The University of Iowa

Chinese name pronunciation gains importance in Tippie

September 10th, 2013

By Gabriella Dunn, The Daily Iowan

In response to a growing number of Chinese students, the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business has made an effort to improving language barriers with a number of faculty and staff members.

At the heart of the topic stands the notion of specifically improving pronunciation of Chinese student names.

Headquartered at the Judith R. Frank Business Communications Center in the Pappajohn Business Building, the new program officially kicked off Sept. 6.

Pamela Bourjaily, the director of Frank Business Communications Center, said the program was developed as an effort to better respect Chinese students and encourage a more comfortable environment in the classroom, for both the Chinese and domestic community.

“It really became apparent to us that students would [feel] welcome and participate more if they did not have to adopt English names in the classroom,” she said.

Fan Yuan, a native of Chongqing, China, is the only student representative in the program working to decrease language barriers.

She said mispronunciation of student names often leads to confusion, particularly when taking attendance and when instructors pass out exams.

“Sometimes, when instructors hand out their exams, they will call the students names to make sure they are in attendance,” Yuan said. “If the professor didn’t call their name correctly, they won’t know who the instructor is calling out and no one answers. Some international students will prefer their Chinese name [and] if some professors can call their name correctly, they will appreciate that.”

Business-school Dean Sarah Gardial said in the 2011-12 academic year, a special meeting was held regarding the influx in Chinese students.

Ten percent of the UI student population are international students. In Tippie, that number more than doubles. A one-to-five ratio of international students is present on campus, Gardial said, with the vast majority being of Chinese descent.

“They add a great diversity to our campus and teach our English students about the world globally,” Gardial said.

While the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and Drake University officials said they have had occasional staff workshops on how to pronounce Chinese names, none of the schools have long-term, one-on-one programs available.

UNI Associate Provost for International Programs Craig Klafter cited the school’s smaller population in comparison with the UI as a reason for them not offering a full-time service.

“Given the size of the population of Chinese students that the UI has, I could see that being beneficial,” he said.

To date, Yuan said there have been many professors who have come in during her office hours to take advantage of this new resource.

UI management sciences lecturer Kevin Felker said after working with Yuan, he has not only learned how to pronounce the names of his current Chinese students, he also learned basic phonetics of the Chinese language to better pronounce student names in the future.

“I’ve had international students, mostly Chinese students, for years now, and I’ve always struggled with how to pronounce their names,” he said. “It’s good for the students because we’re trying to build community here.”