Intro level language classes at Boston University are being offered remotely for the first few weeks of the semester to allow professors to teach without wearing a mask, allowing for proper demonstration of pronunciation and facial expressions.
Gisela Hoecherl-Alden, the assistant dean and director of language instruction, said all spoken language departments will conduct introductory language classes online for the time being.
“We found it’s very hard to learn a beginning language when you’re masked and you can’t actually see what sounds people are making when they speak,” Hoecherl-Alden said. “Trying to learn, for example, beginning Chinese and not seeing the mouth of the instructor or the instructor not seeing the mouth of the students trying to make the sound is virtually impossible.”
She added some professors are choosing to alternate between in-person teaching and remote learning for some languages that can be learned while wearing a mask.
“Spanish is easier to do with a mask on than for example, Arabic or Chinese,” Hoecherl-Alden said. “We teach a lot of different languages with different sound systems.”
She added the University is looking into providing students and professors with transparent masks so classes can resume in person.
“The [transparent masks] we’ve looked at so far, didn’t look safe enough and are not really accepted by our Medical [Advisory] Group at this point,” Hoecherl-Alden said. “But there are some that have come to our attention that we’re looking at right now. If those are feasible then everybody will be in the classroom ASAP.”
The transition to remote learning for all intro level language classes follows BU’s decision to discontinue the Learn from Anywhere model and offer all classes in person this Fall.
Isabel Chambers, a sophomore in the College of Communication who is taking first-semester Italian, said while she is disappointed, she understands the reasoning behind moving the first few classes online.
“When you’re speaking with a mask, as much as you can hear what the other person is saying, it is slightly muffled,” she said. “I understand why it’s on Zoom, so we’re able to see each other speak, and hopefully understand each other better.”
Alexa Garguilo, a sophomore in COM, is taking an American Sign Language class and said she was disappointed when she found out the class was on Zoom as it is difficult to learn sign language online.
“It’s a class where I feel like you are a bit at a disadvantage when you’re learning it online because you don’t really get to connect with your professor or classmates as much,” Garguilo said.
She said it can be “almost harder to communicate” because the hands and facial expressions of the students and professor appear small on a screen.
Ash Strange, a sophomore in the College of Fine Arts, is currently taking a beginner-level ASL course this semester as well..
“The deaf department at BU decided that it would be better to hold ASL classes online so that we can see each other’s faces because it’s such a crucial part of understanding ASL, and if we were in person, we wouldn’t be able to see each other because of masks,” Strange said.
They added their ASL class will be online for the rest of the semester, unlike the spoken language classes that plan to meet in person following the initial weeks.
“I wasn’t happy, but I understand why they did it,” Strange said. “It’s just one more thing that COVID has caused. I just hope I get the chance to do ASL in person before I graduate.”