Language laziness

November 30, 2017

Re “Why teaching in English may not be such a good idea” (Opinion, 22 November). 

Teaching in English in a non-English-speaking country is about two things: attracting high--spending international students and gaming rankings systems by encouraging scholars to publish papers in English-language journals. Domestic students might benefit somewhat from learning in an English medium, while the overseas ones benefit from paying lower tuition fees than they would in the US, the UK, Australia and suchlike – but is that really an argument for shoring up the laziness of anglophone academia? It’s certainly not good for pluralism.



As a lecturer at the University of Trento in Italy, I was very interested in the article “Students ‘don’t trust lecturers who aren’t native speakers’” (News, 16 November). Although I’m not a native anglophone, Trento, like many other universities, offers a wide variety of courses in English. English, indisputably a lingua franca, is an important element in helping a university to achieve a good international ranking. It is a sine qua non of global competitiveness, essential for securing not only a good reputation but also for enrolling international students.

There are a number of aspects to the problem of “non-native speaker” in the context of English as medium of instruction, where English is widely used to teach in an international context.

I have often asked myself: “What is my reputation when I teach in English? Do my students trust me as teacher, or would they prefer to learn with a native speaker?” It can be hard to know. 

Italian students generally try to speak in Italian. Some years ago, a student from Bangladesh told me how difficult it could be to relate to Italian students because they did not speak English and they expected international students to converse in Italian. Often, the result is that international students live and learn alongside Italian students with few or no opportunities to interact with them. 

When I assign group work, I explain to students that the group is stronger than its individual members and that one of the skills most valued by employers is the capacity to work with people different from us. Cultural, political, institutional and individual differences can offer us a wider pattern to face and solve problems. It is important to break down barriers and prejudices. 

Attilio Marchi

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