Online foreign language lessons are becoming more and more common these days. There are a lot of teachers and students who go for this option when they realize its convenience and effectiveness. Despite this boom, some sectors still look at this new modality with certain suspicion and distrust. Many admit that part of this feeling has to do with their own ignorance about Skype´s functioning, if the methodology is effective or not, etc. I will try to explain in a brief and concise way the differences between the two modalities and the advantages and disadvantages that might result from them.
To begin with, the main difference between online and face-to-face lessons is the physical proximity of teacher and student and the student with the rest of the class (if it is a group class). This implies that certain activities or games that require the student to manipulate physical elements such as cards, photocopies, balls, etc. cannot be done.
Another difference between the two modalities is the connection which, as everyone knows, is done through the Internet using a programme called Skype. The connection may sometimes play us a bad turn and when it is lost so, too, is our conversation. Hence, it is necessary to make sure we have a good Internet connection before starting an online course.
In addition, the teacher´s corrections are no longer made with a pen but with IT tools. The students sends a Word file, the teacher makes the necessary corrections and then sends the file back to the student. The same happens with the exams that students do on their own (keeping time) and then send by e-mail or Skype to the teacher.
On the other hand, what remains without alterations is the visual and auditory contact between teacher and student, the possibility of working with the same material, which the teacher can send to the student before the class by e-mail (I recommend that he/she also attach the class plan for better organization). The lesson notes that, in a face-to-face class, are made on a board or on paper can be made on Skype’s chat, as an instant message, or using an online whiteboard.
In short, the differences between the face-to-face and virtual modality aren´t just a few but they neither imply too many limitations to the teaching-learning of a foreign language. Due precautions must be taken such as, for example, getting the IT tools that make the class dynamics easier, having a course syllabus and a planning for every class, which can be shared with the student, and an excellent Internet connection that prevents problems in the communication.