Language Courses

The Yale Center for Language Study (CLS) offers faculty support for teaching, research, and the sharing of ideas in the language community at Yale. The CLS offers technology support, including assistance with media for teaching, training on new technologies, coordinating testing, and advice about new platforms for enhancing teaching, such as social networking and blogs.

Since the Center for Language Study has accumulated much experience in distance through its work with the Shared Course Initiative (SCI) over the past eight years, they are happy to share their insights with colleagues at Yale. The SCI is a program in which Yale has shared more than 20 languages for credit with Columbia and Cornell through videoconferencing and other distance technologies. While the SCI uses a classroom-based model, which has proven to be more effective for language learning, the underlying principles that make for an effective distance learning pedagogy are the same in either a classroom or distributed environment.

Language instructors are encouraged to visit the Yale Center for Language Study website for support.


To plan for the 2020-21 academic year, a Language Task Force was formed from the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to provide guidance for teaching Yale language courses. The guidance remains relevant for all periods of remote instruction. Below we highlight a sample of pedagogical strategies recommended by the FAS Language Task force to inspire creative solutions to teaching language remotely. You may also view the full list of recommendations in their Language Task Force Best Practices report. 

Balance of Asynchronous and Synchronous Instruction

  • Meeting five times a week synchronously for the allotted course meeting time may be unsustainable for the students and the instructors in a remote learning environment. 

  • Consider a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning for the week that replicates the numbers of hours of learning typically conducted in person but reduces the amount of time synchronously on Zoom. 

  • For L1-L4 language courses that meet five times a week, adopt a schedule of instruction of three synchronous and two asynchronous sessions per week. This option is a good opportunity to allow students to watch videos on their own time with as many repeats as they need.

  • For L5 courses and heritage courses that meet three times a week, adopt a schedule of instruction where the majority of class time is synchronous (two synchronous sessions and one asynchronous session).

  • For language classes that meet twice a week (e.g. premodern languages taught twice a week, or advanced language seminars), the task force recommends that at least 75% of instruction should be synchronous and suggest alternating weeks with fully synchronous teaching in one week, and one synchronous and asynchronous class in the following week (i.e. every fourth class will be asynchronous). 

  • The asynchronous classes should be approached as a flipped classroom where instructors can design creative and imaginative approaches to the topics and material that are not possible in synchronous instruction.

  • The task force urges instructors not to overload course sites and individual models with too many online tools: the technology should facilitate attaining the course objectives.

Recording of Classes

The committee recommends that thoughtful consideration be given to whether instructors opt to record classes on Zoom or require that students turn their cameras on. Particularly in language classes, students might be sensitive to how they appear while practicing their language skills, thereby increasing their affective filter. With respect to camera use, we recognize that it might be preferable to ask students to be visible so that instructors can more effectively provide feedback and offer help with pronunciation, but at the same time we must recognize the need for privacy for many students in view of their personal circumstances.  In light of this, we recommend the following as one way in which instructors might choose to accommodate the question of recording:

  • Instructors should note in the syllabus, and let all the students know at the beginning of the class, that some students may not have access to synchronous class sessions—for such reasons as time difference, unstable internet connection, and health conditions— and that accordingly some of these sessions will be recorded. 

  • Instructors should make clear that participation in the class means accepting this possibility.

  • Instructors should tell students that, in accordance with Yale University policy, recordings will be streamed, not downloadable, and only available to members of the class and no one else. Students should be told that they may not make their own separate recordings.

  • Students should also be told they have options. If they prefer not to be identifiable, instructors should let them know they can turn off their webcam and use a different display name. Students should also be told that public chats will be saved on any given recording but that, in accordance with Yale University policy, the Zoom setting will mean that no private chat is recorded. If students are uncomfortable with this, instructors can disable the chat setting.

  • Instructors should consider pre-recording certain elements of the course that students could view asynchronously, such as grammar explanations (using, for example, Panopto). This would allow students to focus on targeted course content.

Suggestions for Assessment

  • Encourage self and peer assessments to reduce instructor workload, improve student learning and build learning community;

  • Check for student understanding and provide timely feedback either in individual sessions or using tools with a human element like VoiceThread;

  • Increase the percentage of the course grade for class participation, asynchronous activity participation, assignment completion and self-correction;

  • Focus on authentic assessment and introduce scenario-based questions; 

  • Create more low-stakes quizzes or assignments to encourage learning;

  • Unit tests in modern spoken languages should include all four skills (VoiceThread could be a useful tool);

  • Consider revising course goals given the slower class pace in online instruction;

  • Consider using multiple and varied assessment methods such as project-based, journaling, portfolio, peer and self-assessments, among others;

  • Consider introducing more informal, formative assessments (“assessment as learning” and “for learning” not just “of learning”);

  • Revisit weighting and frequency of summative and formal assessments and revise rubric and criteria to reflect the remote context;

  • Plan on different test tasks (not just fill in the blank, etc.) to encourage original work;

  • Trial new tech tools with students if used in future testing situation;

  • Discuss academic honesty policy with students at onset of course for their explicit buy in;

  • Issues of test security and academic integrity must be addressed (see Appendices IV and V of the task force report)

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