if a student complained in writing that his or her instructor did not "speak English clearly and with good pronunciation," that student would then be entitled to withdraw from the class with no academic or financial penalty -- and would even get a refund.
Further, if 10 percent of the students in a class came forward with such complaints, the university would be obliged to move the instructor into a "nonteaching position," thus losing that instructor's classroom labor.
Take that, Betty Grande! (There go my hopes of a job in North Dakota! Of course, understandable by most people is not the same as "most understandable in North Dakota." I digress)
And, in a fit of bureaucratic bumbling when I arrived at the University of Minnesota I was required to take a spoken English language test, because it was supposedly required of all international students. They've now clarified the language to make it clear that it is non-native speakers of any nationality who have to take the test.
In any case, I've had non-native instructors who I've had to concentrate to understand. I can understand the frustration that North Dakotan students feel growing up in an environment more sheltered from different English accents than most everywhere else.
I also stood in front of my own classes, and told them straight out that if they wanted to understand what I had to say they'd have to listen more intently, and I would try not to confuse them by saying "mark" when they expected "grade," that I would say "very" instead of "quite" 'cause we all knew what that meant, and "slightly" instead of "quite" for the same reason ... I also told them that, yes, the burden would be asymmetrical because I'd been in America two years and was well used to Midwestern accents, whereas they were all getting their first sustained exposure to a New Zealand accent.
The problem is that we're all lazy listeners.
We're lazy for a good reason, it allows us to think about other things at the same time if we need to. Most of the time when we're listening to someone else we are subconciously anticipating what will come next -- not necessarily the content but the sounds. When the sounds don't match what we anticipate our comprehension is somewhat impaired.
In that sense, the non-native speaker (I will not say foreign, because there are plenty of non-native speaking Americans ...) can do their utmost and still have the listeners not understand as much.
The good news is that most people adapt to hearing unfamiliar accents relatively rapidly. Certainly within a semester students should be able to understand the non-native English of most instructors. Unless you're going to refuse to listen to people with different accents, a big part of the remedy is to suck it up and listen to multiple accents. If you've been exposed to multiple accents then you'll have fewer problems adapting to new ones.
I can attest to this -- because of the paucity of local production the radio and TV in New Zealand were filled with Australian, British, and American programming. (Not so many Canadian shows, if you're wondering. We played field hockey in New Zealand eliminating most Canadian broadcasting ...) Same in Australia -- lots of British and American shows alongside the local ones. It was hard not to grow up listening to multiple varieties of English.
A side-effect of this is that a lot of Antipodeans are able to more effectively mimic other accents -- it's not an accident there are so many Australian actors in Hollywood.
The weirdest thing is that since moving to the U.S. my ability to distinguish between different native accents has diminished. Non-Southern U.S. accents sound normal, but so do the Australasian ones I grew up listening to. I thought that surely I would find the British accents distinctive when I visited last year, but no, they just all sound normal. Except those Southern accents ... like the folks from northern Australia, I can only conclude that living in hot places screws up your accent.Posted by robe0419 at April 8, 2005 02:53 PM | TrackBack