Learning Chinese Virtually

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

When I expressed aloud that I wanted to go to Taiwan this summer to learn Chinese, the universe must have heard my longing along with the longing of the fourteen other students attending this program and laughed, sending out a pandemic to ruin those plans. In spite of this, thanks to the wonders of technology, I can learn Chinese through virtual learning.

As with most, if not all, academics during the pandemic, online learning has become the norm. Rather than sitting in a Taiwanese classroom and learning Chinese alongside other students all at the same time, I sit in a quiet space in the evening, watching and listening from the United States while my teacher instructs the class in the morning from Taiwan. Through the application BlueJeans, we interact with one another as if we are in a real classroom, going over the lesson and breaking up into groups to practice speaking with each other in Chinese. The teacher can use the application to share her screen and show presentations to us, as well. All in all, a learning environment is simulated. However not being in an actual classroom makes it quite easy to get distracted.

In a classroom, you can’t openly occupy yourself with other things aside from what is being taught to you, but from a remote area, you can easily focus elsewhere as long as it is out of view of the camera. I work on this, though, by setting up my work area with little to no distractions. For example, I place my phone on a shelf up high to subvert any urges to look at it during class. Aside from distractions, network connections can be fussy and interfere with learning, as well. There have been times where minor issues arise, like if someone’s microphone is malfunctioning, so when a person speaks, a barrage of echoing noises slam into your ears. Other times the connection drops entirely, and suddenly you’re no longer in class. Once, my teacher asked me to speak, and the moment I spoke, the application crashed. When I logged back in, I was greeted by my classmates and teacher laughing. Though the technical problems can be frustrating sometimes, they can also be funny and easy to move on from.

Even though this language-learning program is intended to be immersive, achieved through placing students in a country that uses the target language, because of online learning, immersion is not achieved as well. Still, learning Chinese through an online format is effective. After the first couple of classes, my brain felt like it was going to burst due to how much I forced myself to speak and think in a different language. Just a few weeks in, and already, I find myself naturally thinking and sometimes speaking in Chinese. Before this program, if I wanted to think and speak in Chinese, I had to pause and individually translate every thought. In spite of the reduced immersion, I feel this program helps me learn to communicate effectively in Chinese as I aspired to do.

By: Julia Plante

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2020

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