Dr. Brianna Butera is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Memphis.

Carly Bryant is a junior in her last semester of the basic language program at the University of Memphis. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been taking her Spanish classes online until this semester.

“This is my fourth Spanish class. I took it in person because I thought I wouldn’t have to do LinguaMeeting,” she said.

LinguaMeeting is an online service that offers language practice with a native speaker coach for students learning a second language. Bryant and other students like her have hesitations about the website.

Students meet online throughout the semester in groups of two to four for a total of six 30-minute sessions. During this time, the LinguaMeeting instructor reviews course material from the past week and enhance communication skills between students and the native speaker.

Bryant’s online sessions, however, are currently just her and the language coach rather than the multiple people intended for the lesson. Being alone with the instructor caused her to become “embarrassed” of her knowledge and worry about the language barrier.

“I know I am not making sense with my sentences and knowing that they have to try really hard to decipher what I am saying makes me a little embarrassed,” she said.

Students taking languages classes are required to pay for the small group speaking sessions with a native speaker. From a teaching standpoint, the website allows for further instruction and a more thorough education experience for students.

“The purpose of LinguaMeeting for our students in the basic language program at the University of Memphis is to gain real-world experience using their language skills, extensive communicative practice outside of class with a native speaker coach, and confidence in speaking Spanish,” said Dr. Brianna Butera, assistant professor of Spanish at the U of M.

The basic language program includes 1010 through 2020 courses in the specific language of study. It includes students taking part in the classes through U of M Global, in-person and online instruction.

Bryant explained that she meets every other Wednesday for 30-minutes with her LinguaMeeting coach on top of one-hour classes three times a week. She thinks this process is “a little unnecessary,” because of the time she spends on campus with her instructor.

“It makes more sense if you’re taking this class online,” Bryant explained. “But, it does not make sense to me if you are taking it in person and going to LinguaMeeting.”

However, Butera said the language coaching outside of regular course sessions is “to supplement this in-class practice.”

“Students use LinguaMeeting to go beyond the classroom and use their skills in the real world so that they can gain confidence and practice speaking Spanish which will ultimately help them achieve their personal and academic goals,” Butera said.

LinguaMeeting is not to teach the students, but to allow them to gain more experience and fluency in the language.

“Although real-life scenarios can be simulated in the classroom, this real-time, real-life experience of speaking with a native speaker in Spanish is only achieved through the real deal,” Butera said.  

Despite her reservations, Bryant does believe the platform has improved her skills. Many students make similar claims in their evaluations each semester.

“Student evaluations at the end of the semester say that their LinguaMeeting coaches helped them grow in their Spanish-speaking abilities, gain confidence in using their Spanish, and learn about other cultures,” Butera said.

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