Grin an’ bear it, the author says.
On average, I deal with about 23.5 student complaints in a day. We would probably double that number if we had to count the students who exit without assistance after being asked, “Is that really something you couldn’t figure out on your own?” Actually, we could triple that number if we took into consideration those who stick their heads in my office to speak, a transparent attempt to feel me out and see if I am channeling Voltaire‘s sarcasm or Mother Theresa‘s compassion.
But let’s consider the 23.5 and the dilemma by which they have found themselves in the office of the director of Residence Life. They stare at signs that read “THERE WILL BE A $5 CHARGE FOR WHINING” and “WELCOME TO CAMP, GRIN AN’ BEAR IT” (a reference to our mascot, the bears), twiddle their thumbs, fumble to put phones on vibrate and pray that the email reporting the incident in which they were involved has not yet been sent because, of course, they want to give their lopsided side of the story first.
“What is your ID number?” I ask, usually without looking away from my computer screen. Their assumption is that I am looking at their room assignment, previous fines and other residential-related information. NOT! I am looking at their transcript, and the conversation that follows typically goes like this:
“So what can I help you with?”
“My roommate and I got into a little fight last night ‘cause I don’t like one of his friends and he’s always around. I just need a room to myself.”
“I see. What time was this?” I’m taking notes at this point but usually it’s my grocery list. Eggs, milk, tampons…
“What were you all doing?” Now I’m writing an agenda for an afternoon meeting. Following the chain of command, submitting work requests, lunch breaks…
“Playing video games.”
“Does he always come around that time?” Oh! I just thought about a great blog idea. Lost in the Male…
“Everyday! I can’t get no privacy.”
“Well young man, as I see it, you don’t need privacy, you need the library. If you spent more time studying and less time playing games or worrying about the type of company your roommate entertained on his side of the room, your GPA wouldn’t look like a dollar and some change.”
And then, without fail, comes the inevitable…
“It’s not my fault, my professor don’t speak English! I can’t understand a word he says!”
I won’t insult your intelligence by stating that the United States of America is not the only place in the world where English is spoken, but I will state that it is the most used language across the globe, and third largest native tongue (behind Mandarin and Spanish). Approximately 96% of U.S. residents speak English, but more than 96% of residents in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica speak English as their primary language.
The United States has approximately 250 million English speakers followed by India with approximately 230 million. When I was in my second semester of college, my American literature professor was from India, and on that first day I couldn’t make out anything he said after “My name is Dr. Chander.” I only understood that because he wrote it on the blackboard (I’m dating myself here).
After class, I told him I was a bit confused because I didn’t quite understand some of the things he said during his lecture. He told me a story about his first day as a college instructor and how excited he was to teach when a young co-ed, upon entry, expressed frustration at being taught English by a foreigner. He told me he was used to my reaction and thanked me for addressing my concern with him.
I got an A in his class, which brings me to my next point.
Textbooks are written in English! Gasp! Yes. It’s true. I’ve searched all over at bookstores, physical and virtual, on campuses of institutions of higher education throughout English-speaking America and I have not found a textbook that did not come in standard American English (foreign language courses and hyperbole aside, you get my point). If you can’t comprehend the verbal lesson, read the visual one.
Oh, and there’s more. If you email the professor — wait for it — his response will not have an accent! Voila! You can email your notes, ask him for corrections where you were lost in translation and there you have it! Ain’t technology grand?
Here’s another tip, given to me by one of my students, and this is a simple but important one — go to class. Ay de mi! Once you have recovered from shock, please continue reading. She discovered how to decipher certain sounds her Nigerian instructor made during her lectures. This is a trick she could have only learned by going to class. For example, if the teacher’s accent changes the ‘r’ sound to a ‘w,’ it could completely hinder your understanding. Imagine hearing “Womeo, Womeo whewe fowe awt thou, Womeo?” Crickets. But the more you hear how they enounce and pronounce, the more you understand.
The most important point I’d like to
stwess stress is that, they’ve been where you are — they probably sat in a class listening to a professor speak a language that was not his native tongue and thought, “What the heck did he just say?” They probably spent hours in the library reading over chicken-scratch notes, waiting for office hours (because they did not have the luxury of email) and reading textbooks cover to cover. Or they deciphered inaudible sounds over telephone conversations that left them thrice as confused as before — but they did it. They earned their degrees and now you sit where they sat trying to receive what they have attained.
And for the record: Your English professor probably doesn’t understand you either. ;)
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