Jinan University: A language problem?

By Boreum Kim

Nazihah Naim, an exchange student from Brunei, is listening to what is supposed to be a lecture in English at Jinan University. With a wry look, she says, “Here it goes again.” And other students sitting next to her nod their heads with drawn faces.

What happened in the class is that the professor speaks in Chinese so they could not understand. Her friend, Bon Mei Yean, also an exchange student from Brunei, can speak a little Chinese and is trying to translate to her friends what the professor is talking. This happens a lot to exchange students.

When you walk one campus, you can see a lot of diversity. Some students came from abroad to study at Jinan University. As the number of local students going abroad is increasing, the number of exchange students coming to the Jinan University is also increasing.

For this spring semester, the International School has 40 exchange students from various countries, including France, Germany, Brunei, the Philippines, Korea, Spain, and Russia.

According to the Peter Xu Fei, the staff member who is responsible for international students, most of the foreigners have selected majors from the International School. The majority of transfer students have chosen Finance and International Economics and Trade. The main reason why the exchange students choose those majors is that it provides English lectures. They cannot speak Chinese or just speak a little and don’t understand enough to learn theories.

On the Jinan University official website, the visitors can see the information about International School that says it “offers multidisciplinary, internationalized degree programs taught exclusively in English.” Also, the website mentions that “the school also employs a strong team of adjunct professors and international faculty members, on both long-term and short-term basis.”

However, unlike the description on the school website, not all the courses are taught in English. Also, not all the professors are capable of teaching students in English.

Emmanuel Mikael Schmitt, who came to Jinan University this spring as an exchange student from Germany, has complained about this situation.

The biggest problem that put him in trouble is the language. Some of the classes have the educational material that does not make sense at all. He said, “The translation is probably correct but from time to time, the grammar makes no sense.” He added, “Also, sometimes I feel they translate everything directly from Chinese into English because the explanation is not to the point and often too long with useless information.”

On the other hand, he also had difficulty with understanding lectures because of the level of the professor’s English. In one of the classes he is taking, the professor gives a lecture in English. But when it comes to the discussion or asking a question, he answers in Chinese. The student felt that it is unfair because while the Chinese students can understand everything by learning it in Chinese again, he cannot understand.

When it comes to the discussion session, he said, “I am kept in the dark.” So he tried to ask questions to professors. But 90 percent of the time, the professor could not answer because of a lack of English proficiency. Most of the time, the students help him to understand and respond to the questions instead of professors.

The International School takes a firm position on these issues. Anny Chen Yan, a member of the administrative staff for the International School said: “Professors speaking Chinese during the lecture is strictly prohibited. They should speak English all the time during the class.”

She added that if the student has experienced these kinds of situations, she or he should report it to the office.

However, Yean has complained about speaking Chinese during class at the office. And it didn’t solve the problem. Even after she reported the problem, the lecturer still chose to speak in Mandarin in her class.
So she couldn’t understand the lecture most of the time.

She added that one local student in the same class had helped her a lot. Sometimes, she sent a summary of what the professor said and the assignment schedule. Yean said that it would be much difficult to take the course if the local student hadn’t helped her.

Zhuang Ziyue, a Chinese student majoring international journalism, shared his opinion. “I also have experienced some classes that provide a lecture in Chinese because the professor doesn’t have the ability to do it.” He added that they usually ask for permission to speak Chinese to the students. The students usually say yes, but he felt like he is losing an opportunity to practice his English.

The local students of International School need to pay a higher fee compared to the ordinary Chinese class. He said, “I don’t have to pay ¥70,000 more to take regular courses. Why do I have to waste my money to come here for Chinese class?” Also, he said that he felt sorry for the international students. He said, “I wish I can help them but I can’t because I am not a teacher.”

Professor Huang Yalan, giving her first English lecture to international journalism students, described how difficult it is to teach students in English.

She said, “Actually, I use two days to prepare for the one lecture, which is three-hour class. And it is much longer than the time that I spent for the Chinese version because there are lots of terminologies, technical words for the broadcasting.”

She insisted that since the students are from International School and their major is international journalism, it is imperative for them to be fluent in English. For the professor who doesn’t speak English, she said, “That is unprofessional because it is English lecture. You have to speak English well enough to understand the students. Even if you cannot speak it very well, you have to try to do that because that’s your job.”

Boreum Kim is an exchange student from South Korea.

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