The idea for this blog started during the Faculty Conference when a native English speaking faculty member innocently asked if one could recommend the English Language Support for Faculty Program to a colleague without offending him. This began a two-month investigation in which the approximately 20 participants in the program were asked their feelings on this topic. The questions included were how they would feel about someone recommending this program and how comfortable they were with having colleagues correcting their English. There are no definitive answers but hopefully this will encourage some dialogue among faculty members.
There were two things that the program participants all agreed on. Not one of them felt that a colleague should recommend that they go in to the English Language Support for Faculty Program. The reasons were varied but most of them felt that making such a suggestion crosses a professional line. Whether or not they choose to attend the program is a personal decision. One fascinating comment was that it was okay for someone already in the program to recommend it as they would be “admitting” that they have or had the same need. Therefore, the decision to recommend does not come across as judgmental but one of common interest. The other common opinion was that none of them would feel comfortable with students correcting their English.
This leads to the question of colleagues correcting their English. On this question, they were split. There were a few that were not open to corrections under any circumstances. In their opinion, this would cross the implicit boundaries of an academic relationship. Instead of being colleagues, a new relationship might develop potentially causing the non-native speaker to feel uneasy. Some considered it to be fine or even welcomed for a colleague to correct errors. However, in these circumstances, the native speaker must be careful where and when to make the correction. It should be done in private not in front of others. On the flip side, native speakers are often nervous to make such corrections for fear of offending their colleague. This is where the non-native speaker has to reach out to his or her colleagues and ask them for assistance. One thing I have found to be effective is to use a phrase that has been incorrectly used and re-state it in the correct form at a different point in the conversation. Usually the person who used it incorrectly is paying attention and will remember it for future reference.
On a personal note, some of the professors in the program have said that their colleagues have tried to convince them to not attend this program or, if a non-native speaker tries to reach out for help, the native speaker’s reply is often that his or her colleague has strong English. While the intention is kind-hearted, please remember that, even though your colleague is strong in English, he or she feels a need to improve it. It could be that they don’t know the difference between certain sounds or are uncomfortable using certain phrases. Getting this help would make them feel better and potentially further their academic career.
There is no one fool-proof answer. The answers lie in the relationships that are cultivated in the faculty offices. In the meantime, the doors to those who feel they might need assistance are wide open.
English Language Support for Faculty
Learning and Teaching Office