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NDSU language learners adapt to the times, find benefits in use of technology

An NDSU student and professor say, there may be no better time than now to learn a new language.

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FARGO — If you don't use it, you may lose it.

That's a worry of students and staff members learning, teaching and maintaining a new language during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students and professors at North Dakota State University are adapting to the challenges of doing so virtually, and at the same time picking up new, important skills along the way.

NDSU Chair of Modern Languages Dr. Gwen Stickney says roughly 300 students are taking German, French, Spanish or intensive English courses.

While attending class remotely is a safe, healthy option, she says, there are some drawbacks.

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"Like the difficulty to ask spontaneous questions to see if students are understanding things," Stickney said. "And it is much easier to show students what to do when they're pronouncing, but that's rather difficult when you can't see their faces and they can't see yours."

Senior Jamison Feske has nine years of Spanish and three semesters of French under his belt. His studies have taken him as far as Cordoba, Argentina, in the fall of 2019. He says the pandemic is shuttering away the very nature of languages, like immersing yourself.

"Being on this virtual format, there's this barrier," he said. "Languages are inherently social; you need that human connection, that's why I love languages."

Technology has allowed Stickney and Feske to adapt. Feske communicates with his friends from all over the world via video technology, like Zoom.

They both feel the opportunity to learn a language, right at your fingertips, is greater than ever.

"We have more opportunities than ever before to interact with people from all over the world," Stickney said.

Feske is optimistic about the future of speaking and learning languages as technology advances at a rapid rate.

"Our world is becoming more interconnected day by day," Feske said. "I think it's going to be a useful tool in the future of languages that will carry on even after the days of the pandemic."

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