Q & A

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am

My son is taking a university course this summer in order to complete his degree by the end of the year. He and his friends are having a hard time understanding the lecturer who has a very strong accent and poor English. What do you think can be done to remedy this situation?

Education consultant Florence Robertson replies:

Although you may be upset about this situation, especially since you are paying high fees for your son's summer course, let him decide how to resolve this problem. You will want to discuss it with your son and show your support but the final decision should be his.

Your son and his friends need to handle this situation with sensitivity. At first, they might try reviewing their lecture notes together to be sure that they have grasped the total lecture. They probably will have acquired all the key points of the lecture collectively. If this method proves helpful, they can continue with it as often as needed. As the course continues, your son and his friends will understand the lecturer better as they will have become accustomed to his accent.

If this method of reviewing the lecture reveals that your son and his friends have missed a lot of the lecture or have misunderstood it, they need to speak to the lecturer. Although your son and his friends may find it difficult to discuss the problem with him, in fairness to the lecturer and your son and his friends, it needs to be done.

They can say positive things to the lecturer such as they enjoy the subject and they want to do well in it but they are having difficulty catching all the details. The lecturer might want them to be specific and they will need to be honest but tactful. They could point out that they are not used to his particular accent.

While they are trying to be sure that they have understood the word or the point that is being discussed, the lecturer goes on to the next topic in the lecture. If the lecturer speaks quickly, they could ask him to speak more slowly. The lecturer is probably aware that his English is not good. In most cases the lecturer will want to help his students and will therefore respect your son and his friends' concerns.

Your son could ask the lecturer what he would suggest in order that they can understand the whole lecture and be successful in the course. This approach could result in a good exchange of ideas with no one feeling embarrassed.

It would be best if your son and his friends could resolve the problem with the first two methods as this would show the lecturer that the students are doing their part to master the subject. It would also show willingness of the students and the lecturer to work together.

If it is not possible to resolve the problem this way, then your son and his friends need to speak to the Head of Department. They can explain the difficulty that they are having and their worry that they may not pass the examination. Your son and his friends should seek the Head's advice rather than lodge a complaint. The Head may have hired the lecturer but may not have observed his teaching and therefore would not be aware of the problem. Whatever your son and his friends decide to do, support their decision. What is important is that they have thought through the issue and have addressed it in the way that they think is best.