Spanish teachers overcome challenges of teaching another language in remote learning

Olivia Baude, Staff Reporter

Even though remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many, it has presented particular challenges unique to the World Studies Department. Such challenges have included teaching language pronunciation and conversational skills through technology.  

But, Jenna Lumsden, a Spanish teacher, who has been teaching 9 years, discusses how her remote teaching has evolved since the school first went to remote learning last March.

“This semester we all have a much better handle on how to successfully run a remote classroom,” Lumsden said. “We are able to keep expectations higher, like we would during a normal school year.”

Even though remote learning has improved from a teacher’s perspective, there still are obstacles.

“One downside is that, last year, the teachers already knew the students [when remote learning began], whereas this year, it has been more difficult to not already have those relationships built,” Lumsden said.

Current students, though, have noted Lumsden’s attempts to build those relationships virtually.

“She plays Latin music at the beginning of class, which is a nice contrast to the mundane Zoom classes throughout the day,” said Elena Wiechering, a freshman in one of Lumsden’s Spanish 1 classes.

Besides relationship building, Lumsden said she has also had to learn how to help students learn language pronunciation over Zoom.

“When we are in person, I can hear how a student is pronouncing a word and quickly correct them, but on Zoom, the opportunities for me to hear each student are much more limited,” Lumsden said. 

To overcome some of the challenges, the Spanish teachers said they have relied on collaboration.

“We meet every week to develop our ‘game-plan;’ we share activities and documents we’ve created, and we text each other when we’re frustrated with something,” Caroline Gully, a fellow Spanish 1 teacher, said about meeting with Lumsden.

While technology might cause some problems in remote learning, these teachers said they see it as a great tool if utilized well.  

“We have lots of different tools to communicate interpersonally and hear a student’s pronunciation. Participation through Canvas, FlipGrid videos and audio recordings on NearPod have been awesome tools this year,” Gully said.

Additionally, the teachers have stressed the importance of practice when it comes to mastering pronunciation.

“Students really have to take it upon themselves to practice their pronunciation and use outside resources like Quizlet to make sure they are pronouncing words correctly,” Lumsden said.

Students who utilize these resources have reported seeing improvements in their pronunciation and their memorization of various Spanish terms. 

“Quizlet is really good for when I need to study for the speaking tests,” Wiechering said. “This year we’ve been assessed by conversations, so that’s really helped.”

Just like the teachers, students have also found collaboration to be a useful resource.

“I think it really helps to practice with other students outside of school, and it also helps to study with other students for big tests,” Wiechering  said.

While Spanish looks different this year, students and teachers alike seem to be figuring it out as they go.

Lumsden said, “I think that COVID-19, in general, has given us a new perspective and that we should take the lessons we have learned and apply them moving forward.”