Students and professors celebrate return to in-person language classes

May 5, 2022, 1:31 a.m.

After more than five quarters of online instruction, language classes moved to in-person instruction at the beginning of spring quarter, becoming the final group of classes to move away from online learning.

As most classes fluctuated between remote and in-person learning through most of the 2021–22 academic year, language classes held to a consistent policy, according to German studies professor Elizabeth Bernhardt; while a masking requirement for students and educators speaking in the classroom remained in place, language classes would stay online.

“We were just very concerned that muffling the sound of these foreign languages was not going to be good for learning,” said Bernhardt, who is also the director of the Stanford Language Center.

As the transition back to in-person learning approached, many professors expressed hesitation. according to Bernhardt.

“There was considerable trepidation about going back in person mid-year because many instructors said, ‘Hey, you know, we’ve been doing this for so long — let’s just stick it out for the year and then start anew in the fall.’ But it was clear we needed to get with the rest of the University.”

Six weeks after making the move, professors and students are taking advantage of the transition. To lecturer Ana Vivancos, who teaches Spanish and Catalan, returning to an in-person format felt like “going back home.”

“I feel that I’m connecting with other students better, and also I do think I’m also connecting better with the professor,” Michael Carpenter-Newmark ’23 added.

The decision was a welcome change from online classes, where many students found that forming connections was their greatest challenge. Carpenter-Newmark said that on Zoom there wasn’t as much “in-person connection being built,” and that “there wasn’t as much discussion back and forth” between him and the language teachers.

“It just seems like a little bit of a transition to normalcy for me,” said Cesar Rodriguez ’24.

Some of the professors’ hesitancy has proven true, Rodriguez said. Though it is not a requirement, many students taking in-person language classes still choose to wear masks while speaking, making it difficult for some to hear their peers properly, according to Rodriguez.

Still, there are unexpected benefits to in-person learning that have carried over from Zoom. For example, when classes were online, students were not required to take midterms and final exams, a policy that has been retained for in-person instruction.

“The instructors have found that that actually enhanced the proficiency of the students because the students weren’t freaking out all the time about these large exams,” Bernhardt said. Students also said that they learned more this way, as they did not feel as though they needed to cram for larger assessments.

While Bernhardt is proud of the success of online language instruction, she ultimately emphasized the importance of in-person learning and her gratitude for this quarter’s transition.

“There’s nothing that will ever replace knowing the students face-to-face,” she said.

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