Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

For the past few days, I have had many strange encounters with Language School students. When relaying some of these tales to my beloved friend R. Kelly (better known as Ryan Kellett), he cleverly told me to name the title of this blog post “Close encounters of the 3rd kind.” I decided to humor him, and in doing so, discovered that the movie’s tagline accurately represents my language school experiences thus far:

“Close Encounter of the First Kind – Sighting of a UFO (language school students). Close Encounter of the Second Kind – Physical Evidence (the expulsion of foreign languages). Close Encounter of the Third Kind – Contact. WE ARE NOT ALONE”

Before the language school students arrived, I couldn’t get over how excited I was about interacting with all the new people on campus. I thought, “oh, this is going to be FANTASTIC! I can practice my Italian, Spanish, and French and all the language school kids will love me!”


To put it bluntly, the language school kids instill fear like no other. If a language school kid catches you speaking English anywhere on campus (how dare we attempt to communicate with one another) they will give you the kind of evil eye that only a true foreigner could give an ignorant American. As mentioned earlier, I have experienced many funny and terrifying moments with the language school kids, a few of which I will detail below…

1) During one of my first ‘language school sensitive’ tours of Middlebury, I was walking through Bi-Hall, giving my usual spiel (“Yes, this is the largest window in Vermont, much to the chagrin of the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory”) when, out of no where, a blonde woman appeared. I was speaking with my 6-inch voice (many thanks to my Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Armstrong for teaching me about that one) , trying not to let my English derail the progress the language school students have been making. As if saying “And here’s another classroom” could throw off someone’s foreign language feng shui, but I digress.

As soon as I passed the girl, she shot me an evil look and said “no.”

I stared back, dumbfounded. Was she telling me that I couldn’t give a tour or that I couldn’t speak or that my means of communication were ‘wrong’? I didn’t bother to find out, shutting my mouth and continuing my tour, supplementing any useful information in English with exaggerated hand gestures.

2) Some kids are coming to language schools as beginners (or level 1’s) , fine, perfect. I understand and fully support them stumbling through simple sentences with no accents (Si, voglio andare a la biblioteca or Oui, je m’apelle Cody, merci). We were all beginners at one time or another, and I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes with languages (in Spanish one time I told my professor, “pero professora, estoy embarasado,” which instead of translating to “but professor, I am embarrassed,” translates to “but professor, I’m pregnant.” Fun day for Cody).

However, I have very little tolerance for students who have taken a language for several years (entering as advanced students at levels 2 or 3) who still manage to sound like they just learned the language. The other day, my friend Syd and I were sitting on the Proctor terrace in front of a group of 3rd year Spanish students who all sounded like this:

It was painful to listen to and, after eavesdropping for 10 minutes, my friend and I went over to talk/help/completely renovate their Spanish. Let’s hope that after a few weeks they’ll develop good accents and stop saying sentences like “Yo necesito tu me ayudar” (which, translated, means almost nothing, although the intent is “I need you to help me,” a phrase that we should have taught those bewildered gringos).

3) One of the most amazingly-awful interactions that any of my friends have had with the language school kids happened to my friend Whitney. Braced with laundry that desperately needed to be done, Whitney decided to go to Forest Hall and do her laundry, the dorm where all of the Chinese language-school students are living, which in theory doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. She would silently navigate her way to the laundry room and keep her English expulsions to a minimum.

Except she had no idea where the laundry facilities were located.

Equipped with 3 Chinese phrases (‘Hello,’ ‘Darn it!’ and ‘Long time no see’), Whitney entered Forest determined to discover where she could do her laundry. When she saw a group of Chinese students in the main lobby, she said, “ni hao,” which is Chinese for hello. They responded with greetings, at which point Whitney said, “no, ni hao,” pointing dramatically at her laundry. After repeating the phrase several more times, a girl caught on and led her to the laundry facilities.

Whitney then used the phrases for ‘Darn it!’ and ‘Long time no see’ to express her gratitude.

So, as you can see, she’s fully prepared to move to Beijing.

And that is really what a lot of English to Language School interactions are all about, comically tragic meetings that end in hilarious stories.

Or all out language-based warfare.

Hasta nuestro próximo encuentro,



One Response

  1. […] sized vacancy on our huge, leafy campus. For (almost) the entire summer, the few, the proud, the English have been surrounded by foreign language school students, so to have them gone feels very […]

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