Taking advantage of how classes at many language schools and institutes remain heavily online due to the current situation, I finished my Basic Level 1 (equivalent to half of the A1 level) of a European language last week. I must acknowledge that the school, students and instructors will have to adapt to the tools, material formats, and platforms used to ensure that lessons and post-lesson reinforcement can be run as smoothly as possible. For me, it was a pleasant surprise as well as a refresher, having done the language more than 10 years ago with the same language institute that is well-known internationally. Fortunately, the group I was placed in was encouraging, helpful and generally curious and enthusiastic about learning the language. As a plus, I now have more study materials and online references to keep in mind, with the advancement of technology.
In any class, particularly a non-English language class, the quality of the instructor is always a factor. I consider myself lucky to have someone who is quite versatile with breakout rooms, a feature that allows the host or instructor to divide students into small(er) groups to conduct group activities – with a few clicks of the mouse. Participants would be prompted to enter a certain room number and they would generally acknowledge and accept the invite, in order to participate in the activity.
There’s even a feature that allows the host to intervene in the (small) group, should the group come across any difficulty or have anything to clarify.
Perhaps the most exciting feature is the timer feature that pops up to notify students/participants in the group how much time they have left. This is to ensure students keep discussions to the stipulated time. Once the group activity is over, as indicated by the timer, participants would then receive an invite back into the main session.
As for individual activities, the host has the right to mute participants for some quiet time. This also makes participants less stressed as they do not have to worry about background noise and forgetting to mute themselves, during which periods of calm are generally needed. I, for one, enjoy this feature.
Depending on the school’s budget, the school would usually have a learning management system (LMS). I can safely say that this school picked one that looks sleek. Think Facebook but for education and e-learning purposes. Both students and teachers can save time in the sense that students do not have to go through too many external sources to enhance their learning experience, while teachers do not have to spend an extensive amount of time on marking/grading as a part of the marking is done (quite accurately) by the system. This would also boil down to the number of exercises/how much homework is there for the student to complete/submit. Perhaps one downside is that with most online systems, the feedback given, especially for written exercises, may not be as lengthy or substantial as compared to when marking/commenting on a physical book/ hard copy assignment. At times, a more substantial explanation is appreciated.
Yet another concern is to do with audio files, regardless whether they are submitted by students. As practice, students may be asked to record their voices in response to a question/a set of questions laid out by the instructor. You are allowed to submit the one that feels clear and with little to no distraction or mistake.
The other day, I remember doing an exercise where students were asked to write a postcard about your (imaginary) travels (to the instructor). There was a portion, though optional, I wanted to complete but got delayed as I could not upload the photos I wanted to – in order to make my explanation more visual, clearer and fun. I happened to have some photos of what I would consider evergreen. What appeared was a box to prompt me to say that there’s a server error. Luckily, for me, the teacher is receptive to emails. So, I told her that I would attach the files via email instead.
In fact, the instructor didn’t pressure any of us about the test at the end of classes. In turn, I felt quite relaxed while doing the test, despite it being timed. I can already tell that I need to improve on my writing. As for the other components, I’m satisfied with how I answered. My favourite section was the audio/listening part, as this is one of the ways to gain exposure to as many native speakers – in remote assessment mode.
Looking forward to the next term of classes!
Notes: As stated under the Common European Framework (CEFR) of European languages, the A1 level is used to denote a student’s level of proficiency as basic. Students can understand and use the language, provided the other person communicating does it slowly, clearly (no colloquialisms) and effectively. Examples include talking about one’s dreams, one’s likes and dislikes, asking about facilities of a hotel or making reservations at a hotel.
The author comes from an English-speaking household, given the British influence, but also grew up surrounded by varieties of Malay including Baba Malay and Standard Malay. Besides, the author is conversant in Hokkien, as spoken in Melaka, Malaysia and certain parts of Taiwan. The author hopes to expand her linguistic abilities in the near future.