This summer, from June 2 to 27, the University will join fellow NESCAC school Middlebury College in hosting a Summer Language Institute on campus. The University’s Institute is open to non-Wesleyan college students as well as professionals seeking instruction in Arabic, French, Spanish, or Russian.
According to Wesleyan’s website, the Institute will be a “hyper-intensive” immersion program. If successfully completed in four weeks, graduates will earn the equivalent of a full year of language study at the University.
The cost of attending the four-week Institute, including tuition and room and board, totals $5,972, or $1,483 per week. For current Wesleyan students, the $50 application fee is waived. The cost of a nine-week program at Middlebury totals $8,406, or $934 per week.
Middlebury’s renowned summer language school will enter its 94th year this summer with instruction in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
“My biggest concern is practically no financial aid is offered,” said Professor of Russian Irene Aleshkovsky of the new Institute.
Currently, loans are the only option for students who need financial assistance.
“Wesleyan can’t think of this as a money-making operation,” said Russian Professor Duffield White. “We are going to have trouble attracting students if the price stays where it is at now.”
Both Karen Anderson, administrative director of Wesleyan’s Summer Institute, and Jennifer Curran, director of Marketing for the Institute, are quick to say that they are working on financial aid for the summer 2009 programs. Anderson explained that by the time all of the programs were finalized for this summer, it was too late to ask for grant money for financial aid.
According to Middlebury’s website, “Middlebury College awards financial aid based on need to qualified applicants to the Language Schools.” During the summer of 2007, 40 percent of Language Schools students received grants, with an average award of $4,410.
Though Wesleyan’s Summer Language Institute is new, the University has experience running a language immersion program. For 25 years, the Russian Department has offered its students a three-week summer program that is equivalent to a full year of intermediate language study. In planning the new Institute, Anderson saw the short time frame of the Russian summer program as an advantage because it allows students to still have a full summer ahead of them.
“I looked at [the Russian summer program] and thought, ’Wouldn’t it be fantastic to extend what the Russian Department does?’” said Anderson.
White spent this past summer as an instructor for the Russian program.
“You spend all of your waking hours [speaking Russian],” White said. “That’s why it works. It forces you to start thinking in that language.”
Aleshkovsky agrees with White.
“The intensity is more important than the length,” Aleshkovsky said.
Anderson went on to say that there is a demand for summer language programs and that programs at Middlebury usually fill up quickly. Curran is hoping for 50 to 100 students to attend this summer.
“It’s a marketing and pedagogical experiment,” said Curran. “This year is a pilot program.”
The daily activities will include classroom instruction, which will usually include team teaching, conversation sessions with native speakers, study sessions and co-curricular activities. Students will live together in the Clark dormitory and eat together in language clusters.
Liz Krushnic ’10, who is studying both Chinese and Russian at Wesleyan, spent nine weeks at Middlebury in the Chinese program.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” said Krushnic. “It is definitely a valuable learning experience. Everyone came out of it vastly improved.”
If Middlebury and Wesleyan’s programs were of the same caliber, Krushnic said she would choose to attend Middlebury because of the program’s history and her personal experience. However, she is optimistic for the future of the University’s Institute.
“I think it’s a really cool thing that Wesleyan is doing this,” Krushnic said. “Only time will tell.”
Aleshkovsky taught at Middlebury’s summer language school for seven years, from 1981 to 1988, during a time of great U.S. interest in the U.S.S.R.
“In a way, Middlebury Russian Summer reminded me of the Soviet Union,” Aleshkovsky said. “It was very strict. You were expelled if you spoke a word of English or broke the pledge.”
The Middlebury language pledge is signed by all participants and calls for exclusively using the language of study during the entire program. Watching TV or reading a newspaper in another language are reasons for expulsion. The University’s program will not have students sign a pledge, but Anderson and Curran are working on a code.
“[Middlebury has] a great program,” White said. “But there’s room for another.”
Curran pointed to the University’s proximity to metropolitan areas, especially when compared with the bucolic setting of Middlebury’s program. The Institute plans to have fieldtrips into New York City and other areas to allow students access to native speakers outside of the classroom.
“I am glad Wesleyan is jumping into this,” Aleshkovsky said. “Language is one of the most important things, from politics to relationships. We’ll see what happens. It’s just the first summer.”