I’d been working on zoom for over a year by the time the pandemic struck, so when the platform took hold, I was already well-oiled.
Teaching and learning on zoom requires a lot of energy compared to face-to-face teaching and learning. Doing it in a language that is not your first only adds to the stress of the online situation.
Find out some of the useful things I learned about working online in another language:
Patience with technology and patience with language issues. Everyone has varying tech depending on where they are in the world and it’s really important to acknowledge this and make allowances, otherwise you get power imbalances which can skew the way you work. Also acknowledge that people are working online in a language that may be their second, third or fourth. That is very brave. It’s worth telling them this so they don’t worry about their English. The important thing is to make sure they feel comfortable and safe in the space and not make English an issue when it doesn’t need to be.
This means allowing people space and time to speak and not interrupting because your English is better than someone else’s. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard and people need to feel heard. Listening is an important skill, so practice listening actively, and not just waiting to speak.
English may be the lingua franca in your meeting, but remember it isn’t everyone’s first language. Perhaps be flexible and encourage people to use their own language if they can’t think of the right word. Someone will always come to the rescue and help translate
If anything, online you need to exaggerate gestures and body language. Smile more and move your body and use your hands. It helps people relax and laugh a bit, and shows them you are engaged with what they have to say
Again, these can flag, so intersperse a long meeting with some little icebreaker activities to get people focused again
Encourage people to put down their phones and be ‘in the room’. You can message them privately if necessary, so you don’t call them out in the meeting. It’s nice if the cameras are on unless there is a particular reason they can’t be, for example, if it uses too much bandwidth. But make sure those who can’t use their camera can type in the chat and read out their contributions so they feel part of the meeting
Consideration for tech issues
Acknowledge that everyone has them and encourage everyone to be patient while these things are sorted out. Normally they can be sorted out quite quickly so the meeting can continue. But it’s worth knowing that zoom calls are really tiring because of the artificial soundscape they create. All the voices come from the same loudspeaker and at the same distance from the listener. This flat experience means our minds don’t have any spatial cues to help it understand who is talking to whom. That’s why we all feel drained after an online meeting.