Baffled by ill-spoken English

March 11, 2005

Economics students say their studies are suffering because they cannot understand overseas lecturers and tutors whose first language is not English.

The concerns have emerged in the 2004 national students' survey conducted by the Higher Education Academy's economics network, based at Bristol University.

The online survey of 2,000 students is part of the network's major research programme into teaching and learning the subject of economics.

Complaints about lecturers' poor level of English emerged from an open question about what aspects of degree courses could be improved. One student said the varying nationalities of lecturers was advertised as a good thing "but is actually not very helpful as communication with them, and understanding their accents in lectures, is quite difficult".

Several students took pains to stress that their criticisms did not stem from racist attitudes.

One comment read: "(The) fact that many of the tutor staff are international postgraduate students is good in a way (I'm not trying to sound anti-international people, on the contrary, I am very international myself!), but most of the time, their English is very, very poor, and since tutorials are supposed to help you understand and deepen your understanding of lectures, the fact that the tutor cannot speak or express him/herself isn't very helpful!"

Another said: "I don't mean this as a racist comment but the language barrier has been a big one for myself with a couple of my tutors."

International students also believe they are even more disadvantaged than home students. One complained: "It is more difficult to understand for overseas student. Especially in economics, many new terminology."

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