Indiana Daily Student

International instructors, students struggle against language differences

Communication and interaction with professors can be a challenge for students, especially with the large number of international instructors at IU.

IU has a strong presence of diverse faculty and staff from, quite literally, all around the world. While arguably beneficial, students often struggle to understand foreign professors.

Sophomore business student Casey Deao said he had trouble understanding his statistics professor who is Russian, but stayed in the class and adjusted to her accent.

“You need to learn how to deal with people from other countries, especially in the business school because it is so international,” Deao said, adding that coming from a culturally diverse high school might have given him more of an open mind to foreign instructors.

Sophomore Elizabeth Littlejohn also had a similar experience with her foreign instructor for her macroeconomics discussion group last spring.

“She didn’t know how to answer our questions or communicate with us,” Littlejohn said of her instructor. “At first we couldn’t even read what she wrote because she wrote her numbers wrong.”

Littlejohn said she wanted to switch into a different discussion group, but none fit her schedule. Littlejohn explained that her class adjusted to the communication difficulty and had more interaction with each other than their instructor throughout the semester.

“We didn’t know how to fix it; she didn’t understand us either,” Littlejohn said.

For students having trouble communicating with a foreign instructor, IU has provided a guide. “Understanding International Instructors” is through the Student Policy Issues Committee of the Commission on Multicultural Understanding.

The website explains why IU has such a strong international presence and provides
suggestions of how to deal with foreign professors and associate instructors.

The language barrier between international instructors and students is not always the problem, but cultural differences can play a large part in different teaching methods and communication, according to the website.

David Hyuck Lee, a Ph.D. student in public affairs and international instructor from South Korea, agreed with this idea.

“A lot of AI’s in my program have had a tough time creating a relationship with their students even if they speak English much better than I do because they have cultural differences,” Lee said. “Most instructors have trouble with their students because of culture, not because of English or their effort speaking it. Language is just the obvious way to judge.”

Lee explained that the student/instructor relationship in Asian countries is much more professional and separated than the structure of this relationship in America. Some international instructors might interpret these differences as students being rude or disrespectful, though they are not.

Lee said if efforts aren’t made to accept cultural differences the student/instructor relationship often shuts down completely.

“To reduce these kinds of possibilities, the instructor has to understand the students’ culture here. My understanding is we live here and we learn here because you guys pay the tuition,” Lee said.

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