F&M Stories

Research Fair: Learning English Online During the Pandemic

Lauren Chen '23 was coding survey results for a lab when a particular aspect of her work caught her eye.

"I coded the different languages spoken by participants," she said. "Lancaster is so diverse and there's so many multilingual individuals, and seeing the diversity in languages spoken intrigued me."

The results came from a survey of multilingual individuals located in Lancaster County and was completed as part of a larger research project studying the social and economic impacts of COVID in the county, which has a population of 553,000. Chen, a neuroscience major, was coding the results for a bilingualism lab run by Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics Jessica Cox.

"I'm bilingual myself, and that drew me toward working with Professor Cox in the first place," Chen said.

Inspired by her connection to language learning and intrigued by the survey results and the multidisciplinary nature of the study, Chen joined Cox in the larger research project. She spent her summer researching COVID-19 and its impact on adult English language learners' interest in taking an online English class in the future.

"Over 30% of people indicated they were interested in taking online English classes after COVID," she said. "There were some barriers and variables that impact this level of interest. The main thing I'm looking at is how internet access and physical location do impact these learners' interest."

Chen said she valued this opportunity to research linguistics and bilingualism, not only because she hadn't had a chance to do so before, but because it allowed her to work closely with a professor and discover what the research process looks like as a whole.

"This has been a great opportunity—being able to engage in research with a professor one on one," she said. "This research project gave me the opportunity to conduct research and go through the entire process from start to finish, develop my own questions and be able to do data analysis."

Cox said Chen's initial lack of research experience didn't stand in her way of successfully completing the project.

"Between her natural curiosity and attention to detail, personal experiences with multiple languages, and skills reading and synthesizing empirical studies learned in other classes, she was able to jump right in," she said.

Chen, who is considering a career in either pediatrics or public health, said this research and her F&M experience is helping her see the many paths her degree could take.

"This research project—and also just being at a liberal arts school—has opened up these different windows of opportunities to explore these different interests that I didn't think I would have the chance to do otherwise," she said.

Studying the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Lancaster County

Chen's summer research was funded by F&M's Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster (CSEwL). Her work is part of a larger research project on the social and economic impacts of COVID in Lancaster County funded by United Way and CSEwL. The larger project is a collaboration of five F&M faculty members: Jessica Cox, associate professor of Spanish and linguistics; Emily Marshall, assistant professor of sociology and public health; Jennifer Meyer, assistant professor of government and public health; Harriet Okatch, assistant professor of biology and public health; and Wei-Ting Yen, assistant professor of government.

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