Nervous! Excited! Terrified!
Ask any of the students arriving for Middlebury’s summer Language Schools how they’re feeling, and this is what you’ll hear—often all at once.
At the root of their conflicting emotions is the renowned and challenge-filled Language Pledge, which is required for every enrolled student. Once you take it, often within a day or two of arriving, you are honor-bound to speak only your language of study for the entire program—in class, at meals, in dorms, and even while tossing a Frisbee. The understanding is that by completely immersing yourself in a language while continuing to live your life on a daily basis helps you focus not just on the language acquisition skills but also understand the cultural perspectives and patterns of communication inherent to every language.
“No English Spoken Here” has been the commitment-driven foundation of the Language Schools for nearly 100 years. (And you know it’s serious when the phrase has its own registered trademark.) So it’s not surprising that it’s the general concern for most new—and even returning—students. Some are immediately worried about how they’ll stay in touch with family and friends back home, and others wonder what they’ll do in case of an emergency. But all are reassured by their respective program coordinators and bilinguals—those helpful intermediaries who are allowed to speak both in language and English as a liaison to the rest of the Middlebury world. It’s meant to be a serious and enforced learning tool, not a matter of life or death.
One veteran of the Chinese program explained the pledge as a key part of an amazing transformation from speaking Chinese to thinking in Chinese and finally dreaming in Chinese—almost to the point of making it difficult to switch back to English at the program’s end. A new student, listening nearby, joked somewhat nervously, “What if I lose my English? I have to go back to college in the fall.”
But while it may seem daunting and awkward at first, the overall effect of the Language Pledge has long been esteemed by educators, government officials and people from all walks of life. Students who immerse themselves in their language of study at Middlebury’s Language Schools often end the program with dramatically enhanced language skills and cultural understanding.
And to that we say:
حظا سعيدا حظا سعيدا