A study of University of Georgia students suggests that appearance, as much as language, may determine whether some students understand instructors from a different linguistic background.
Although the study focused on U.S. college students' reactions to lecturers from Asia, its findings could shed light on interactions between teachers and students in bilingual classrooms and elsewhere in elementary and secondary schools, the study's author, Donald L. Rubin, said.
Mr. Rubin, a professor of language education and speech communication at the school, asked 62 students to listen to a four-minute lecture recorded by a U.S.-born student who had majored in speech communications.
About half of the students were shown a picture of a white, Anglo-Saxon woman and told she was giving the lecture.
The other half were shown a picture of an Asian woman and told she was lecturing.
Although the voice remained the same for both groups, the students who thought the lecture was being given by an Asian reported far more difficulty in understanding what was said. In fact, they had as much difficulty as did students in a previous group who were lectured by a teaching assistant with a strong Chinese accent.
"This study,'' he said, "shows that students listen according to their expectations. If they expect to have difficulty understanding the speaker, they do.''
A program in Worcester, Mass., is enabling high school seniors from Greek, Vietnamese, and Spanish homes to use their native language to gain an entree into the medical field.
The program, launched this year at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, takes a small number of language-minority seniors from the city's high schools and trains them to serve as interpreters for hospital patients.
The students greet patients who do not speak English well, help them register for their appointments, and help field their follow-up questions. (A second, more-experienced medical translator does the translating for the doctor.)
Along with learning medical terminology in both English and their native language, the students also receive some basic medical training, learning, for example, how to take a blood-pressure reading.
Maria M. Durham, the medical center's director of interpreter services, said she decided to launch the program after hearing several high school students express interest in providing such services, for which demand is expected to grow.
The medical center received a $51,000 grant from Gov. William F.
Weld's "labor shortage initiative'' to help get the program