foreign instructors

Lynn Goldstein lgoldstein at
Thu Apr 7 13:30:47 UTC 2005

The other side of the coin is the need to address cross-cultural
communication. Comprehension is also sociolinguistic-if I believe I won’t
understand or I have negative attitudes towards someone, their group,
their foreignness, etc, then I won’t understand. So what are universities
doing to educate native born undergraduates about their role and
responsibility in understanding  and working with international teachers
and teaching assistants? How many universities have workshops to help
native English speaking students uncover their attitudes and prejudices
that might affect their willingness and thus their "ability" to comprehend
their non-native instructors? How many universities address the
responsibilities of both parties in cross cultural communication, and how
both parties can accommodate and work with each other?  I have seen first
hand how a non-native English speaking teacher who was a very fluent,
accurate, clear speaker of English on all levels (grammar, pronunciation,
) was perceived by his students to be unclear because he was

lgpolicy-list at on Thursday, April 07, 2005 at 5:49 AM
+0000 wrote:
>Anthea and all:
>I just wanted to share a little experience I have had with this 'foreign'
>accent stuff.  I am American-born, "Caucasian", a native speaker of
>English, raised mostly in the east and midwest. I taught for 28 years in
>Seattle (on the west coast), and there I occasionally was asked (e.g. in
>linguistics courses or language-and-culture courses), by people from the
>west coast (some from rural areas, to be sure) if I was "from this
>country."  They meant from the US, not from Washington State. So the low
>tolerance for any difference, and the reports that students perceive a
>voice as "less comprehensible" if matched with an Asian face, resonate
>with me.  Many state universities have gone through this business about
>the lack of comprehensibility of "foreign" accents, and attempts to train
>TA's to "enunciate more clearly" or whatever have been mostly a waste of
>time, IMHO.
>I once participated (since I was chair of a dept. of Asian languages) in
>discussions in the UW graduate school about how to help these "foreign"
>students to be more comprehensible; my suggestions were ignored.  But note
>also the lack of training reported by some of these instructors--thrown
>into a classroom with no preparation.  Some might benefit from training in
>some kind of pedagogy (as we are forced to do in our language
>departments). Math and science courses are notoriously bad, from the
>pedagogical standpoint.  One math prof told me they don't care how bad
>Calculus is taught--the good ones will get it, and the rest will drop out.
>On the question about ordinary Americans talking about their accents--yes,
>stigmatized accents (New York, southern) are discussed, mocked, ridiculed.
>Others not so much...  But the idea that Brits are more tolerant is new to
>me--we get the impression that there's a lot more fussing out class
>accents--like the fact that Mrs. Thatcher was hated (?) for her "fake"
>Oxbridge accent, which she hadn't acquired rightfully.
>Hal Schiffman
>On Thu, 7 Apr 2005, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:
>> This seems a very fair and balanced article, that puts forward factors
>> concerning the speaker's skills, the hearer's skills, the cultural
>> setting, and prejudice.
>>  It strikes me that I have the impression that 'accented English' and
>> 'English with an accent' is more used in the US than the UK. People in
>> the UK talk about 'foreign accents' where foreign is shorthand for
>> 'assumed non-native', and make assumptions that if you are not from an
>> inner circle country you won't be a native speaker of English. There is
>> certainly this shared prejudicial system on both sides of the Atlantic.
>> But we also talk about British accents -- A LOT. Do ordinary American
>> talk about their own accents????
>>  This posting isn't very well thought through, but I do have the feeling
>> that there is something very different across the Atlantic in terms of
>> attitudes to accents. I notice on Ask-a-linguist that a lot of Americans
>> have a strong idea that there is a correct way of speaking, and that
>> there is a great deal of hostility to Southern accents. I just have a
>> vague feeling that there is a more normative attitude to accents in the
>> US than in the UK. In the UK people certainly have prejudices of a
>> rather complex sort, but diversity seems to be better accepted.
>> Anyone got any thoughts??? Evidence???
>> Anthea
>> School of English, University of Leeds
>> 	-----Original Message-----
>> 	From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Harold F.
>> 	Sent: Wed 06/04/2005 21:14
>> 	To: Language Policy-List
>> 	Cc:
>> 	Subject:
>> 	>From the Chronicle of Higher Education, April 8, 2005
>> 	Teach Impediment
>> 	When the student can't understand the instructor, who is to blame?

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