Foreign Language Teaching Assistants Find New Ways to Engage Students under COVID

Written by Natalia Román Alicea, Assistant Director, Intercultural and Language Learning, and Camilla Zamboni, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Italian

As the covid-19 pandemic continues to affect Wesleyan’s study abroad programs and the ability of our students to travel abroad, language faculty, Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs), and the Assistant Director of Intercultural and Language Learning, Natalia Roman-Alicea, have been searching for ways to create opportunities to connect and interact digitally with different countries, languages, and cultures.

FLTAs, who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and by the inability to travel to the US this year, have risen to the challenge posed by physical distance and have ideated ingenious alternatives to engage their students remotely. Language programs at Wesleyan traditionally host weekly language tables that provide an opportunity to practice the target language with other speakers of the language outside of class: Japanese FLTA Ayumi, Hindi-Urdu FLTA Tushar, and Chinese FLTA Melissa have switched to hosting their language tables via Zoom. This way, students can connect synchronously and maintain a familiar routine throughout the pandemic disruption.

French and Italian FLTAs have instead proposed an alternative to language tables this semester: live-streaming language tours, where they visit different cities and engage students in conversation on Saturday mornings. For example, French FLTAs Kalilou and Clara have taken the students to Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris, and Tours in France where they have shown students bakeries, shops, churches, and other places in real time. Clara also taught students how to bake Madeleines, a traditional French cake via Zoom. Italian FLTA Tommaso has also taken students on tours of his current city, Faenza, and of his hometown, Bologna. Most recently, he also started live cooking classes from his house, accompanied by guests like Tomasso’s mom and family friend. During the city tours and the cooking classes, students can ask questions and interact with FLTAs and other guests in the language, effectively creating an immersive and interactive digital experience in the other country.

Spanish FLTAs Marcos, Marta, and Lucía have taken an asynchronous approach and recorded “A Day in the Life” videos, sharing snippets of their daily lives, from favorite places to visit in their hometowns, to birthday celebrations and cooking tutorials in Spanish. Asynchronous videos can reach a wider population of students, since they will be available on demand – and potentially create a repository of materials to both document life during a pandemic and practice the language. 

Arabic FLTA Yassine and Korean FLTA So Shin are hosting cultural information sessions about their home countries. For example, Yassine hosted “Moroccan Culture Hour” in mid-October and is planning to teach students how to make Moroccan Tagine during one of his sessions. During the hour-long zoom info sessions, students can interact with the FLTAs from the comfort of their own homes and learn about the culture and the country while practicing their conversation skills in the language. 

If you are interested in learning about how to participate in any of these language and cultural activities, please contact Natalia Román Alicea ( for more information. You can also learn about the events through our social media channels and meet our FLTAs during International Education Week, November 16-20, 2020.