Lost in translation: online learning proves challenging for foreign language classes


Graphic by Nina Skelly

Anna Wehebrink

Static, feedback, lagging audio, WiFi problems, and background noise: these are just some of the many day-to-day occurrences that impede on our learning abilities during Teams calls. For foreign language classes, which are rooted in verbal communication, these everyday annoyances hold even more weight. 

The shift to online learning has created numerous learning barriers. Junior Waleeja Chaundry takes French III and is overwhelmed by the new way of learning. “The hardest part of e-learning is communicating effectively,” Chaundry said. It’s hard to get students to engage in conversations when most of them have their microphones turned off compared to the more collaborative environment of in-person school. Practicing oral skills is often a vital part of language learning and for many students, class time is the best time to do it. “It has worried me about not being able to learn and improve properly, so it has made me study more in my spare time,” Chaundry said.

Sophomore Julia Black, who takes Spanish III, is also worried about this year. “Speaking Spanish is difficult for me and I have a hard time learning it alone,” Black said, adding that, “virtual learning definitely affected my ability to speak because I don’t interact as much with my classmates or with my teacher. My listening skills have diminished.”

However junior Lindsay Miller, an AP Chinese student, does not feel academically affected by online learning this year. “Last spring was tough, but now everything is going well,” Miller said. Some even believe that distance learning is improving their ability to learn their language. “I have improved my Chinese during virtual learning. I think having the same classes every day helps a lot,” said Miller. This year’s 4×4 semester schedule allows students to have every class four days a week, which can benefit language classes by providing more consistent practice. 

While some students find it difficult to learn a language virtually, others do not. It’s about getting used to a new reality and learning different ways to adapt during an uncertain time.