The History of the Self Instructional Language Program at Vassar College

Gunila Feroe, SILP Coordinator, Chicago Hall
January 2011
Program Website

The purpose of the Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP) is to make available the study of a selection of less-commonly-taught languages that would not otherwise be offered at Vassar. The format is for a group of no more than about five students to meet twice a week with a local native speaker who serves as a tutor. Students also work with recorded and other study material on their own. For each language, a qualified outside examiner designs the courses, administers exams and determines grades.

SILP began in 1967 with support from a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Its original name was the Neglected Language Program, which was changed in 1968 to the Critical Language Program before taking its current name in 1987. From its beginning, Vassar's program has been a member of the National Association for Self-Instructional Language Programs.

For its first 23 years, SILP was directed by various very dedicated faculty members, beginning with the program's founder, Professor of German Mary B. Corcoran. Typically, directors served for two years at a time, at first in addition to their regular workload and later with one course of release time. Since 1990, the position of SILP Coordinator has been a part-time administrator, which has contributed to the program's continuity and stability.

The first language to be offered in SILP at Vassar was Japanese. In 1968 Hebrew was added and then Arabic in spring of 1970. These were followed by Swedish in the 1970's and Portuguese in 1986. Hindi was added in 1992, Korean in 1993, Swahili in 1994 and Irish/Gaelic in 1995. The most recent additions have been Yiddish in 2005 and Turkish in 2008. These additions were usually in response to expressions of student interest.

The first three SILP languages eventually outgrew the SILP format. In the mid 1980's, Japanese became a regular course in the Asian Studies Program and Hebrew became a regular course in the Jewish Studies Program. Arabic became a regular course in the Africana Studies Program in 2003.

Currently, SILP includes the eight remaining less-commonly-taught languages. Courses are offered at three levels, according to student interest, with 100- and 200-level courses being year-long courses. Many SILP students choose the program in preparation for study abroad in countries where the languages are spoken. Others return from study-abroad programs having had exposure to a language they wish to study further. All together, SILP offerings provide a popular addition to the language family at Vassar with about 50-60 students enrolled in the program each year.


  • Annual SILP reports on file in the program's office.