OPINION: To online, or not to online? That is the question

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It really is a small world, after all. Technology has opened windows and doors connecting just about everyone, especially students. When it comes to learning about foreign languages and cultures, the Internet has helped a great deal.

Statistics show that by 2018, one in four students will enroll in an online foreign-language class. In a quantitative study conducted in 2012 by the NEAD, it showed 80 percent of students achieved a B or higher and a concurrent qualitative study showed students felt confident in reading, writing and speaking the foreign-language.

However, a recent survey by U.S. News of professors shows that “nearly half of those who had taught an online course felt that online students received an inferior education” compared to lecture-based courses.

So, what’s better? A high pass rate for a substandard education or a better education, period? I would say that a better education, period, is better. Who cares if students do well in a mediocre class? Schools that only want to show high statistics, maybe, but their students deserve better.

It’s not fair to offer only online classes for certain courses, especially in the foreign-language department. How is it possible to really learn about a new language, a new culture, online? How can a student get the real experience of what the country may be like by staring at a computer screen?

Despite these legitimate concerns, Saddleback College has still decided to only offer an online class for French 2 for the Spring 2016 semester.

From an informal conversation with classmates in a lecture-based French 1 class, I found that the majority of students are very concerned about being able to truly grasp a foreign language in an online learning setting.

In an online class, how can students practice conversation and really work on their accents? By video conferencing with the professor? Is that really a good solution?

I know from personal experience (I took four years of high school Spanish, I’m taking French now, and I learned Hebrew all throughout elementary and middle school) that perfecting the accent of a foreign-language is just as important as mastering the grammar and vocabulary of the language. No one takes you seriously if you sound like an American trying to speak French or Spanish or Hebrew.

Let’s say you go to France, after learning French through an online college course. You thought you had mastered the language because you knew the vocabulary and tense structure. However, you hadn’t practiced speaking very much.

Upon arrival in France, you went to one of the best-rated restaurants in Paris. You tried to order, in French of course, and while you thought you sounded amazing, the waiter’s response was not at all positive or encouraging.

Sale Americain!” was the lovely waiter’s response, which translates roughly to “dirty American” in English.

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Now, you only received such a terrifying response because your French accent sounded so abysmally American. If you had actually taken a French class with a real teacher, this humiliating experience may not have happened.

Let’s say you next traveled to Israel and found yourself in the outdoor market. In this outdoor market, if one comes across as foreigner, with a foreign-sounding accent, the shopkeeper can definitely tell. Most likely, since the shopkeeper assumes that you are foreign, he will think that he can get away with charging you double the amount that you would pay if you sounded native.

The best place, in my opinion, to perfect your accent is in a real classroom, with a real live teacher, in order to get the best feedback without the pitfall that you would receive in the actual country.

So, the moral of the story is save money later and go to class, now.

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By Mahmud Imran (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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