Middlebury Hypocrisy

Angie Dodd has brought to our attention something that invites – if not demands -some kind of response. If not us, then who?

Angie shares:

Hi Ben –

Should we respond to this somehow?  It’s from a sales pitch for Middlebury Interactive Languages courses:

http://middleburyinteractive.com/digital-courses/world-language-learning/world-language-learning-pedagogical-approach?utm_source=Pardot_WL

Learning a new language isn’t easy but that doesn’t mean instruction should be watered down. In fact, recent studies show that challenging students with rigorous curriculum and content that is just out of their grasp is critical to accelerating language learning. This pedagogical principle, known as comprehensible input, is woven into all Middlebury Interactive’s courses. While the students will not understand all of the vocabulary and grammar presented to them, this immersive technique will provide opportunities for students to use language appropriately beyond their current skill level

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13 thoughts on “Middlebury Hypocrisy”

  1. Hahaha. I get emails all the time from Middlebury making such claims about how great they are.

    I love the name-dropping and lack of any research citations to back their claims!!! This is a diarrhea of languababble.

    What does Middlebury mean by “easy?”
    What “recent studies?”
    What is “rigorous curriculum?”

    They seem to be referring to i+1 and the net hypothesis, which IS related to CI.

    Are they talking about forced output when they say “will provide opportunities for students to use language appropriately beyond their current skill level?”

    Yuck.

    1. The folks at Middlebury are caught up in success earned when the world was flat, before the CI train chugged into town. Now they are trying to stay relevant by using terms like CI. But CI to them is of the mind, of the flatness, and really they are no longer players. It’s over for them, and they don’t even know it. Oh well.

      In India I have learned that, to the people here, words carry great import, as much as actions, which is different than in the U.S. So I hope my words above get back to Middlebury and they decide/attempt to refute them (which they can’t, because if they said anything in their defense the Hermanator would slap them down onto the floor in a heartbeat). But they won’t talk to us.

      Even if sent this note to them, asking for a reply, asking them to join in the dialogues of the little people, they wouldn’t even get what I am saying about it being over for them, how they are locked in their minds and into their stale brand with no way out. So I won’t even write to them.

      1. Middlebury offends. I want to use the word hubris. Two points come to mind:

        1. They don’t know what rigor is. See Robert Harrell’s piece on rigor in the Primers. Rigor is when the student is focused on the message and not doing mental/reasoning gymnastics while focused on the language. This is such a key and continuously ignored point from Krashen.

        2. When you teach privileged college students who WANT (the illusory kind of) rigor, then you can perpetuate your little illusion of what rigor is. But what we do in our classroom with our non-college bound kids is the real work. Focusing on a message through the vehicle of a language one doesn’t know is the real rigor.

        1. Everything in FL education is moving to the beat of a new idea – that the heart gets to play in the language acquisition process. Everything in most university level programs, and certainly Middlebury’s, is about the mind.

          Thus, most university language programs, which are geared to the few, the rich, the privileged, must necessarily give way to the change.

          If such university programs continue to fail to understand what CI really is, a heart process, then they will dry up and blow away. I won’t miss them, nor will I miss their pridefulness.

  2. “use language appropriately beyond their current skill level?”

    Huh? Smells like forcing to me.

    I love how they mixed the i+1 into the whole forcing theme. Marketing at its finest. I suppose that is “what the customers want to hear.”

    Not sure how to respond to this. Other than to steer folks away from spending multiple thousands of dollars on this.

  3. Personally, I think Krashen should respond to this. Who will tell him? He writes letters to the editor often; he could write to Middlebury. He’s the originator of i+1 and the term comprehensible input, right? This sounds like gross misuse of the term to me. “Out of their grasp” isn’t the concept of i+1. That’s i+25 or something. Isn’t i+1 language that’s within their grasp, but new to them?

    It also reminds me of a beautiful-looking, video-based Chinese curriculum that has the same idea in mind: that they don’t need to comprehend fully and just “catch what they catch.” That’s really quite cruel to beginners in my opinion. Let them comprehend!

    Related topic: I recently began writing for FluentU.com’s Chinese educator blog. It started because I wrote to them briefly to complain politely, and point out some alternatives to a blog post they had about skill-building and hard work. I didn’t expect to hear anything. Instead, someone promptly wrote back, thanked me, and offered me the opportunity to write for them. So far I’ve written two; the third is in process, a double-length post about TPRS for Chinese instruction. They edit in some links to stuff in the opening of the article which I wouldn’t entirely recommend, and always will have a FluentU.com commercial somewhere, but I actually find FluentU to have some useful video. I don’t feel like a sell-out, in other words. My content is not changed or altered, and they are nice people to work with. Getting paid a bit to write things I’d write anyway is also nice. I pick the topic and submit an outline; they give feedback or approve the outline as is, and I have a month to write the post. Easy way to get the word out more widely. Each post has author info with a link to the blog where I really write, too.

    They market mostly through their blog posts, and those will only be as CI-aware and CI-friendly as the people who write them. So I suggest for those of you who blog already, find their Spanish educator, French educator, ESL educator blogs and see if you can write for them, too. They’ll want to see writing samples and then you’ll need to learn their style guide.

    1. I’ll send Dr. Krashen the Middlebury link in case he hasn’t seen it and suggest that he respond. Middlebury’s claim to language excellence is seriously flawed when they misinterpret Krashen for their own aims. What a joke, but not a funny one.

  4. Hmmm. It is out of their grasp and comprehensible. (I don’t get it but at least I understand it.)
    They won’t understand all of the vocabulary and grammar but it will be comprehensible.

  5. All that Middlebury diarrhea is consistent with Communicative Approach thematic units: getting the gist, playing charades (gesturing but denying translation), not clarifying or establishing meaning due to aversion to L1 translation. It makes them feel pure and true to their ‘immersion environment’ principles.
    Also, I agree that writing in blogs that invite us in is a great way to spread the CI word. I was considering writing to the folks at 5-a-Day fitness (they have short brain breaky French, Spanish, Welsh and English exercise videos with captions) to use more high-frequency language and change up their scripts a bit. Use similes (‘spin like a top’, or ‘hop like a rabbit’) rather than low frequency exercise terms. Translate the whole sentence onscreen – not just an isolated word or phrase. Optimize! I’m going to write or rewrite an existing video script to show them what I mean…they have 14 French vids but only 5 in Spanish so far, so now’s the time!
    Thanks for the encouragement, Diane!

    1. “All that Middlebury diarrhea is consistent with Communicative Approach thematic units: getting the gist, playing charades (gesturing but denying translation), not clarifying or establishing meaning due to aversion to L1 translation.”

      When I was doing my credential, this is what they all said should be done. Dogma without research. Even though some folks here use the word “communication” its associations with it here in the Central Valley of California mean student to student canned dialogues and refusal to translate in L1. Even ESL strategies call for supporting students in L1 (if the teacher knows it).

  6. I don’t know if you guys know this, but I was one of the first directors of Midd’s programming at the secondary level in 2008.

    Middlebury Monterrey Language Academy was the first joint project between Middlebury and Monterrey, both have very well-respected language teaching programs.

    Middlebury’s approach “works” because throughout the submersion, people actually do receive some understandable messages. Many more, in fact, than in a classroom context. The illusion is that it’s the submersion that’s working. I can say with confidence that the majority of folks I worked with did not understand that it was the understandable messages that make the magic.

    So, the myth that the language pledge (no english at any time) is the silver bullet is propagated and believed. There was also a belief that grammar needed to be explained in the TL and grammar topics needed to be practiced in fun and repetitive (though not entirely meaningful) ways.

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