As if learning to speak a foreign language weren’t hard enough: Masks challenge students and teachers to make themselves understood

Mackenzie Fulgham, Staff Writer

In hybrid learning mode at Potomac, there are now two ways of speaking in a foreign language class: via Zoom, if you’re remote; and through a mask, when we’re in person. Masks muffle what teachers, students, and their  classmates are saying. If it’s hard for your teacher to hear what you’re saying, and they can’t see your face, including your lips, it’s not easy for anyone. Masks also make it hard to understand the teacher’s instructions, which is frustrating.  The experience has definitely been a challenge for my classmates and my French teacher, Ms. Swope. 

Hybrid Zoom makes it worse. With several students joining by Zoom when we’re on campus, my teacher has been presented with a numerous amount of technology issues. Sometimes the students on Zoom can’t hear us and we can’t hear them. As with all hybrid classes, if our teacher wants us to copy notes from the board, the online students often have a hard time seeing the whiteboard. As for the in-person learners, we are all wearing masks and spread around the classroom. Some students are far in the back, making it nearly impossible for the teacher or remote students to hear them, especially with a mask on. 

Ms. Pilkerton, who teaches French 4 and 5, agreed that masks are a learning barrier between students and teachers. She said that enunciating and speaking up are key to practicing and understanding content in the classroom. She feels that trying new interactive platforms such as Flipgrid is very helpful to keeping students engaged. 

Ninth grader Nuna Endale, who is taking Spanish 1, said that interacting with the students and her teacher is hard, especially when pronunciation and simply hearing what others are saying are difficult. She thinks that more individual time with teachers would be extremely helpful, especially for beginner learners. She also finds it useful when there is an audio file to accompany Google Classroom assignments, which aids in learning the pronunciation of words. 

Hazel Klitenic, an Honors French 4 student said that learning in a classroom setting is a lot to handle, especially when the class is spread out among Zoom and in-person. She noted that masks obscure the face and “one particular challenge with masks is not being able to see how people’s mouths are moving when speaking, as this is critical to learning a language.” 

Even with masks, students say they prefer in person learning to Zoom. While hybrid learning is challenging, it is much better to be able to see classmates and conduct class in a way that is not through a computer screen.