Survival Guide to Language Pledge (From a Near-native Level/ Teaching Assistant Perspective)

Written by Subin Cho, (Middlebury College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Beijing, Spring 2018

Welcome to the survival guide to the language pledge! While you are excited about the study abroad, I am sure a lot of you have questions about the core system of CET program: language pledge. Language pledge refers to your promise made with the program (and yourself!) that you are going to use the applicable language only during your abroad.

Chinese Language Pledge

Chinese Language Pledge

While the language pledge is a very efficient tool for language improvement, there are naturally some concerns because of its intensity. Don`t worry! I am here for you. I would like to share some tips for coping with language pledge especially about mindset.

Just for some background information to explain my subtitle: I would like to let you know that I am a near-native level Chinese speaker who is currently studying abroad in Beijng, China.  The honorable title of “near-native Chinese speaker” is rewarded thanks to my time in China from the age of 9 to 17, where I attended local Chinese schools. In this program, I am currently taking classes in the host university and doing a credit-bearing internship.

Besides, I also served as a teaching assistant (Bilingual Assistant) in the School of Korean, Middlebury Summer Language School for Summer 2017. Middlebury Summer Language School also holds language pledge, and I was in the supervision position but not as a participant. My experiences gave me some insights about language pledge which I would like to share. Hope many of you find my tips are helpful!


1) “Rise and ask”, as much as possible.  

Buzz!  I understand this might look very tedious. Asking questions is one of the critical parts for academia, and I am sure a lot of you already know the importance of questioning.  However, asking something in foreign language, which you are not comfortable, has a totally different meaning.

Let me explain more: when you actually arrive to the spot, there are very possible situations regarding questioning. Let me give you a living example – me with English. Even though I did not have the pledge when I went to Middlebury College in 2015, since my English was still in primary level, I struggled a lot especially in daily life.

One day, I went to this local shop in the states to buy “toothpaste and soap”. I asked my American roommate about where should I buy these items, and she told me a word which also refers to “toothpaste and soap” – toiletries.

Like toiletries, there are some common words you use in daily life. However, if you think more, these are the practical words you only learn when you actually get to the spot. “Toothpaste and soap” and toiletries basically mean the same thing, and I am sure the clerks would understand if I said the former one. However, it would be problematic if someone shouted “toiletries” to me. Simply because I did not know the word “toiletries”.

Similarly, maybe you don’t know the language well enough to the point that you can understand these common words. You might even don’t know what you don’t know, like me with toiletries in 2015.  The process of explaining these unknowns are overwhelming. Once you are overwhelmed, the biggest enemy of language learning –fear— starts to enter.

The system of language pledge should be a booster of your language but not an obstacle. This is the exact time that you have to “rise and ask” as much as possible. Remember that teachers and staffs for the program understand your difficulties. They are great resources that you can reach out to clear out the confusions.

Language-wise, if you are in a situation that you are not feeling comfortable, you can reach out to the staffs and ask them the survival phrases useful for that specific situation, just like my roommate “enlightened” me. The staffs are very helpful and willing to help out but only you first reach out to them.

Once you have this “rise and ask” attitude set in mind – believe me, you will not only have great progress in language but also you will find yourself more empowered as a person.


2) “Longevity”, the ultimate purpose of language pledge.

TA Badges for Middlebury Summer Language School

TA Badges for Middlebury Summer Language School

As I mentioned, I am currently doing a credit-bearing internship as a product management intern. A lot of staffs in my firm do not speak Chinese so there are lots of occasions when I have to communicate with them in English. To be clear, I am excused for speaking English in my internship, and I knew that I would have this non-Chinese environment.

However, I am concerned because I thought I was “missing out” the opportunities to improve my Chinese. As many of you expect, I also came to China expect my language “fly swiftly upward” (腾飞). I do not want to miss out anything.

I went to talk to our staff member. Ms. Christine Swanson, our assistant director of the program. During the conversation, she reminded me the one of the purposes of language pledge – longevity. The immersion is a choice. You might have similar situation such as me that you cannot help but to “break” the pledge for various reasons.

However, please do not feel bad. Remember that one of the important goals: to let you have the habit of using the language in your general life, even after you finish the program. Jumping among the languages might be your life after the program. For the period of studying abroad and also for the life afterward, try your best to respect the pledge but also keep the longevity in mind.


3) “Treat” yourself! Be mindful about your mental health.

I cannot emphasize this point of self-healing again and again. Before you come abroad, please initiate a routine to treat yourself so that you can pull through the academic environment, which could be very stressful.

I had this tip from my experience of serving as a teaching assistant (TA or bilingual assistant) in the School of Korean, Middlebury Summer Language School for Summer 2017. As I explained at the very top, Middlebury Summer Language School upholds language pledge as well. Thanks to this opportunity, I learned to cope with language pledge from a non-participant perspective.

For those who aren’t familiar with Middlebury Language School, let me give you a quick definition: Middlebury Summer Language School is one of the most renowned intensive language program with more than 100 years of history. As a TA, I got to experience not only positive aspects of language pledges – I saw my “students” (quotation marks because they are senior than me! I was a sophomore at that time.) are having unbelievable progress in Korean language.

For example, I had a student who started from Korean alphabets (beginner level). In the last, she accomplished to the point where she could write about a topic in 2 pages of MS word in detail and present about it entirely in Korean. From this experience, I observed how language pledge could let a person improve linguistically.

However, I also got to observe some of the very negative influences that language pledge could have to a student, or a human. If you are coming to abroad, and especially if you are in the beginner level, I strongly recommend you to have a list of activities you can treat yourself.

My tips, which I had from a healing class in my college, is to have the activities could stimuli your different senses, such as vision, smell, etc.  My go-to are work out, tea-drinking, napping (yes!) and using different perfumes. Please remember make these “treats” general so you can bring them with you everywhere.

That is it! Ask, keep the longevity in your mind and treat yourself!

Thank you for reading! Last but not least, believe in yourself! (相信你一定能行)




1) Big shout out and warm congratulation to Caroline, my dearest freshman roommate in Middlebury College who just got engaged.

2) Credits to the greatest staffs in Middlebury School in China program –Director Mr. Kai Zhang(张凯老师) and assistant director Ms. Christine Swanson(孙婷婷老师).

3) Special shout out to Pleco, our favorite dictionary for Chinese learners. I had the English translation for 腾飞 – “fly swiftly upward”