Tag Archives: Languages

Languages at Middlebury

Middlebury is famous for its language program for good reason. The language school in the summer is not the only linguistic claim to fame. Throughout the year, Middlebury students have the opportunity to learn Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Taking a language is a very different experience from taking any other course. It is a full-fledged experience. Although it would be impossible to have a language pledge during the academic year (the language pledge in the summer is signed by all students and stipulates that the students will hereby exclusively speak the language they are learning for the rest of the summer), Middlebury College students experience language learning in a similar way.

When we are taking the introductory level of a language, we meet with our small class and professor at least five times per week. In certain languages, such as Chinese, introductory languages can meet as many as seven times per week. Yes, I know that sounds really overwhelming, but it ends up being an incredible shared experience with your classmates and professor. Every day, students have the opportunity to eating lunch at language tables, where you are served by waiters in your language (who are other students who speak that language), and you sit with professors and students who are at all levels of speaking ability. You get to know the professor incredibly well, and you finish a year of a language with a conversational ability to speak!

At Middlebury, I have taken German. I grew up speaking French and Spanish, so I wanted to try a non-Romance language (granted, I did not venture too far away). It has definitely been more challenging than, say, Italian or Portuguese would have been. But I have come to love the process. It is a learning experience that requires building on the previous semesters of coursework, and it is also a cultural experience. Most of the Middlebury language professors are native speakers of the languages they teach, and they make an effort to incorporate a lot of their personal and national experiences into the classroom discussion. German courses will be one of my fondest academic memories of Middlebury.

Language Tables

Sorry to bombard you guys with a second email about food at Middlebury (I am currently 2 for 2), but Middlebury College has  so many unique dining options that I could probably write 100 (or more )blog posts just about dining at Middlebury.  As I mentioned in my last post, we have two main dining halls, Ross and Proctor, but we also have a third dining hall, Atwater.  Atwater used to be a full service dining hall like Ross and Proctor, but now hosts language tables.  What are language tables you may ask?  I will attempt to explain…

                Imagine entering a room and hearing 9 languages being spoken at once.  The table in the far left corner is speaking Japanese, the table in the back right is speaking Italian, and right in front of you eight students are speaking Arabic.  No, you are not at the United Nations, you are at language tables at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.  As part of Middlebury’s extensive language program, students have the opportunity (and will sometimes be required) to attend language tables once or twice a week.  Let’s say that you take Italian.  You will come to language tables and have a sit down meal with seven or eight other Italian students of all different levels.  Chances are an Italian professor will join you as well and if not, a native Italian speaker will join you at the table.  Your waiter or waitress will also be either a native Italian speaker or an upper level Italian student.  You eat with this group for about and hour, speaking only in Italian.

                At first this experience is somewhat difficult.  During the first couple of weeks (especially if you are just beginning a language) it is hard to communicate with your peers.  There are only so many times you can smile at the person next to you and say “Hi.  I am Ben.  I like food.”  Don’t worry though, over time your speaking skills improve and it is really amazing to see and hear the difference at language tables after a month or two.  People who just a few weeks earlier were struggling with the simple task of introducing themselves are now speaking rapidly in complex sentences. 

After two years of studying a language at Middlebury and maybe a summer at our summer Language Schools, students are prepared to study abroad in an immersion environment.  Middlebury Students take classes in a foreign University with local students and they succeed!  Studying a language at Middlebury is hard work, but the hard work definitely pays off.