What’s it like to meet an online student face to face for the first time?

One of the best things about learning (and teaching) a language online is being able to meet people from all over the world every day without even needing to leave your home. Learners get to know teachers, teachers get to know learners, we all make friends and find out interesting things about other countries and cultures. But, when it’s online, can we really say we’ve ‘met’ each other?

I’ve taught English online for a long time and in that time I’ve had the pleasure to meet three of my online students face to face. Each time was very different. One student was on holiday with his family near where I lived so we met up with our families, went to visit some famous tourist sites together and went for a meal afterwards. Another was visiting on holiday and met me for a few beers in the evening. The other online student I’ve met face to face was on business in the same city as me and we met for breakfast and coffee.

Each occasion I met online students in person was different but all the occasions had some common feelings. The first was a sense of familiarity. We were able to get into a great conversation straight away because of all the practise we’d had in online lessons. It’s amazing the amount of different topics you cover and the number of opinions you share in an English class. By the time I met my learners in person, we were able to refer back to various in-jokes and stories we’d shared in the classroom.

Another common theme was the ease with which we communicated. Even with the best webcam, when practicing online you miss out on some of the elements of body language and gesture that form such an important part of communication. Because we had been practising without this, when we were suddenly able to use gesture and body language, it was even easier to communicate.

The final thing I felt when meeting online students face to face was a sense of relief. When you speak to someone so often online, you feel like you know them. Before meeting face to face, I was a little worried that people would be different face to face. Each time I met one of my online learners was enjoyable and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. I’ve learnt that when it comes to learning a language online, people are honest about themselves in class and most people who take the time to learn a language online are very nice.

So, would I like to meet more people I’ve taught online face to face? Absolutely.