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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

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Today’s post comes from Pat Goodridge, who guest posted here 7.1K likes
Like Page
not too long ago (see here).

In it he shares some great advice for getting the most out of


Get more from me on Twitter:
intensive language courses and some of the things he
experienced recently doing one himself. Follow @mezzofanti 2,670 followers

Over to you, Pat.


New Content:

THE BEST LANGUAGE LEARNING


This summer marks the completion of my rst intensive GIFT IDEAS [+ BLACK FRIDAY
DEALS – 2018]
language course.

The program, which focused on Central Asian languages like


HOW TO LEARN LANGUAGES LIKE
Kazakh, Uzbek, and Uyghur, was an 8-week session at a A CHILD (YES IT IS POSSIBLE)

Midwestern university with a terri c reputation for Slavic and


Central-Asian languages.
HOW TO START LEARNING
The program was top- ight: It had received loads of money GERMAN AS A COMPLETE
BEGINNER
from the State Department, attracted teachers from the best
universities in Central Asia, and was even supported nancially
by a consortium of elite universities, including Stanford and the REVIEW OF RUSSIAN SHORT
STORIES FOR BEGINNERS (BY OLLY
University of Pennsylvania, both with which I have an a liation. RICHARDS)

Besides its abundant resources, the program was also strong in


FORGET MAINTAINING MULTIPLE
terms of its student base, which included two Harvard grad LANGUAGES: WHAT ABOUT
MAINTAINING CULTURAL
students, one UPenn grad student, one Columbia grad student, IDENTITIES?
and a program director for American Councils.
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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

A number of them had actually attended this exact program in


the past, having received funding to come one summer after
another.

At 23, I came in expecting to be the oldest among a group of


green undergraduates, and instead found that I was actually
well-below the average age of attendees. Such a group of
seasoned students and language professionals boosted the
intensity of the learning environment immensely (see Tip #2
below for more about classmates).

Though I’ve taken my fair share of regular-speed academic


language courses, I wish I had converted to intensive courses
long ago; they’re time-e ective, and tend to trade the tedium of
normal classes for a certain feel of challenging excitement.

They also usually occur during the summer, when the weather is
nice, and may (as they did in my case) involve the opportunity to
travel to a new, exciting place.

Beyond blasting boredom, the courses are designed based


on evidence showing that intensive, immersive courses lead
to some of the best results that university language classes
can o er.

Keep in mind, I say that as someone who’s far from being a


champion of a purely academic approach to language learning.

I did not major in a language in college, electing instead to study


linguistics from a theoretical point of view and apply its
concepts to my personal language studies.

Likewise, my current graduate program consists of classes


focusing on area studies, not simply language. Nonetheless, this
intensive program represented a unique opportunity, and I
would recommend even the most self-driven language learners
consider trying out an intensive course.

Far from your run-of-the-mill undergrad intro classes, these are


a journey and an academic experience all their own.

While I experienced very positive results from my own intensive


language experience, a number of genuine challenges arose
throughout my coursework that led me to conclude that the
language-learning option is not for everyone.

The section in my program’s handbook titled “Dealing with


stress during intensive courses” says it all; intensive courses are,
as the name implies, “intense”. One of the implications of this is

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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

that they are not for the casual language-learner or for the
lackadaisical student. There was a reason there were so many
doctoral students in my program–education is their lives.

And for the length of the intensive course, it’s your life, too.

So I’ve provided some tips and insights for those pondering


intensive language study.

Keep in mind that some of these tips may con ict with what
your teacher recommends. You may also, however, nd that
your teacher expounds some of the very same virtues as I have
here.

So here are my tips for maximizing your results from intensive


language courses:

Tip #1: Not all intensive classes are the


same, so do your research beforehand
Even within a niche of language study like intensive courses,
di erences both subtle and distinct exist between programs.

Choosing the right program based on the characteristics


you desire is the rst step to a rewarding experience.

One variable to consider is length and timing; my course was


split into two sections, meaning I received one grade for each.

Some courses, however, are one long session with one grade, or
are half the length but twice as many hours a day. Some have
courses every day of the week, others every other day.

Likewise, some begin class quite early in the morning, others in


the afternoon. For instance, my class was 5 days per week, from
8:30-1.

This punishing class schedule will be a rude awakening (literally)


for most undergraduates. After class ends, however, you have
carte blanche for the rest of the day to nap and do homework
as you decide t.

Choose based on your habits and your schedule.

Another point to remember is that when it comes to choosing


the course that will most advance you in terms of career, don’t
judge a book by its cover—my institute o ers 30 di erent
languages, but Middlebury, which is widely considered the best

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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

overall, o ers only ve (Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish,


French).

Also, make sure to recognize the distinction between


intensive and immersive courses; all immersive courses are
intensive, but not the other way around.

Intensive courses involve 15-20 hours of class time per week,


supplemented by lots of independent study, with extracurricular
program events thrown in (see my point about activities outside
the classroom).

Immersive programs, on the other hand, are just that: you live,
study, and do everything else with your teacher, your
classmates, and possibly miscellaneous native speakers of the
target language.

I’m not an expert on immersive programs, so if you think that’s


an attractive option you should research more on your own, but
I do know that they can be quite rigorous—Middlebury’s
“Language Pledge” entails students speaking only in their target
language for the entirety of their course.

Tip #2: If possible, get an idea of who your


classmates will be ahead of time
As I mentioned before, I assumed naively in advance that my
fellow students would be in a position similar to me (i.e.,
undergrads, recent grads, or master’s students).

In fact, only one student of about 15 in the entire program was


an undergrad, and she did happen to be in my class (though not
for long, as I will later explain).

I also assumed that everyone in the class would be starting


at a similar or even identical level, that level being ground
zero, since mine was a beginner class after all.

Low and behold, there was another student in my class, a 2nd-


year PhD, who had grown up in the target country and, though
she hadn’t acquired the language fully, had heard it from a
young age.

You can imagine how much faster she picked up our assigned
vocabulary (much of which she already knew).

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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

And to think that I considered taking the intermediate class after


studying a few phrases on my own—the intermediate class had
an actual heritage speaker in it—a HERITAGE speaker!

That being said, knowledge di erences among students are


common, and you should make sure your teacher understands
when they exist so that the class remains fair (see Tip #8 about
communicating with your teacher).

You want to avoid these surprises and know where you stand
ahead of time.

Feel free to reach out to the program coordinator to nd out a


bit more about the participants:

How much prior experience do they have in the target


language?

What’s their level of education?

In what eld?

Where are they from?

This will not only help you know what to expect, but will allow
you better insight into which section (beginner, intermediate,
etc.) is best for you not just from the angle of your abilities, but
of those around you.

This second point is especially important, since what this


summer has taught me is that when classes are small, course
titles actually become arbitrary; what matters in terms of the
course speed and intensity is not the name of the course
section, but what the teacher sees as a tting challenge level
based on the levels of the students.

Be mindful of this ahead of time so that you don’t pick the


wrong class and fall behind (see point #4).

Your classmates are important—you will be spending many


dozens of hours with them.

That is why I emphasize this tip.

Tip #3: Know your purpose


No two people in my program seemed to be attending for
the same reason.
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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

The West-Coast history professor in my class was taking the


course for fun (having received funding). I, too, subscribed to
the “why not” reasoning of having received money and
embraced the opportunity to study a LCTL.

In addition to personal enjoyment, I also wanted a more well-


rounded view of Soviet languages besides Russian, for my
master’s work. Others studied the languages for help with their
research or because they were traveling to the region very soon.

Some care a great deal about the grade they receive in their
class, others are entirely indi erent.

This diversity of purpose is mostly positive, the only drawback


being that those taking the language for fun are rarely as
motivated or focused in class as those taking it for professional
reasons.

My classmate making English-language puns based on how new


target language vocab words sound was funny the rst few
times, but not hour after hour.

Tip #4: For each hour you spend in the


classroom, spend 45-60 minutes
practicing on your own
At rst glance, this schedule may sound excessively grueling.

After all, who wants to spend 3-4 hours in their bedroom


learning a language when they just spend that amount of time
doing the same in a classroom?

But this concern misses the point that the homework isn’t just
about learning, but about retaining information you’ve already
learned—with lots of language input comes the necessity to
retain that info, which requires additional practice.

Class time simply provides rst exposure and some initial


practice, but the information can only be best synthesized at
home during homework and review.

Practicing with native speakers outside of class helps as


well, though you’ll already be speaking plenty in class.

Tip #5: Keep up


The wording of this tip is simple, but its execution rarely is.

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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

That’s because each day of class for most intensive programs is


equal to one week of material in the regular school year. One
implication of this is that keeping up can be very di cult.

The rst day of the third week of my summer intensive language


course, I was on my way to see my professor at her o ce hours
and spotted one of my classmates, the undergrad student,
outside the building, speaking on the phone.

I wondered to whom she was speaking.

I went into the room to meet with my teacher, who told me that
the student would be leaving after the end of the rst session
(typically summer intensive language courses are split into two
sessions). I was sad to see my classmate go, and something that
made the situation especially unfortunate for me was that I felt
much the same way she did: lost, overwhelmed, and behind.

She didn’t quite know what she was getting into.

Neither did I, as a matter of fact, I just had the prior experience


to carry me through.

I would therefore encourage you to really have a strong vision


of what the course will be like for you before you decide to
attend.

I myself was guilty of missing this, as I was taken o guard by


the pace of the course, it’s day-in-day out consistency.

These courses can be a substantial lifestyle shift for some.

Coupled with that, don’t over-commit yourself with other


responsibilities before the class starts; this classmate that left
was taking an online public speaking course at the same time as
this language course.

Tip #6: Expect to have “off” days


There will be days when you don’t want to go to class.

There will be days when you feel like you can barely utter a
complete sentence, or when your pronunciation or grammar is
so awed that it makes you cringe with embarrassment. Then
there will be others days where you plain don’t want to talk or
interact at all.

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If you’ve studied the target language in the past, you will


sometimes feel as though you somehow knew more when you
rst arrived, like you’ve regressed.

These mental states are simply the result of the neuroplastic


learning process, and they will pass as your brain recovers.

Be persistent.

Tip #7: Don’t be bound to your text


Diversi cation of resources is important to learning any
language.

One needs to balance his or her sources against one another in


order to ensure that the most accurate translations,
grammatical information, and exercises are used. In science,
this is known as “cross-checking”.

While most teachers understand the importance of this as well


(in my class, we regularly used scans of a Russian-made Kazakh
book in addition to our main text), few diversify class resources
su ciently.

Even if you have a main text, use websites, apps, and other
books outside of class.

Di erent resources have di erent strengths, so cherry pick to


nd the best of each and optimize your catalogue of learning
materials.

Tip #8: Build a relationship with your


teacher
Students report increased bonding with teachers during
intensive courses, which I would imagine is highly conducive to
faster, better learning.

I must admit that in the past I have been guilty of being too
reticent about approaching my professors. This fact is especially
unfortunate given that the student-professor relationship is one
of the most important one can ever develop.

I managed to skirt by for years without really knowing or talking


to professors, whether those of languages or other subjects.

However, such a habit is important to break if you’re taking an


intensive class, since intensive classes tend to be not only

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smaller, but involve spending far more time with other people in
a shorter span.

This reinforces the importance of being open with your


professors about things like the speed and di culty of the
class, as well as about what areas might be giving you
trouble.

If you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll have a professor that is very


receptive to feedback and to your needs as a student.

My professor was especially good at soliciting this feedback


from us on how to improve her teaching or the structure of the
class; she must’ve asked in Kazakh at least every two minutes
“sorak bar ma?” (“Are there any questions?”).

She had come all the way from Central Asia, and we as students
had each descended on this Midwestern city from all corners of
the country, so everyone wanted to make the most of their time
there. She was also always available by email, text, and phone.

She was even willing to Skype-in a student who was away


on travel one day.

Usually, outside activities will also help you get to know your
teacher (See Tip #9).

Tip #9: Take advantage of opportunities


outside of the classroom
If you’re taking a class as part of an isolated program, there will
most likely be coordinators who will organize events for
professors and students.

Some of these events will be compulsory, others not. For


example, we were required to attend the weekly “dastarkhan”
program-wide feast each Friday, but were simply encouraged to
attend a dinner with the former ambassador of Kazakhstan.

We also had a sailing day, a trip to a nearby lake, and a trip to a


cultural picnic nearby major city.

In conclusion, intensive classes are best for ambitious,


passionate, and talented language learners.

Intensive courses can jumpstart learners on a new language,


but can also get even the advanced student massive gains.

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5/12/2018 How To Prepare For Your First Intensive Language Course

No matter what kind of learner you are, be sure to do your


research before taking the plunge to have one of the most
intense language-learning experiences out there.

Some top American intensive / immersion


language programs
1. Middlebury College Language Schools

Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT

2. Wisconsin Summer Language Institutes

University of Wisconsin, Madison


Madison, WI

3. Indiana Summer Language Workshop

University of Indiana, Bloomington


Bloomington, Indiana

4. Summer Intensive Language Program at Monterey (For


those on the West Coast)

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


Monterey, CA

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Rachel says:
August 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

? Middlebury lists 10 languages on their main website…

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