Call to train university staff how to pronounce students’ names

Study concludes that learning how to pronounce students’ names properly should be included in diversity and inclusion policies at universities ‘because it goes to the heart of people’s identities’

April 25, 2024
Sewing name badges for customers in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Source: iStock/Meinzahn

University staff should be given training in how to pronounce students’ names to make learners from diverse backgrounds feel more welcome in the classroom, according to researchers.

Scholars at Nottingham Trent University interviewed university staff about their experience of working with students from different linguistic and ethnic backgrounds and found that some would avoid saying the names of students which they struggled to pronounce.

Others expressed concern about having to single out students to ask them to explain how to pronounce their name correctly, while some went to significant lengths to research correct pronunciations, either by searching online or asking colleagues, or – in one-to-one meetings – asking students to record a voice note of their name.

But, writing in a paper published in the Oxford Review of Education, the researchers note that these strategies were “evidently ad hoc…and oftentimes, not entirely trusted to work”, reflecting a lack of training, resources and guidance.

Campus resource collection: What’s in a name? The importance of getting students’ names right

Lead author Jane Pilcher, associate professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent, said that fears of improper pronunciation caused some students to be left out, endangering their learning opportunities and their sense of belonging.

“They don’t get the same opportunities to engage in the class, they don’t get the same opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, so it can be a very deflating experience,” she said.

The researchers suggest that solutions could include incorporating name pronunciation into equality and diversity training for all staff and in induction activities for students.

They also suggest that student digital records and staff and student email signatures should include audio recordings of individuals saying their own names.

“[This] needs to be recognised as an issue,” said Dr Pilcher. “It should be included in and reflected in diversity and inclusion policies within universities, because it goes to the heart of people’s identities.”

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Reader's comments (1)

In many years of teaching I never received any meaningful DEI training that helped we work with students from international backgrounds. Everything I've done has been self researched and self initiated. Ditto working with students with mental health needs. I don't know exactly where the DEI budgets go but it's not on meaningful lecturer support.