assume or guarantee placement in a particular class or level of instruction. Our main goal is to help all students increase their ability to use Chinese as much as possible within the eight-week session. As students come from many different backgrounds and various instructional programs, students may find themselves placed at a level below or above what they may have expected. In enrolling in the Chinese School, you indicate your willingness to accept guidance from the School as to your placement in the course level most appropriate to your needs and current proficiency.
We have built into our curriculum an active assessment component which monitors and measures student progress. Strategically low faculty-student ratio ensures each student receives individual attention, and ensures our teachers know each student and can accurately gauge their progress every step of the way. Teachers are available daily during office hours, in the dorm and dining hall for individual consulting, feedback, and support. Teachers work diligently as coaches to ensure that each student receives feedback and instruction that is appropriate, encouraging, and challenges a student’s ability to understand, speak, read and write Mandarin Chinese. Students are expected to do the work, and if diligent about their learning and practice will improve dramatically day-by-day throughout the summer. At the end of the eight-week summer session, each student will complete reading, writing, and oral assessments, and then receive their entrance and exit scores, as well an overview of their accomplishments in a final session report.
Tips to Help You Survive Language Immersion
Keep your eyes and ears open. Much of what you need is going on around you rather than in your teaching materials.
BE (OR TRY TO BECOME) EXTROVERTED AND PARTICIPATE
Jump in, ask when you don’t know, make mistakes. Experiment, learn to develop guessing strategies and be willing to make hypotheses. Join study groups, conversation circles, eat meals with others, play volleyball, participate in co-curricular activities. Social interaction – in the laundry room, on the soccer field, at the lunch table – are prime opportunities to practice your speaking and listening skills. Comfortable social connections allow for more risk taking and learning.
BE PREPARED FOR FRUSTRATION
Interacting with others in another language can be a humbling experience. Increasing one’s proficiency in a second language and culture takes both time and a concentrated effort. Learn to be self-conscious in a productive way. Get some exercise and stay as rested as you can.
BE YOUR OWN TEACHER
Develop your own strategies, figure out what works for you – taking notes outside of class, mnemonic tricks, talking to yourself, etc.
Look for routines, fixed or formulaic chunks of language that you can use over and over, bits of songs or movies etc.
AIM FOR DISCOURSE NOT WORDS
Think beyond the sentence, in terms of context, relationships, and overall meaning. A perfectionist’s approach to detail will almost certainly prove counterproductive. Especially in the beginning, attention to meaning should come before attention to form.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Do not rely on rules or explanations to the exclusion of keeping things moving. Develop your ability to paraphrase and use circumlocutions when you do not know a word, rather than give up or lapse into silence.
Please read the article linked below in which a Level 1 student from the 2017 session shares her experience with the Middlebury Chinese School, and tips for surviving the Language Pledge.
BEGINNER CHINESE EXERCISES
The following videos are recommended to the beginner student wishing to jump-start their Middlebury Chinese School experience and language learning: