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The challenges of learning a second language in college during a pandemic

Cole Porterfield, a senior international business and marketing major, poses on top of the word “Mazatlan,” March 2020 in Mazatlan, Mexico, where his family owns another home. Porterfield said he hopes to learn Spanish so he can talk to his neighbors in Mexico when he visits. Photo courtesy of Penny Porterfield. Image description: Cole sits on top of a statue that spells Mazatlan in bright colors with the blue sky and large white clouds in the background.

“I’ve seen throughout my travels and stuff, how language is such an amazing tool to connect people,” said Cole Porterfield, a senior international business and marketing major. He and Mikey O’Hearn, a sophomore communication major, are both taking Spanish III at Westminster College, and said they value learning a second language.

“[Knowing a second language] makes the world more inclusive and more communicative amongst all people,” O’Hearn said. “And so it seems like it doesn’t hurt to learn Spanish, you know?”

However, Porterfield and O’Hearn said they felt like they weren’t learning their second language to the fullest extent they could have during the pandemic.

“Taking Spanish during COVID-19 I felt like I was getting a little bit of like, half of the education, and that’s not to throw shade at Westminster,” Porterfield said. “I think everyone had that problem despite what college you were at.”

Porterfield said Spanish is a physical language that depends on tone and facial expressions, which online class made challenging. 

O’Hearn said he sometimes felt like being online made learning more difficult as well. 

“You need to be in person to have that social setting, [it’s] more interactive and online just makes it more difficult [to] learn,” O’Hearn said. 

O’Hearn said he still encourages students to learn a second language because it can bridge gaps between different people he wouldn’t have normally interacted with. 

Faith Young, a first-year neuroscience major, took four years of Spanish in high school and has taken two semesters at Westminster. 

Young said she is excited to travel to Spain with Westminster this May for a study abroad trip. 

Young said, “I want to learn Spanish because being bilingual is very appealing on a resume and I want to be able to reach a larger variety of people in my career.” 

Porterfield said he also recommends trying out new languages and to take advantage of the two week grace period at the beginning of the semester when testing new language classes. 

“I think college offers so many different options, just [try to] broaden your horizons and try out different classes,” Porterfield said. 

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Rylee Brown(she/hers) is a communication major with a minor in Spanish. She loves spending time with her siblings, playing board games with her fiance, and traveling whenever she can.

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