Language Pledge History

History of the Language Pledge — История «Честного слова»

Arrival_Center_and_Convocation_6.24.12_001_720x540_72_RGB (1)The Language Pledge («Честное слово») is as old as the Middlebury Language Schools; in the 1915 German School Bulletin, which advertised the first summer session that would open that June, Dr. Lilian Stroebe wrote that “One of the chief objects of the courses [i.e. the summer German School] is to enable to students to understand and speak German with ease. This can only be attained by constant practice; for this reason the school must demand a promise from its students to avoid the use of their own language and speak to speak German only” inside and outside the classroom (Freeman 22). Thus was born the Language Pledge.

Thirty years later, in 1945, the Russian School was founded.  The founding director, Dr. Mischa Fayer, was known as a strict enforcer of the Language Pledge.  In the 1946 Russian School Bulletin Professor Fayer made two points that are still valid today: the Pledge is taken seriously, and encouraging students to use only Russian is the job of everyone in the School:

Use of Russian. To qualify for admission, students must be able and willing to speak only Russian during the entire session. At the opening of the School each student will be required to pledge his word of honor to observe the Middlebury rule of “no English.” Although it is the duty of the faculty to enforce this rule at all times, their sympathetic encouragement to use the language freely will, in a short time, make it appear as the only language natural in the congenial, friendly Russian atmosphere (1946 RS Bulletin).

Adherence to the Language Pledge was taken so seriously that for decades the Language Schools did not offer beginning levels of each language. After 1945, the Russian School did not again admit true beginners until 1975.  Throughout the history of the Russian School the words used to describe the Language Pledge have changed but the emphasis remains on enforcing the Pledge as a means of increasing language gains for everyone in the School:

Middlebury Language Pledge: Language Schools’ students pledge to use the foreign language as the only means of communication during the entire session. The pledge, strictly enforced, plays a major role in the success of the program, as both a symbol of commitment and an essential part of the language learning process itself. (1994 RS Bulletin)

The moment you take the Language Pledge you join those students who have committed to speak only Russian for an entire eight-week program.

Freeman, Stephen A.  1975.  The Middlebury College Foreign Language Schools: The Story of a Unique Idea.  Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College Press.
Stameshkin, David, narrative, Caroline Eisner and Elizabeth Karnes Keefe, editors.  2015.  “Life Doesn’t Come with Subtitles: The Middlebury Language Schools at 100.” Middlebury, VT: Middlebury Language Schools.