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International students beat language barrier

This semester has been Ricardo Mendoza’s first as a teaching assistant at the University.

Originally from Colombia, Spanish is Mendoza’s first language. He also knows some French and can read Greek and Latin.

English not being his first language, his accent sometimes makes it difficult for students to understand what is being said.

“Language has been one of the hardest things to adjust to,” Mendoza said. “When it’s not your first language, you don’t always have all the words to explain it.”

Sometimes it’s frustrating, for both himself and students, when students don’t understand what he’s trying to say, according to Mendoza.

In order to practice English, Mendoza watches TV in English and makes sure to watch the news in English everyday.

“I do everything in English, except for some classes,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza is also taking English 505, English for international teaching assistants, which helps with pronunciation, vocabulary and adjusting to culture in the United States.

Aside from the English class, there are two main programs to help graduate and international students transition into teaching, the Graduate Student Enhancement Program (GradSTEP) and an orientation program through the Center for International Programs.

The GradSTEP provides an orientation a week before classes start in the fall, which is for graduate students, both domestic and international, according to Barbara Peck, director of GradSTEP.

Some of the sessions at the last GradSTEP orientation, geared toward international students who will be TAs were “Understanding Your American Students” and “Understanding International Students in Your Classroom.”

“[The sessions] help them know what to expect from their American students,” Peck said. “We want to make sure the TAs are prepared.”

The Center for International Programs also helps international TAs be prepared for teaching, which occurs two weeks before the start of fall semester classes.

They learn about local laws, foods and the currency system in the United States. They’re also briefly taught about different educational systems.

“There may be differences between what they grew up with and what we have here,” said Anne Saviers, associate director of the international program.

According to Saviers, knowing ahead of time what to expect when they’re teaching a class at the University helps the international TAs feel more comfortable in the classroom.

When a problem does occur, “Most international students welcome students talking to them outside of class when they don’t understand something,” Saviers said.

Mendoza is no different. He encourages his students to stop by his office whenever they have a question.

“I am always available to help students,” Mendoza said. “They appreciate that I make time for them and they stop in frequently.”

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