Switching to this strange online format in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has been, without a doubt, a challenge for students and professors alike. Learning a new language in this weird online format was one of the most stressful hurdles I had to jump over. What was probably the most challenging aspect of this course type, at least for me, was that it required a great amount of verbal interaction with peers, and that I had to rely on an online textbook to learn concepts on my own time prior to class. Being an introvert and a visual learner, I was afraid that this hurdle was going to be too high to jump over. But I made it through! So here are five tips that really helped me along the way if you’re trying to jump that same hurdle.
1. Make a Group Chat
Group chats remind you that you are not alone in this struggle. They help you get to know your peers outside of class, thus making those painful Zoom breakout rooms less awkward and more productive.
Online homework can be a pain, especially if the textbook’s grading system is capital and period sensitive. Hesitating about a specific question? Ask the chat! Chances are you aren’t the only one struggling with it.
Through a group chat, you can organize your own small Zoom meetings outside of class time to practice speaking in an informal setting or study for an upcoming quiz. These meetings take away the anxiety of making mistakes in front of the professor and help you learn new vocabulary and communication skills.
2. Listen to the Language
Passively listening to a language, meaning listening to a video or conversation without paying attention to it, will certainly not help you become even remotely fluent in a language you have no background in. On the other hand, actively listening to said language gives you an idea of what it is supposed to sound like and can improve your vocabulary and listening skills. Listening, after all, is a huge part of communication in any language, as we spend most of our time listening to others instead of speaking ourselves.
Vlogs given in the language usually have useful vocabulary pertaining to daily life and activities, common phrases, and expressions that you can use in speaking exercises. Try to understand what you’re listening to, so turn on the subtitles if they help! You can also try looking for films and TV series on a streaming service or at the McGill library.
Note: if you’re taking a language course offered by the classics department, like Latin or Ancient Greek, finding this kind of media may be difficult, if not impossible. Instead, try looking for a podcast or an interesting documentary. If you’re having trouble, you can always ask your professor for some resources!
3. Read the Language
Look up news articles from the country in the search engine on google, e.g., “notizia Italia.” If you’re at the beginners level, you may not understand everything in the article, but that’s okay! What matters is that your eyes are grasping what the language looks like on paper, especially in terms of syntax. This can really help with your writing exercises. Try your best to understand the articles and have a dictionary ready, and you may pick up some interesting and relevant vocabulary along the way.
Again, if you’re studying a language in the classics department, these may also be difficult to get your hands on, so ask your professors!
4. (Try Your Best to) Learn Concepts Before Class
In my intensive course last semester, almost every class covered a new grammatical structure that had to be reviewed on our own time before class. At first, I did not like the idea of having to learn concepts on my own, but now I understand why this was done. If class time is mostly dedicated to speaking exercises with your peers, it can be hard for you to do so without first having learnt the structure. You definitely don’t have to master the concept, just try your best to understand it at a superficial level. That way, you won’t have to spend class time learning the concept from scratch and take time away from those useful exercises.
If you can’t seem to understand the concept, that’s perfectly normal! Prepare your questions to ask the professor and/or your peers in class.
5. TALK TO YOUR PROFESSORS
I know it might be awkward and intimidating to have a one-on-one Zoom call with your professors, but the best way to fully understand a concept that you may be struggling with is to ask the person who’s teaching it to you. They can also help guide you towards extra resources, such as tutors or language schools for further study - all you have to do is ask! If you’re looking for beginner/intermediate books but aren’t sure where to start, ask your professor. They’ll gladly reference accessible books to add to your reading lists based on your reading level.
Don't cheat. Your professors will notice.
Good luck and have a great semester!