Jing Jiang / Sun Senior Photographer

The Language Resource Center is supporting language professors as they adapt to online language instruction.

February 19, 2021

Language Professors Navigate Zoom, Supporting Students From a Distance

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For many Cornell language students, pre-coronavirus methods of learning new vocabulary words have been replaced with thumbs-up emojis and chat box responses on Zoom.

Many of Cornell’s language programs are adapting to online and hybrid learning with a more lenient approach to reduce student stress. But with study abroad still on hold, students have fewer opportunities to use what they’ve learned. 

Initially skeptical, some professors said they are pleased with how well online learning is going. Prof. Claire Menard, French, said she believes that she and her students are lucky to be well-versed in technology and have the opportunity to work in a small class setting of 10 to 15 students.

Menard stressed the importance of healthy and reliable relationships between the professor and students. 

“My policy is to be 100 percent flexible with the students,” Mernard said. “We don’t really punish people. It’s difficult to assess what’s going on with the students, so we trust them and we know they are responsible.”

One of the biggest challenges Menard faces as an instructor is the inability to move around the classroom and read body language. She worries about whether she will be able to tell if her students understand what she is saying.

“I read so many clues from their [students’] faces to see if they understand what I am talking about,” Menard said. “Sometimes it’s a bit difficult for me to assess how the students are feeling instantly. I need to rely on other resources like the chat.” 

Though Cornell has helped professors facilitate teaching a foreign language over Zoom, Prof. Stephanie Divo, Chinese, said she’s still adapting to online language teaching. 

“Luckily we’ve had strong instruction and support for online teaching from the Language Resource Center,” Divo wrote. “Like everyone else, we’re still perfecting our online courses, but we’re able to offer effective instruction.” 

Unlike Menard and Divo, Prof. Ewa Bachminska, Polish, has opted to teach her Polish lectures in-person. 

“In the spring 2021, I opted for teaching Polish in person, and I feel that my students really like that,” Bachminska said. “For many, that’s their only in-person class this semester. All my students wear masks and sit six feet apart. Occasionally, when a student goes into a quarantine, he or she joins us on Zoom.”

Still, students hoping to use their new language skills abroad are out of luck — study abroad programs are put on hold as travel restrictions rolled over to the spring.