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Graduate Student Brings Innovative Ideas to Online Language Learning

Michael Peck leads out in bringing new learning opportunities to his Kekchi class.

Second-language instructors often rely on the power of face to face communication when learning a new language, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this strategy has become difficult to implement.

Many language teachers are looking for innovative ways to enhance learning despite the constrictions of online class. And Michael Peck, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics, has found some surprising solutions.

Peck began teaching a course on Kekchi, an indigenous Guatemalan language, in the fall of 2020. “Guatemala has over twenty different languages that people speak, but Kekchi is the most widely spoken other than Spanish,” Peck said. The population of Kekchi speakers has doubled in recent years, and Peck is adding to those numbers in his own small way.

Teaching his class online has some challenges, but Peck has found a major advantage: he’s able to invite native speakers from Guatemala into the class over Zoom. “That’s one of the things I love about teaching on Zoom,” said Peck. “Suddenly, you’re not just in your classroom. The world is at your fingertips.”

Peck prepares a dialogue beforehand that the students will follow with the native speaker during class. It provides the students a way to apply what they were taught that day. And it isn’t just an effective learning tool, the students love it. Talking creates meaningful connections between the students and the native speakers. Peak said, “By the end of the conversation, everybody’s hearts are warmed, and the student realize, ‘Oh this is why I’m in this class.’”

Kekchi’s current count of speakers is about one million, and most people are not aware of its existence. But Peck’s class is expanding opportunities for people to learn and hear it. One might ask, why learn such a language?

Peck said, “Solely to open up interaction with people that most of the world never interacts with, and to experience a very rare gem in the world.”