World language courses tackle the transition to face-to-face


Online courses during the pandemic caused problems for students of all majors. But for students of world language courses where there is an addiction to speech and utterance during instruction, online learning was not ideal.

“It’s hard to learn anything online, but especially a language,” said Micaela Anders, an Italian minor. “There are so many nuances in the way you speak, and Italian has a lot of body language, so it was really hard to learn that online.”

Henrik Wilberg, visiting assistant professor of German, said learning a language cannot be easily accomplished through a screen.

“The communicative aspect of language has a physical aspect,” Wilberg said. “You are transported from one English-speaking and monolingual space, and you enter another where German or Arabic or whatever is spoken.”

Now that most courses in Miami have returned in person, language departments around the world are trying to make up for the previous year of abnormal language learning. However, returning to face-to-face classes comes with its own challenges.

Brendan Mooney is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian. He said his students’ reading and writing skills had not been affected by the pandemic, but their speaking and listening skills appeared to have suffered.

“Speaking, they’re a lot less confident,” Mooney said. “Even though they know all the words, they are either uncomfortable or unsure of themselves.”

Mooney said this disparity between written and spoken skills is likely due to the structure of most online language courses.

“We have become a lot more addicted to the written word,” Mooney said. “Their eyes were still a bit glued to the screen.”

Considering the wide array of online language tools such as Google Translate, questions have been raised as to whether these reduced skills are due to students’ reliance on translation sites and other forms of academic dishonesty.

However, most Miami professors agreed that while cases of cheating increased over the past year, they were not widespread.

Luis Castaneda, visiting assistant professor of Spanish, said that while he did not find cheating more prevalent than in previous years, he was generally able to tell if a student was using an unauthorized resource.

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“Of course there was cheating, but even if they do a translation, it’s not perfect,” Castaneda said. “They can use Google Translate and still be wrong.”

After their first two weeks of fully face-to-face classes, students and faculty alike shared a sense of relief.

“I’m on a much more difficult course this year, but I feel like I’m better able to keep up,” said Juliet Aini, a French minor in second year. “I can see how the conversation is going and I feel like the professor is much more responsive to our questions.”

While the in-person return has erased most of the limitations of online learning, things are not quite back to normal yet.

“The mask is problematic, especially in introductory language levels, as students cannot see your mouth,” said Daniele Fioretti, assistant professor of Italian.

To combat this problem, Fioretti and other language teachers have come up with creative solutions.

Fioretti shows his class close-up recordings of native Italian speakers so that students can see how to move their mouths as they speak different words. The Italian department has also invested in microphones that its professors can use to help them be heard better by students.

Mooney said the benefits of being in person go beyond just retention of learning.

“There’s kind of a psychological benefit to having real people out there,” Mooney said. “I have noticed that the students like coming to class a lot more… They are just happy to be there in person and to have something much more tangible.

Izolda Savenkova, a Russian teacher, said it’s easier to create a sense of community in person.

“We can walk around the classroom; we can be more flexible, ”said Savenkova. “This [creates] a feeling of support. You are in the same room and you feel the same things.

Teachers in language departments around the world said they had not seen a drop in course enrollment this year; it is not known whether the number of language majors will decrease.

“A big part of specializing in a language is that you develop an emotional connection to the language very early on,” Wilberg said. “We don’t know if it would have been affected [by being online], It is too early to tell.

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb

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