Foreign Professors, Students Fight Language Barriers

According to Google Maps, Yunjuan ‘Lily’ Luo is over 11,000 miles away from her home country of China. After she earned her master’s degree in Singapore, she moved to America to obtain her doctorate at Indiana University before landing at Texas Tech as a professor in the College of Media and Communication.

As a foreign professor teaching American students how to write news stories in English, Luo said sometimes it is a challenge to get her students to like and respect her.

After finishing her doctorate, she said, she taught undergraduate courses at Indiana University, so teaching American students is nothing new.

“I got my bachelor’s degree in English and Literature,” she said, “I think that has helped me to communicate easier and feel more comfortable writing and reading.”

Luo said she thinks Americans sometimes use different words than she does, which can make it difficult for her to communicate with students.

“As foreigners, because English is our secondary language, we may use more formal words,” she said, “I think it may cause some misunderstandings at the beginning, but when we get to know each other, and they are more comfortable with my accent, I think communication problems are not that serious.”

Luo said she continues to practice her English and communication skills in order to overcome language barriers. She said students in the College of Media and Communication have high expectations of her since she teaches students how to use English in writing news.

Luo said she thinks communicating with students is a process. She said she knows what her weaknesses are and works on them every day. She said cultural differences may affect one’s ability to communicate.

“It is not only about languages,” she said. “Sometimes, I may say something to my students but they may think differently because we have different opinions.”

Sun Young Lee, a public relations professor originally from South Korea, said she came to America and obtained her master’s degree at the University of Georgia.

“When I first came to America, there was a big language barrier for me, but my English was worse than now,” Lee said. “Football and American politics were the biggest barriers that I did not understand.”

Lee said she taught at the University of North Carolina for two years before she came to Tech.

“If everything works out, I am planning to stay here,” Lee said. “I hope I can stay here a lot longer, I really like all of the people.”

Lee said she thinks her students understand her for the most part, but she said she is still uncomfortable speaking in public settings.

“I’m pretty sure they understand what I’m saying when I am speaking,” she said. “Sometimes, when I am tired, they might not understand me. It all depends on my condition.”

Lee said she can tell some people assume she fits a stereotype.

Janie Covarrubias, a Spanish professor from Tamaulipas, Mexico, said she came to the U.S. for education. She graduated from the University of Texas-Pan America in Edinburg, Texas, with a master’s degree and she is now pursuing her doctorate.

Covarrubias said she has been teaching at Tech for a little more than a year. She said learning English was very difficult for her.

“Most of the schools in Mexico have very poor English programs and the English teachers are not natives,” she said. “I have been in the U.S. for more than nine years, and I am still learning new words and working on my communication skills.”

Covarrubias said communicating with her students is easy for her for the most part.

“I try to use pictures, signs, and have them mimic me so they will understand,” she said.

Covarrubias said she plans to stay in the U.S., but may want to move north in the future.

“I have a lot of plans and goals for myself,” she said. “Some of them are to finish my Ph.D., work four to five years at a university, and then possibly open my own business.”

Paige Murphy, a sophomore interior design and architecture major from San Antonio, said she doesn’t mind having a foreign professor as her teacher.

“I feel like they have just as much, if not more, information and knowledge to offer than any other professor,” Murphy said. “My only concern would be a language barrier, but if you can understand them for the most part, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Murphy said she does not think it is fair for students to discriminate against professors because they are from another country.

“They can give you just as much knowledge as an American professor, you might just have to work at it a little more,” she said.

Murphy said she thinks some students do not sign up for classes based on the last names of the professors who are teaching them.

“My architecture teacher’s last name is Chinn, and I went to class thinking he was going to be Asian,” she said. “He was white. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Murphy said she agrees that there can be language barriers between students and foreign professors, but she said she thinks students should put in the effort when trying to understand.

“If the professor can barely understand English there is obviously an issue,” she said. “In most countries, English is a second language. If you can understand what they are saying with the help of PowerPoint and other tools, I don’t see a problem.”

Morgan Crump
Contributed to The Hub@TTU by Jour 3312

About Morgan Crump
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