Tips on Surviving as an International TA

Xiaopei Wu is a first-year MLC student who is interested in applying her sociolinguistic knowledge and skills to explore the FL classroom discourse.

What if you’re an international student TA-ing in a classroom of your native language, and you’re a linguistics student? Congratulations! It seems like a perfect match, but it really doesn’t mean that you won’t feel intimidated at first. Here are just a few of the problematic situations that you’ll find yourself in when classes start…
– You can’t resist using linguistics jargons.
– You may know surprisingly little about your own language.
– You’re a drill instructor, but you don’t know the drill.
– You’re not comfortable with the classroom culture.

Those are difficulties that I struggled with at the beginning of this semester. Maybe you’ll find yourself in similar situations, but you’ll get better at dealing with them as time passes by!

Ever tried throwing in to your explanation stuff like “adjunct”, “adverbials”, and “deixis”? I did. Predictably my freshman students looked at me with a perplexed look that would haunt me for the rest of the week. I know this is part of the occupational hazard of a linguistics student, but instead “time word” “place word” and “words like ‘this’ ‘there’ and ‘today'” will make life easier for your students and you.

chinese-blackboard

(image via asiasociety.org)

As an international student, I sometimes find the different classroom culture in the US to be the most challenging part of studying overseas. Students will try to challenge you and your knowledge of the language as much as possible, but here is where your training in linguistics will be enormously helpful: be communicative, empathetic and try to create a classroom of open dialogue. Language is never just sentences and grammar, it’s culture and attitudes. Establish some ground rules on classroom management – for example, no English during the class. Stick to it and let the students know that you mean it. Winning the respect of your students will make a big difference! I’m probably not there yet, but I’m definitely working on it.

Being an international TA here in Georgetown is a hugely rewarding experience, and I’m very grateful for my friends and faculty members that offer me generous help, some of which I am now sharing with you. I learn every day, and I hope we can learn together in the future.