Middlebury

Immersion Stress

The Language Schools are renowned for their excellence in producing high levels of language acquisition. The experience of language immersion, combined with the Language Pledge, open opportunities for students to communicate in their target language and deepen their cultural understanding. Here are some important points to remember as you enter the program:

  • Language is one of our primary modes of self-expression. When learning a new language, we are initially limited in our ability to demonstrate our cognitive and creative capabilities, using our fledgling language skills.
  • Embarking on a new language is like entering a new reality, for language is used not only for communication but as the medium through which we construct our world. The words available to us influence how we think about things.
  • In this “new reality” our sense of self may be altered. Because of our limited language abilities, we may begin to perceive of ourselves as less competent than in our “native language personalities”. This may be unnerving for Middlebury language learners who are highly accomplished professionals, teachers, graduate students or undergraduates in their “real” lives.
  • When arriving at Middlebury, one is confronted with a new social milieu. Making friends and discovering one’s position within this setting are natural concerns. With limited communication skills, it may be difficult to let one’s personality shine through.
  • A social hierarchy may develop, where more accomplished speakers seek out other accomplished speakers. Relatively inarticulate beginners may feel frustrated at their inability to express complex ideas or make a precise point. They may find their ability to relate to others affected.
  • Some students react by withdrawing from social interactions and feeling a lack of self-confidence. Depression or anxiety may result. Students often go through several phases of feelings with regard to the Language School experience. “Should I even be here?” “Am I at the right language level?” are questions that some students confront at the outset.

Language Schools

Consulting Us About a Distressed Student

Middlebury's Language Schools are renowned for their excellence in producing high levels of language acquisition. The experience of language immersion, combined with the Language Pledge, (a formal commitment required of all students to speak, listen, read, and write in their language of study as the only means of communication for the summer session), open opportunities for students to communicate in their target language and deepen their cultural understanding.

This intense program may produce tension. Some of this may be pleasurable, stimulating, "euphoric" tension, and may enhance the learning experience. However, "dysphoric" tension—disagreeable, discouraging—may also result. What follows is a brief description of some sources of dysphoric tension and things students can do about it.

  • Language is one of our primary modes of self-expression. When learning a new language, we are initially limited in our ability to demonstrate our cognitive and creative capabilities, using our fledgling language skills.
  • Embarking on a new language is like entering a new reality, for language is used not only for communication but as the medium through which we construct our world. The words available to us influence how we think about things.
  • In this "new reality" our sense of self may be altered. Because of our limited language abilities, we may begin to perceive of ourselves as less competent than in our "native language personalities". This may be unnerving for Middlebury language learners who are highly accomplished professionals, teachers, graduate students or undergraduates in their "real" lives.
  • When arriving at Middlebury, one is confronted with a new social milieu. Making friends and discovering one's position within this setting are natural concerns that many face. With limited communication skills, it may be difficult to let one's personality shine through.
  • A social hierarchy may develop, where more accomplished speakers seek out other accomplished speakers. Relatively inarticulate beginners may feel frustrated at their inability to express complex ideas or make a precise point. They may find their ability to relate to others affected.
  • Some students react by withdrawing from social interactions and feeling a lack of self confidence. Depression or anxiety may result. Students often go through several phases of feelings with regard to the language school experience. "Should I even be here?" "Am I at the right language level?" are questions that some students confront at the outset.

Coping Strategies

  • Seek out opportunities to engage in activities where your skills, intelligence, and creativity can be expressed. It will remind you about who you fully are.
  • Participate in sports and exercise; this is an excellent mode of self-expression that requires minimal language use.
  • Go for a long walk alone: enjoy nature and solitude.
  • When necessary, call family and friends at home to put language school (and other) concerns in perspective.
  • Visit the Center for Counseling and Human Relations: it can provide you with a space where you can talk about your concerns (in English) and allow the full expression of your personality. (The language pledge is suspended at the counseling center.)
  • Most of all, try not to be too hard on yourself. Remember, making mistakes is a natural, integral part of learning a new language.

Tips on Being a Good Language Learner (from the Language Schools Handbook)

  • 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 (OR BECOME) AN EXTROVERT, PARTICIPATE: Jump in, ask when you don't know, make mistakes. Experiment, learn to develop guessing strategies and be willing to make hypotheses.
  • BE PREPARED FOR FRUSTRATION: Interacting with others in another language can be a humbling experience. Increasing one's proficiency in a second (or third) language and culture takes both time and 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.
  • USE MEMORIZATION: Look for routines, fixed or formulaic chunks of language you can use over and over, bits of songs or plays, 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.

Middlebury College
Counseling Services
Ext. 5141

Produced by Ene Piirak, Ph.D., Counseling services. Some material adapted from research conducted by Drs. Radnofsky and Spielmann.

Radnofsky, Mary L. and Spielmann, Guy. "The Role of Euphoric and Dysphoric Tension in Language Acquisition: An Ethnographic Study of Beginners' Experience at the Middlebury French School." Research paper funded by a grant through the Middlebury College Language Schools.

Stress Reduction Techniques

Progressive Relaxation:

Progressive relaxation of your muscles reduces heart rate and blood pressure, as well as slowing respiration rates. Deep muscle relaxation can be used to reduce stress and anxiety. The body responds to anxiety-producing thoughts and events with muscle tension, which in turn increases anxiety. Muscle relaxation reduces tension and is incompatible with anxiety. The Benson Relaxation technique involves tensing individual muscle groups for several seconds and releasing the tension - allowing the muscles to gradually relax.

Deep Breathing:

Proper breathing is essential for good mental and physical health. The next time you feel a surge of stress, try a few moments of deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable position and take deep, measured breaths, e.g. inhaling while counting up from 1 to 4; exhaling while counting down from 4 to 1. Deep breathing assists in relaxation by increasing the amount of oxygen in the body. There are many breathing techniques you can learn.

Visualization:

Sometimes we become tense and overwhelmed by thinking about all the things we need to get done or what we didn't get done. Sometimes we give ourselves negative messages without really realizing it (negative self-talk). In order to overcome stressful and negative thoughts, you can use the power of your imagination to refocus your mind on positive, healing images. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and visualize a scene or place that you associate with safety and relaxation. It doesn't matter what you visualize, as long as it's calming to you. As you relax your mind, your body also relaxes. Guided imagery can really help.

 

MiddTags:

unmade bed
Lecture: "You Must Pay the Sandman: Impacts of Sleep Deprivation on Health and Performance and What You Can Do About It"

by Dr. Hrayr Attarian, MD
Monday, April 14, 2008
4:30 p.m.
216 McCardell Bicentennial Hall


What can research tell us about the essential role sleep plays in helping us achieve our full learning potential? Study after study has shown that our brain performs crucial tasks of reviewing, organizing, and prioritizing while we sleep, consolidating what we have learned or practiced during the day. So the maximum benefit from studying or learning any sort of new skill takes place only after a good night's sleep.

Dr. Attarian is Director of the Vermont Regional Sleep Center, and Assoc. Professor of Neurology and Medicine at the University of Vermont School of Medicine.

The College Convocation Series seeks to bring together all members of the college community to reflect upon topics of broad intellectual and cultural importance.

Sponsored by the Samuel S. Stratton Fund, the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, the Ad-Hoc Committee on Campus Stress, departments of Neuroscience, Biology, Psychology, and Religion, and the Center for Counseling and Human Relations.


 

College Convocation Series:  Dr. Robert Sapolsky

"Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: Stress, Disease, and Coping"

Thursday, April 10, 2008
7:30 p.m.
Mead Chapel

One of the nation's finest science writers will speak on stress and stress-related disorders on April 10 at 7:30 in Mead Chapel. Robert Sapolsky is the recipient of the MacArthur ("Genius") Fellowship, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. He is the author of several bestselling books including "A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons," "The Trouble with Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament," and "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers."  He is known for his animated lecture and writing style, which helps communicate intricate scientific information in a humorous and accessible way.


The College Convocation Series seeks to bring together all members of the college community to reflect upon topics of broad intellectual and cultural importance.

Sponsored by the Samuel S. Stratton Fund, the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, the Ad-Hoc Committee on Campus Stress, departments of Neuroscience, Biology, Psychology, and Religion, and the Center for Counseling and Human Relations.