Working Through Language Barriers


Working with international students, as a national student, can be one of the most frustrating things possible when employed as a learning center coach. This is not because it is not fascinating to learn of differences between one another, but because it is very difficult to get past language barriers at times. This difficulty cannot only result in frustration on the student’s end – from not receiving the specific help he or she came into the center for – but also on the coach’s end, in the sense that what they are saying is not making it through to the student. There is no good way to combat this difficulty, as each student is different in his or her level of English comprehension. Instead, what is often needed is an open-mind and a sense of patience to allow the student to translate what the coach has just said, back into their own language. While this may become tedious, or even impossible at times, such as when a coach tries to explain an extremely difficult writing concept, encouraging the student to take time in their comprehension is key. If a student does not understand a concept and then feels rushed in trying to understand that concept, the appointment often times will go downhill. The student will feel as though they are upsetting the coach by not understanding them, or the coach will feel upset that they are not adequately explaining the concept, or it may turn out that the coach directs his or her frustration toward the student. Unfortunately this happens more than it should, and many times it is because the coach does not understand why the international student does not understand any of the explanations given as to why a concept is a certain way.

So when faced with this type of issue, what should a coach do? For starters, one must take a step back and breathe. After taking a deep breath and composing oneself, the coach should then evaluate what the student is truly comprehending. This can be in the form of asking the student to state what they have taken from the session, or by asking the student to repeat the part, or parts, of the concept that they do or do not understand. This can include words that the coach may be saying that are bringing about confusion, or to repeat what it is that they have taken out of what has previously been said. If this does not work, it is never shameful to bring in another coach to help not only alleviate the tension between the coach and student, but to help bring clarity as to possible misunderstandings. If other coaches cannot help the situation, reminding oneself to continue to breathe and that the session will be over in half an hour is sometimes the best thing that can be done to finish out the session.

– Larissa Gundmanis 3/30/2016

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