Prepping for the Harvard Classroom

2 min read

When Bambo Sosina, a PhD student in the Statistics Department, came to the United States for the first time, he soon noticed that people had trouble understanding him. “Being originally from Nigeria, an English speaking country, this naturally felt devastating, and I sought to correct things quickly,” Sosina recalls.

One opportunity in particular caught his attention: a course on classroom communication skills for international teaching fellows, offered by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, in partnership with GSAS. The course, taught by Pamela Pollock, was piloted in the fall of 2009 with a single section, but it proved so popular that the Bok Center started offering two sections each term, so that more students could benefit from the program.

Pollock explains that the course is designed to help students who need to build both comprehensibility and accuracy with oral English. “These students have done a lot of reading and writing, but perhaps have not been in an English speaking environment. And the way we speak English is very different than how we write it.” For many of the students, it’s a question of becoming comfortable with the rapid speed of discourse, as well as with pronunciation, intonation, contractions, and slang words. With only six to eight students, the class encourages participation, Sosina says. “It was easy to ask questions without feeling judged, and this brought back some of my confidence in speaking up in my classes.”