Preenrollment Program Prepares Students for their First Summer of Immersive Learning

The Middlebury Language Schools can be intimidating for students contemplating weeks with no English. It’s especially challenging for those who are brave enough to enroll in a new language with virtually no previous exposure to it—and even more so when they cannot even read the alphabet or pronounce words on signs.

That’s why the Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian has developed a preenrollment program to give students a running start on their first-year studies at the school. The program helps students with the alphabet, basic greetings, and common phrases. It also offers a placement module for those with some language training who may be unsure which level is right for them. And it offers some information about what a summer in the school is like, so prospective students can really understand what to expect when they immerse themselves in an eight-week, 24/7 experience.

The program has been an important tool for recruiting students by giving them confidence that they are ready to tackle a summer of immersive learning in a new language. And it’s helped to improve retention, as students are less likely to be overwhelmed by the newness of the language in the first couple of weeks. Students’ stress levels are also noticeably lower.

By about the fourth week, things just click with them, and when I sit down at a table of students I don’t know, I can’t tell which ones are in first or second or even third year!

Davis School of Russian Director Jason Merrill observes that there is a steep learning curve for first-year students. “I try to meet as many students as I can over the course of the summer to find out a little bit about them and their interest in Russian. In the first few weeks, it’s easy to tell which students are in first year, since their language skills are pretty basic. However, by about the fourth week, things just click with them, and when I sit down at a table of students I don’t know, I can’t tell which ones are in first or second or even third year! Their confidence in their own skills and learning capacity really makes a difference in how they handle the stress of that first summer.”

The Davis School of Russian was the first to develop this tool for new learners, but other schools are now building their own online preenrollment programs modeled on the success of the Davis School of Russian’s.

See what skills new students can learn before they arrive in Vermont—and maybe brush up on some phrases yourself! Check out the preenrollment program’s new website.

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