More on fluency

I originally intended this letter to be a complimentary note on the well-written article by Mark Indreika that appeared in the Sept. 8 issue of The Northern Star concerning language proficiency of foreign teaching assistants. The article, while explaining the complaints against these TAs, devoted a lot of space to the foreign TAs’ side of the story.

However, after reading the totally off-base column by Dave Duschene and the rather tasteless cartoon that accompanied it in the Sept. 9 edition, I decided that a response to the column is more important than the well-deserved compliments for a fine article.

Students and instructors from foreign countries are easy targets for simple-minded people because unlike those of us that come from the midwest (where “we don’t have accents”), these “foreigners” actually have the audacity to “talk funny.”

Like cafeteria food, these students and instructors are a fun source of jokes and juvenile exaggerations. However, unlike cafeteria food, when we make fun of or revel in the exaggeration of the fluency of our foreign TAs, we are dealing with fellow human beings who deserve to be treated and judged fairly.

Mr. Duschene says that some foreign TAs feel the standards are too high. I think if he would listen to what they are saying, he would find it is not high standards they are objecting to (unless these “standards” mean learning to speak with an authentic midwestern “non-accent”), but rather, it is the unfair grounds of the complaints.

I would agree that over 95 percent of the foreign TAs could pass any fluency test based on English grammar, appropriate vocabulary for subject area and understandability of accent. The problem is that many narrow-minded people don’t like funny accents (or anything foreign for that matter).

To use the cartoon to illustrate the point, the complaints are not based on TAs’ words coming out like “Gibberish, Gibberish, Gibberish,” but coming out like “Any Kvestions?” If a student cannot make the link between “kvestions” and “questions” maybe he’s the one who needs special help.

To those who are bothered by foreign sounding accents, I would point out that we live in an international, global community and when you get out of NIU you will have to do business with people from all over the world.

Most of these people will have spent a lot of time learning your language. They will not expect you to speak their language with their accent. They will, however, want you to respect the efforts they have made to “improve” their accents and bear with their “shortcomings.” (If you want their business).

Ernesto Walker


elementary education