Students and instructors reflect on virtual fall quarter language instruction

Dec. 3, 2021, 12:55 p.m.

While most academic instruction was in-person during fall quarter, language classes were an anomaly, remaining mostly virtual because of issues posed by mask-wearing in a language learning environment.

The University’s decision to keep language classes remote was made “to ensure a quality classroom experience,” School of Humanities and Sciences spokesperson Joy Leighton wrote in a statement to The Daily.

Leighton explained that as a result of Santa Clara County and University mask mandates, students’ voices may be muffled in masks, which is “not conducive to learning” in a language class.

Language instruction will continue to take place virtually during the upcoming winter quarter due to Stanford’s continued mask mandate, according to Leighton.

With fall quarter coming to an end, students and language instructors reflected on their online language experiences. 

Marguerite DeMarco ’25, a student in FRENLANG 21C: “Second-Year French: Cultural Emphasis, First Quarter,” takes French for two hours twice a week. While DeMarco was fascinated by the content she learned in class, she said that she often struggled to stay focused during the two-hour virtual class period. “Sometimes my head hurts by the end of class,” she said. 

Chinese language instructor Huazhi Wang acknowledged the psychological and physical tolls that come with online instruction. She said that sitting for hours to teach classes gives her “a pain in the tailbone.” 

But Wang added that one of her students expressed satisfaction with the online format, which the student said provides a balance to the other in-person classes. 

“Hybrid is actually a quite good model for a lot of people,” Wang said.

Dustin Humphries ’24, a student in SPANLANG 102: “Composition and Writing Workshop,” echoed that there are a number of benefits that come with online language instruction. He said he appreciates that students can join virtual classes easily even when they are not feeling well. He also added that being able to see classmates’ faces is beneficial to language learning. 

But Humphries also acknowledged the challenges that come with online language learning, adding that it was easy for him to get distracted in class. Humphries recalled his experience of listening to classmates’ presentations and struggling to listen to his peers talk for an extended time online. 

Wang also reflected on the same point, saying that limiting oneself to virtual interaction often comes with psychological problems. “We still need in-person contacts,” Wang said.

Still, Humphries described his virtual language class as “well-functioning,” adding that his professor makes good use of technology to engage students. 

Wang said that online instruction offered her a new perspective on the role final exams play in students’ learning. Although she gave final exams to her fifth-year Chinese class prior to the pandemic, she decided to drop final exams for the class this quarter because last year’s online format made her realize that exams are not the sole metric for assessing students’ learning. She added that online instruction can continue to generate “new models and methodology, and a lot of ways to deal with general communication.”

For DeMarco, the value of language courses outweighs the cons of virtual instruction. She said that she plans to continue taking French next quarter. 

“I think it’s really important to continue taking languages even if it’s not the ideal,” she said.

Sherry Xie '25 is a writer for the Academics desk in the News section. Contact the News section at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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