ESL teaching assistants confuse some students

E By Chitra Vairavan

every other day, for approximately 50 minutes, students watch their teaching assistants babble on for the class period about concepts few students in the class understand. Does that ring a bell for anyone? It has to be said that not every teaching assistant at the University can efficiently teach in the field for which they are certified. University students need to be able to understand their teaching assistants’ or professors’ English. Comprehending the manner in which a teacher speaks should hardly be an issue. Yet not a day does goes by that I do not hear complaints of students failing to understand their professors. Certain course materials are already tough to process but adding the factor of communication problems between teacher and student makes it even more difficult. The incoherency makes me wonder just how much teaching assistants are tested in their English proficiency.

Many students do not have the heart to tell their teaching assistants or professors that no one has a clue what is being taught. Instead, students often gather and compare each other’s understanding of the material or simply “go by the book.” On top that, gathering with peers just to comprehend what is asked of you should not be required. Although these are resourceful methods of learning, teaching assistants are there for comprehension assistance, right? What a student is supposed to learn and do with the material should be easily understood. Teachers and teaching assistants should facilitate education, not diminish it. The most important person to turn to for help should be the teaching assistant or professor. When students cannot do that because of a language barrier, it makes their education difficult.

Of course, not all teachers or professors who speak English as a second language completely lack communication with their students, but there are more instances where teachers or professors are unclear or misunderstood.

“Although my foreign teaching assistant was sometimes hard to understand, the amount of knowledge he had in the field makes up for that challenge. The time it took to understand the teacher was well worth it,” one student said.

Those teaching assistants are definitely well-versed in their subjects, maybe even more qualified than local teachers. But sometimes understanding those teaching assistants is too time-consuming. For one student, that may be worth the time, but for others it may not be.

Although there are many students who go to class despite their confusion, there are also those who do not attend class because of its uselessness to them. When students start ignoring classes as a result of a teaching assistant’s incoherent speech, the University should realize the seriousness of the issue. Students’ educations are on the line along with the school’s reputation.

What can be done about this issue? Not everyone can take the time to understand their teachers; many simply use other resources. The University prides itself on its elite teachers, but what about the teachers who are not elite? Those teachers and assistants, most likely, are well-qualified since they are able to teach in a foreign country, but does that mean they are efficient teachers here? Maybe English proficiency tests needs to be more thorough and hands-on with the teaching environment. Teachers who speak English as their second language need to be more understandable to their students. Otherwise, the University will lose its recognition of excellence in academics.

Chitra Vairavan is a freshman at the University. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]