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Students criticize language barriers between TAs, undergraduates

President Shapiro said in a meeting this week with USG officers that graduate students "not having a full command of the English language" will no longer instruct undergraduates starting this fall.

Students responded positively to Shapiro's statement yesterday. Judd Robertson '02, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, said he had difficulty understanding his MAT 104 teaching assistant because of the TA's accent.

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Robertson said he did not believe he learned less because of the TA's accent, but that he did have to spend more time on the course than he would have if his teacher had spoken more clearly.

Lisa Leslie '01 said she had trouble understanding her geosciences TA because of a thick accent.

Like Robertson, Leslie said she did not think that her grade suffered, but she believed that her work took extra time because it was difficult to understand the teacher.

The new requirement is part of a series of initiatives the University has launched to improve its instruction of undergraduates, Vice President and Secretary Thomas Wright '62 said yesterday.

The effort to improve the quality of graduate student preceptors and TAs — headed by Dean of the Faculty Joseph Taylor — also brought about the opening of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning this year.

The center will be relocated to the Frist Campus Center in the fall.

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USG president PJ Kim '01 said he believes graduate students need to be given more adequate preparation to teach. He said he hopes to see a formal training program for instructors because "there shouldn't be a barrier between teachers and students, whether that barrier be the English language or something else."

Some students, however, said they have not experienced problems communicating with graduate student instructors.

Shawn Nevalainen '00, a math major, said that many graduate students can teach a subject well without using much English. He added, however, that the less adept a student is at math, the more difficulty that student might have learning from a teacher with a less-than-adequate command of English.

Kannaphe Amaruchkul '01, also a math major, said he did not feel that graduate students' ability to speak English should be a concern.

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Math major Drew Dillman '01, on the other hand, said he believes many students do not become math majors because the teaching is rumored to be bad.

(Senior Writer Jonathan Goldberg contributed to this report.)

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