Learning English during the pandemic

In 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic imposed the need for students and teachers to adapt to online learning, it became necessary to learn how to shift to this new reality quickly since it was something entirely new for most educational contexts. Under the feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, and great effort to overcome the educational crisis, one of the most challenging problems faced by educators was discovering how to engage students in remote classes.

Given this context, when ESL programs faced the need to shift to online classes, the weaknesses of it’s educational experience became extreme. Problems regarding accessibility (difficulties in having proper devices and access to the internet), teaching preparation, and challenges in giving adequate support related to health and financial issues required significant levels of resilience and flexibility from teachers, students, and school staff.

What outcome did we get from this experience? It became evident that learning a new language in a foreign country is not just about taking classes, but being part of a community where students get together, share experiences, help each other and, of course, have fun.

Why Broken English?

Broken English is a project inspired by my personal experience as a Brazilian English learner. When I came to New York City in January 2020 to study English, my plan was not just to take English classes but to explore the city, make new friends, and live like a real New Yorker. However, when the lockdown started due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw myself in a very different reality. I was confined to a tiny apartment in East Harlem, taking 20 hours of online classes per week, and almost all my social life was based on the people I was talking to during those meetings. My dream days in New York City went down the drain, not to mention the fear of getting sick without having my family near me.

When my colleagues and I started having online classes, we were curious about the new class dynamic. In the first days, we all participated quite actively. However, after a couple of weeks of taking online classes and realizing that that would be the new normal, we were all so stressed that it was impossible to stay engaged. Having that many hours on the screen, activities that often weren’t connected to our real interests and needs, and too many students joining in each meeting were factors that made student engagement drop drastically. Most students didn’t participate as much, and when they did, they would share their thoughts without turning on their cameras.

My experience learning English online

After experiencing this for 12 months, I realized two things that inspired me to do this project:

The activities that would engage us more in participating in class were the ones in which we would share our experiences and backgrounds.

Learning became an audio experience in which the English language was expressed very diversely, with different accents and forms of expression.

Broken English is an attempt to replicate this experience. As an online audio curation of stories from foreign English learners in New York City, it has the goal to provide visibility for the motivations, challenges and dreams of this specific community. Therefore, the term “Broken English” is used as a metaphor to represent, in a humorous way, the challenges that international English students face living in the city.

In addition, Broken English also aims to become a collaborative learning network in which English learners can develop listening and speaking skills in an engaging way while sharing their personal stories.

On this website, you’ll be able to listen to the student’s voices, explore New York City map through their lenses, as well as have the chance to share your own story if your are also part of this community of learners.