Being patient and staying relaxed

Overcoming language barriers in class, Prof. Robert Kerr

Interviewee: Prof. Robert Kerr / Depts. English Education


Q: How do you overcome language barriers?
A: These days we use a lot of like AI or dictionaries if there's a language problem. But sometimes it's not only language, sometimes it's culture. I will say something, and I expect my students to think one way. But because of their culture they think a different way and so that's kind of language and communication problem. So, in those situations, I find it's important for me to be patient and to listen and I try to stay relaxed in class.


Q: Can you recognize whether student isn’t understanding the words you say, or they are just not interested in class?
A: I try hard to pay attention to my students. I really do focus on. Are they listening? Are they paying attention? And if they're not paying attention, I think it's my responsibility to make class more a better fit for the students. I try to ask questions that are not yes/no questions. I try to get students to do group work. But I think it’s not just because of English. I think every professor understands that sometimes students don't listen. But I really try to pay attention especially because it’s English. I really don't want students to feel shy or nervous about their English, so I really try to help them.


Q: What ways do you prefer to communicate with students?
A: I strongly encourage my students to communicate with me as much as possible. I use Microsoft teams and that way students can send me message and it's easy for me to answer them. I tell my students they can send me message in Korean if they don't want to do it in English. During class time, if students have a question, they can send me a message on the app. Because sometimes students are too shy to put up their hands. I'm Canadian and our culture is very different. When I was teaching in Canada, when I was speaking students would regularly say “I have a question” in the middle of my lecture. I think most Korean students don't have that experience of saying “Oh professor I have a question” in the middle of a lecture. I tried to give them that experience, but I think most still aren't comfortable doing that. As a teacher, when I’m in the middle of my talking that’s the important time for students to ask questions. If they don’t understand, that’s the great time to say, “I don’t understand”. Because I can quickly fix the problem. I can explain it in a different way. But if they wait until the end of the class, they didn’t understand from the middle until the end. So, I have to explain everything again.