What to Expect

As the Middlebury Chinese School is such an intensive language learning program, being prepared for the summer and for each day of the session is essential to your success.

Language Pledge®

As a Middlebury College Summer Language School, the Chinese School does implement the Language Pledge®.  The Language Pledge is an agreement between every student and the School that, for the entirety of students’ stay, they will only use their language of study, i.e. Chinese, for all their communication.  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 fosters meaningful engagement and fluency acquisition, as students participate in a vast range of co-curricular activities, all of which happen in language.

Persistent use of English (or other languages) can result in students’ expulsion.  Every year there are students who break the Pledge and are dealt with according to this policy.  This, however, is not something to be feared, but a tool to push students to make the absolute most of their experience at the language schools.


The late 18th and early 19th century missionary, William Milne, is quoted as saying that “learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron, lungs of brass, heads of oak, hands of spring steel, eyes of eagles, hearts of apostles, memories of angels, and lives of Methuselah.”  Although most of our students are not cyborgs, they do come to study Chinese in an immersive environment and will embark on an incredible and challenging journey. The beginner student in particular is, in many ways, taking on the greatest challenge available at our school by learning the language in an intensive immersion program with little or no previous background knowledge or experience. Students entering each level, especially Level 1, should expect an extremely rigorous and fast-paced course that requires a great deal of time and energy. Keep in mind, the summer language session is equivalent to roughly one academic year of college-level language study!

Change of Identity

The French monarch Charlemagne is often quoted as saying that “to have another language is to possess another soul.” While the nature of the human soul is not really the purview of this platform, this quote does provide a hint to something to expect during language acquisition: a change of identity.

Our students frequently report that they are different people in Chinese then they are in English. For higher-level learners, this may manifest as being more outgoing or more introverted or as having a wildly different sense of humor in Chinese. For lower-level or beginner language learners, this frequently presents as a loss of identity. Especially for people who come to our program without any prior exposure to Chinese and are thrown into an immersion environment, this can be a great challenge. Without even the vocabulary to ask for a glass of water, many students struggle to express themselves and may feel that their classmates or teachers do not understand that they are intelligent, functioning adults even if they have the Chinese ability of an infant. Be assured, both your teachers and your classmates have been through this process before and are very understanding and supportive! However, before coming to Middlebury, prepare for this shift as best you can and embrace the new soul that you will be growing here.

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 day is roughly the same as one week of classes in a regular college-level semester. That means if one day of class is missed, a week of content is missed (in regular semester) and is very difficult to recover.
Our dedicated and highly skilled instructors will help each student master assignments and lay a solid foundation for future Chinese study. At Level 1, each student will be trained in four basic skills – listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Higher levels will venture farther and deeper into each area. Our teachers are excellent instructors in the Chinese language, but it’s up to you, the student, to make the effort to learn.

Homework Estimates per Level

Chinese School students are required to study the material just learned in that day, plus the material they will cover the next day, with weekly quizzes that tend to take place each Monday. The volume of material accumulates fairly quickly, so it is recommended students quickly find and stick to a routine that incorporates study, social time, sleep, and fitness. On the average, students can expect the following:

Level 1
10-20 avg. characters per day, 3-4 hours avg. homework per day, including required evening study group.

Level 2
10-20 avg. characters per day, 3-4 hours avg. homework per day, including required evening study group.

Level 2.5
30-60 avg. characters per day, 3-4 hours avg. homework per day, including five essays during the course.

Level 3
40-60 avg. characters per day, 4-5 hours avg. homework per day.

Level 4
80-120 avg. characters per day, 5-6 hours avg. homework per day.

Daily Schedule

In addition to the four-hour classes per day (Monday-Friday), students should spend at least another 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 time spent using the language while interacting with others, and to prevent possible frustration and isolation that can come during the first few weeks of minimal ability to engage verbally with one’s peers and teachers. A suggested weekly schedule:


Be Observant

Keep your eyes and ears open. Much of what you need is going on around you rather than in your teaching materials.

Be/Try to Be Social, a Participant, Extroverted

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.

Review Curricular Goals

Familiarize yourself with the expected curriculum for each level.

Remember Your Motivation

Keep your personal goals in mind as you progress through the summer session. Why do you want or need to learn Chinese? What are your personal and professional goals?

The Chinese School

Sunderland Language Center
Middlebury College
P: 802.443.5520
F: 802.443.2075

Mailing address
Chinese School
14 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753

Mimi Clark, Assistant Director