What is it like to learn Dutch online?
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing us to abide by quarantine restrictions and maintain social distance, UvA Talen has moved their classes online. Here they explain how they keep their online lessons fun and engaging, while still ensuring results.
Maintaining interaction online
Interaction between the students and teacher is very important for keeping the classes fun and interesting as well as for getting results. For that reason, maintaining interaction in the online classroom was our teachers’ key concern. Would they be able to reach their students? Would they get to know them? By now, we can confidently say that although the setting is very different, the level of interaction online is about the same.
Keeping the interaction flowing during a lesson requires more organisational skills from teachers. Even more so than during classroom sessions as the teacher takes the lead in structuring the lessons.
One simple way to do this is by directing questions. For example, a teacher won’t ask: "How is everyone doing?", but: "Maria, can you tell us something about your day?" This way, it’s not just the confident students who actually get to speak, but everybody gets their turn – and there isn’t a deafening silence if no one wants to speak.
Practising speaking in small groups
For those who find it difficult to speak in large groups, Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature is the perfect solution. Get ready for at least one breakout session every lesson! Students usually work on an assignment in groups of two to four, and the teacher will "break-in" to the room to see how things are going and give feedback.
We’ve seen some great things coming from the breakout rooms. During a Dutch beginners’ course, the students were asked to plan a party together. Two Australians came up with the brilliant idea of organising an Aussie-style barbecue at the end of the lockdown, with lots of meat, drinks and music. By contrast, a French and a Japanese student decided that a small dinner party with some flatmates would be the perfect way to relax during the lockdown.
As it’s difficult to stare at your screen for hours, it's good to include enough breaks and games. One game that works really well for learning numbers is bingo and, when learning about open and closed questions, the yes / no questions game is a true favourite.
We’ve heard some great stories about students adding some fun to their online courses. One student was planning to go on holiday to Mexico and wanted to keep joining the courses from there. When his flight was cancelled, he decided to use a beach as his background, grab a beer, wear a tropical shirt and pretend to be in Mexico anyway. He fooled his classmates… for about 2 seconds.
The social aspect
A lot of students join a language course because they want to learn a new language and they want to meet new people. Meeting up for a coffee after class is a little tricky at the moment, not least because your classmates could be anywhere in the world.
We find that many students truly appreciate the courses as a real moment of contact after a day of Zoom meetings, or time relaxing at home alone. Even though you might not see your classmates in real life, you get to know new people, have fun together and learn about different cultures.
We still miss our students
No matter how well things work online, we miss seeing our students! We loved helping you at our information desk, hearing laughter coming from a classroom, and seeing you at the café across the street having coffee after class. Now it’s all emails, phone calls and Zoom sessions.
As the online courses have been so successful, we will keep offering them even when things go back to "normal". Still, we can’t wait to welcome you back to our language school!
Noortje van Scheppingen works at UvA Talen, one of the biggest language schools in Amsterdam. Are you interested in joining one of their distance learning courses? Do you want to know whether such a course would be right for you? Watch this 5-minute video to find what an online Dutch intermediate course involves. Ready to sign up? Use ONLINE20 this September to receive a 30% discount!