Pedro D’El Rodrigues
“Yi er san” [one to three], it’s Tuesday evening, and Stephanie has logged in for the latest lesson of her Chinese language class — an online ritual she says has helped her combat the long days and distance from friends and family of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I was in France during the very strict lockdown. I was jobless and living alone at that moment, so I had a lot of time for myself,” says the prosthetics artist Stephanie Ah-Fa, originally from Reunion Island, who now lives in Tokyo.
Learning new languages has become a trend during the pandemic, as the usage of language apps and online lectures skyrocketed since last year. According to a Business Insider report, the online applications Duolingo registered a rise of 108% in users during the beginning of the global lockdown.
Stephanie declares that she aimed to do something productive while in quarantine, deciding to follow her Chinese roots and start learning her ancestral language. “I found that it was really important for my mental health to do things that I had chosen and that I wanted to do for a while because we all felt powerless and denied some of our liberties,” she confesses.
Online language classes do not exclusively change the students’ routine, but teachers also feel the positive impact of social interaction during lessons. “Personally, I love teaching English because I like talking to people and getting to know more about them,” says Tisha Yamaguchi, a private language teacher.
Another example is the Brazilian English teacher Barbara Mrtvi, who mainly teaches kids and admits some online classroom challenges. She claims that some parents were unsure about their kids paying attention while studying at home. “One time, I called during lessons, and the student was literally running around the house with his mom chasing him with an iPad,” she jokes.
Despite some technical issues and struggles to keep her students on track, Barbara emphasizes that this experience was highly relevant to her career as she was able to “adapt to different circumstances.”
As teachers adapted to these new conditions, language schools and businesses were also obliged to do the same. According to Akiko Fukutani, a Japanese teacher from Coto Language Academy in Yokohama, the lack of directness interferes with class dynamics and speed.
However, she highlights the interconnectedness that online classes allow students to join classes from different parts of the world. “I think it helps a lot because it is difficult to travel around the world, but we can at least connect through the Internet,” she says.
Katharina Fink, an Italian language coach and speaker of six distinct languages, describes the advantages of foreign language studies on people’s mental state at this current moment.
“I believe that language learning can give you first self-satisfaction, second something to do, and third develop your mindset. When you learn languages, you improve your mental state. You improve the way you see the world, opening your mindset,” says Katharina.
At the end of the interview, Katharina enjoyably expresses her love for languages, considering it a passion. “Speaking different languages to me means being part of different worlds. It is like living multiple lives,” concludes.