Survival Tips for International GTAs

In addition to the Survival Tips for GTAs, you, as an international graduate student have an extra challenge in learning the ropes of the American classroom, and possible, some more English. We recommend:

  • Encourage your students to let you know if they have a difficulty understanding you with a special gesture
  • Tell your students which sounds you have particular difficulty with. Teach them your pronunciation.
  • If you speak the variant of English that is different from American English, pay attention to your:

 Vocabulary: Watch for the words that are different in the two variants of English   

e.g.   a relatively innocent mistake:  corridor – hallway; venue – place;  You may embarrass yourself:   rubber – eraser

Spelling: e.g.    tyre – tire; programme – program; neighbour – neighbor; colour - color

Pronunciation:  Americans say “Schedule”  pronounced “Skedule” (sch is pronounced sk as in school)

And LABoratory not laBORatory. 

The rule – if you don’t understand, ask for clarification! Plus, there are useful books on idioms

exist such as the Handbook of American Idioms and Idiomatic Usage by Whitford and Dixson. 

Checking student understanding

The situations will occur in which the GTA will not understand what a student is saying.

Thus, it is necessary to ask the student for clarification. An effective way to check one's understanding of

what was said or meant, is to restate the comment or question, and ask the student if this is what s/he meant.

Some common phrases in checking one's understanding of what has been said or asked are:

  • "Are you saying that...?"
  • "Am I correct in my understanding that what you want to know is... ?"
  • "Are you asking... ?"
  • "If I understand you correctly, you are asking... "
  • "What you seem to be saying is that... Have I understood you correctly?"
  • "Let me restate what I think you are saying. You're suggesting that..."

In summary: If you don’t understand a student:

  • Ask him/her to repeat  
  • Restate his/her question in different words.  Ask if your understanding is correct
  • Don’t lose your patience
  • Recognize that some students may use your accent as an excuse for poor performance

Work to improve your English.

  • Take an English course
  • Spend informal time with your American friends.  Ask many “whys”!
  • Listen to the radio.
  • Listen to your professors.  Observe their behavior      
  • Watch TV (educational programs, Learning Channel, news, children’s programs)
  • Try not to live with friends who speak your own language
  • Speak English as much as possible!
  • Simplify sentences
  • Be honest in self-review!
  • Listen to yourself – record yourself and watch and listen

Be aware of non-verbal communication 

  • Be aware of behavioral differences.
  • What you consider a normal behavior may be misinterpreted in a different culture.
  • Observe the way Americans behave.

The prejudices of some students

  • Best way to overcome prejudices:  be friendly, respectful, honest, compassionate and helpful.
  • Realize that some students’ prejudices against foreigners are not related to you personally.

Observe American teachers in the classroom

  • What do they wear?
  • Where do they sit or stand?
  • How much do they move about in the classroom:
  • How much do they mover their hands and arms while they talk?
  • What gestures or expressions seem to indicate agreement with what is being said?
  • Disagreement?    Confusion?       Friendliness?             Boredom?          Impatience?     Interest?
  • How fast do they talk?  How loud?
  • How far do they stand or sit from the person to whom they are talking?
  • Where are their eyes directed when they are talking to an individual?
  • To a group?  When they are listening to someone?