Column: Confront language barrier

You passed the SATs, graduated in the top ten percent of your high school class, built up a resume of leadership positions, community service hours and even threw yourself into cello lessons to mix it up a bit. You got the big white envelope, not the little one, packed your things, moved yourself 3,000 miles across the country with only three luggage bags hovering around 49.5 pounds each. You managed to get through an entire year and a half of college without being dragged out of a toilet by EMeRG., contracting an STD or picking up the trend of loafers and pearl earrings. And then you walked into Statistics 53 with Professor KbIthSLxjkj. Suddenly all your hard work, IQ points, grievances and shipping costs seemed to float effortlessly away on a rainbow into a cloudless, blue sky as you stare incomprehensibly down into the lecture pit at this man’s moving mouth and dry erase marker: there is not one word coming out of his mouth that you could even pretend to understand.

This melodramatic, yet unfortunately common situation is one that must be addressed within the educational community: the accent barrier. Don’t be shy. Don’t be political. Don’t pretend you know what is actually going on. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of students taking courses taught by people they can barely comprehend. This hurdle to the educational process is one that needs to be taken much more seriously by departments, teachers and students. For it is most frustrating as a student to want to learn, to attend an hour and fifty minute class twice a week, to do the homework and then leave the class each day with a glazed-over expression of defeat and confusion. And I can’t imagine the thoughts of the teachers who get to see, from the lecture pit, the confused stares and twiddling of thumbs throughout the lecture: are the students understanding the material? Is the homework too hard? Do I have a spot of ketchup on my shirt? Is my fly unzipped? Alas, the list continues and the true intention of both parties is well, without sounding clich?, truly, “lost in translation.”

So how can we solve this problem? How can we bridge the gap between our textbook and the garbled phrases that exit our professor’s mouths? Professors should take some serious lessons from a professor who sees more GW students pass through his grade book than most, Martin G. Zysmillich. Now, anyone who has taken “Chemistry For Non-Majors” with him knows that he has an accent, one that is not particularly hard to understand and puts you on a first name basis from day one. However, while I do not believe his efforts stem from having an accent, he is a professor who has mastered a lecture course. He makes visual slides that the students print out and fill in during class. He does interactive questions to make sure you pay attention. He uses Blackboard and e-mail to stay in constant contact with the over 700 students he teaches. And in the end, everyone who takes his class, unless they try really hard to fail, passes with acceptable grades.

Now, I am not a science major, and the idea that I was made to take three semesters of science and two of math never really makes me want to go picking daisies. However, I do respect the things I have learned from all the courses I’ve taken. But when I walked into my statistics course this semester, I left about halfway through because I wanted to find a quiet place to sit with my textbook and actually figure out what in the world I might be taking a quiz on in the next two weeks. This should not be the case, and I wish the teachers could just accept their lack of mastery with the English language and instead compensate with some serious interactive, creative teaching techniques.

-The writer is a sophomore majoring in journalism.

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