The Hype: Middlebury Chinese Program

Chinese Test (50 Minutes). Know 60 characters, traditional and simplified forms, their pinyin romanization, pronunciations, and English equivalents.

I’m not sure if it’s intimidating or uplifting to think that in the past two weeks, I have been put through a lot by the Middlebury Chinese department. The department bills itself as one of the best and hardest language programs not just at Middlebury but in the U.S. Teachers wax prophetic on how Middlebury Chinese students can work in China upon graduation and that they can go undetected as foreigners on the phone. The department creates the image of the program being an epic journey, a noble undertaking. The 101 class, of course, is the beginning to adventure and teachers do not shy away from hyping it up.

That’s not a bad thing because mentally it gets students thinking long term which is necessary when beginning Chinese. Why? Because progress in the Chinese language can be very slow. Learning to memorize characters, pronouncing odd sounds, and matching sounds with romanizations can all be difficult. Long-term thinking can help in that a student realizes that, with time and practice, the langauge will come.

Truth is, I buy into the hype and preachings of the department. The teachers unite so consistently (a sign of a strong department) that it is hard not to buy in. Really, the department is selling an experience, the Chinese experience. Because the classes are semi-immersion with a lot of cultural ties too (albeit not quite at the level of the Summer Language School). So, it seems I’m in it for the long haul: week after week (for the next several years) of character worksheets, listening exercises, and tests. I’m doing it for the epic and the noble.