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Struggles with Language Learning in COVID times

What I notice is my fear that I will have to speak or be spoken to in the language I am struggling to understand.

The first semester of Portuguese class went quite well. Even though I could barely understand the muffled and swallowed syllables a native Portuguese speaker uses, I felt a sense of control and achievement as I understood more words and was able to say basic things.

COVID hit during the second semester of Portuguese. This term we started to learn prepositions, imperatives, and other language tools to improve the flow of speaking. The audio listening topics became more complex as people on the tapes started to speak faster. I managed to keep up with the curriculum. But when our classes moved online, things started to change.

Filled with multi-cultural students bringing their own accents to the microphone, words I had known became sounds I could not comprehend. As I struggled to pick out words, I would often close my eyes, to hear more clearly. The ineffectiveness of the technique grew my frustrations and lowered my confidence with the language.

Eventually, schools returned to in-person sessions with COVID restrictions in place. Now the desks are further away, and everyone wears sound muffling masks.

In classroom breakout conversations, the din of students shouting from socially distant positions makes it harder to understand what someone is saying. I almost broke into tears as I strained and failed to pick out the words coming from behind the mask of my soft speaking French partner. I began to descend into a tunnel of despair and thought about dropping out of class.

At the end of class, as I gathered up my books, I realized why people stay close to their own cultural-language communities when they move to a new country. 

Manuel, the teacher who had noticed my struggles came up to me and said kindly, “Just relax and have fun, there is no exam to pass.”

Richard, my husband, whom I make a point of not sitting near, boomed across the room, “Next time, ask to be paired with a louder person.”

When you are learning a new skill, it is easy to get overwhelmed and intimidated. The thing to remember is that there are strategies to help you cope and allies you could ask for help. You just need to keep showing up.

Hi I’m Jamuna Burry.
365 DAYS is my personal practice of shipping words and images.

Jamuna Burry

Exploring ideas on creativity through digital art.