Today’s Daily Deac is devoted to a question we occasionally receive from families:
My student has a professor who has a foreign accent that is difficult to understand. He/she does not want to get a bad grade in the class. What is the best course of action?
The best course of action is to have the student set up a time to meet with the faculty member so as to talk about his/her concerns. Sometimes students are reluctant to approach faculty, but if handled respectfully, professors will typically respond well to an expression of students’ motivation and concern about learning the course material. Also, one of the important lessons of college is the value of communication even over difficult issues.
When meeting with the faculty member, your student could say in a respectful and polite way something along the lines of: “I have been struggling in this class. I have been a bit afraid to come to you because I don’t want to be seen as complaining or causing trouble, but I really want to do well and I need to ask for your help. Sometimes it is hard for me to follow along with what you are saying. Sometimes I feel like I need to ask for additional clarification or a slower explanation. I am trying hard, but I am still having some difficulty learning your accent. How would you like me to handle it when I don’t understand? Would it be OK if I raise my hand to ask you to repeat material or give a little more information? Or is there a time I can go over my notes with you outside of class? ” The student can also ask the professor for other recommendations. For example, making plans to visit the professor regularly in office hours could provide an opportunity for a one-on-one question and answer time, and those additional conversations might help the student acclimate more to the faculty member’s speech.
If your student is having difficulty understanding a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a lab section, she or he can approach a TA in the same manner. Your student can also speak with the faculty member who teaches the class with which the lab is connected, so that the faculty member is aware of any difficulties. Faculty do try to work with TA’s who have accents to be sure that any language or communication difficulties are addressed.
This is one of those moments where there can be immense learning and personal growth for your student. Approaching a professor can seem intimidating, but at WFU we expect student motivation toward and interest in learning to be welcomed. Once our students have a conversation with a professor it often builds self-confidence for conversations with others, even when those conversations are difficult. This includes conversations with other professors, with roommates, with future employers, etc. Learning to diplomatically express concerns and reach some sort of agreement is a skill we all need.