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Foreign would-be quants and communication barrier

IlyaKEightSix

Well-Known Member
As a disclaimer, I apologize ahead of time for anyone offended by this, but these are my experiences:

As a university student, I feel that no matter how intelligent someone is, if they do a poor job of conveying their thoughts across, then they are completely useless as teachers or employees.

I have had multiple courses taught by people that may indeed be brilliant students/professors/programmers or whatnot, but by far and away the most egregious problem I have ever faced was with people with a huge language and accent barrier. Half of the time, I could not understand what they were trying to say with their broken grammar, since if I have a poor command of what they are speaking about, broken grammar makes and thick accents make it that much harder to understand what said would-be quant was doing.

In my opinion, before any level of technical expertise, or costs saved on salaries can come into play, I believe that those that would find positions in such technical and INDISPENSABLE areas of work such as running the models that predict a VAST portion of decision making for firms large and small must first and foremost be able to communicate with the absolute most lucid clarity.

In large firms, a breakdown in communication may mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars, while a miscommunication in a small firm may mean catastrophic losses in comparison to the size of the firm. Either way, I believe that communication comes first and foremost before any problem-solving abilities. Clearly, technical intelligence is the benchmark in all quantitative professions, and not everyone has English as their first language, but I believe that those seeking to work in America, or take up the attendance quota in an American school should have English that's good enough that they can teach a class without the language barrier being a detriment.

So far, out of all of the foreign faculty I have encountered, only two professors and two foreign TAs have passed this test:

Professor Aurelie Thiele, financial engineering research member and optimization professor in the Industrial and Systems Engineering department at Lehigh University: this woman is a genius (attended Parisian school of engineering and then MIT to earn her phD in compsci/EE) and actually taught my optimization course by making our textbook and notes into one: blank pdf packets with only the questions on them that we filled out in class to learn the material. A genius woman, and arguably the best teacher I've ever had.

Professor Eugene Perevalov, statistics professor in the Industrial and Systems Engineering department at Lehigh University: His gaffes with English idioms border on the hilarious and his command of the language is not that great. However, I cheat here. I was born in Kiev--so I go right past the language barrier since I can speak Russian to him!


Teaching Assistant Justin Wong of the Economics Department at Lehigh University: Practically taught me my money and banking course singlehandedly since the professor (despite being American) was so poor.

Teaching Assistant Ertam (wish I knew his last name to give him due credit!) of the Economics Dept. at Lehigh University: taught me about money creation/destruction in economics 101. And he's also a good guy to hang out with ^_^.

All of the rest of the foreign teachers/TAs in my experience have been horrid. Case in point: in my basic prob and stat course, I had 100s on the homeworks and 95 and 100 on the exams when the actual American professor was teaching. When the TA came back from maternity leave, my grade plummeted to a B+ by the end. The book was garbage as well.

My algorithms course: the TAs were literally incomprehensible since they were so quiet and had such poor grammar.

Needless to say, I conclude that before accepting foreign students into programs, I believe that universities should make sure that those students can communicate to such an extent that they should be able to convey perfectly their programs to traders, or these universities, with their short term gain, could crank out absolutely horrible candidates for the work force, or as TAs.

Now this is only my own experience, but I thought I'd share it, just to let everyone else get some insight to me and my beliefs, at least in my belief that communication is paramount.
 

DominiConnor

Quant Headhunter
I agree about language skills. In my position I get to hear some quite terrible tales of lecturers on expensive MFE programs who are almost impossible to understand. As a native English speaker, it's easier for me to understand accents since by luck I'm in the "middle". But since a large % of quants are not NEs it is harder to understand across what amounts to 2 language barriers.
On the CQF, all lectures are available on video, just so that if something is not heard properly you can revisit it. Even when both lecturer and student share a language, it can be easy to miss a word, or write down lecture notes wrong. Losing the "no" from "there is no arbitrage in this..." Can be really painful...

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a senior quant who has a couple of model named after him. English was the third language he learned, and he's very hard line that anyone who can't communicate doesn't get into his team.

The worst lecturer I ever had English as his first language. He was just awful. He had a sort of self-imposed speech defect. It was basically just arrogance, since he was very well known in his field. About 25% of this course were ethnic Chinese, but no one could understand what he was saying. After several lectures, we descended en masse to the head of department and complained.
He was replaced.

I think if you are paying serious money for a course, you have the right to demand that
the course is taught in a recognisable variant of English.
Depending upon where you do it, I guess that every lecture in a MFE costs you $100-300.
That's before the extra costs like living and lost earinings are added, making it $150-400.

Last week I was invited to the season's Formula 1 party, at 'only' $400. That's rather to the right hand side of the distribution of tickets one might buy. A Broadway musical or major sports event is usually less.

If I paid this sort of money for a play, and the actors mumbled, forgot their lines, or didn't even bother to turn up, I'd be demanding a refund.

Bottom line:
If you you don't understand this stuff, then I won't be able to get you a job.

I am a bit of a complainer...
There is a video out there you can buy with John Cleese referring to me publicly as a "dickhead" after I led a bunch of people to complain about his work which we'd paid real money for.
 

Poirot

Active Member
"In my opinion, before any level of technical expertise, or costs saved on salaries can come into play, I believe that those that would find positions in such technical and INDISPENSABLE areas of work such as running the models that predict a VAST portion of decision making for firms large and small must first and foremost be able to communicate with the absolute most lucid clarity."

I have worked on wall street for about 6 years now and I fink there are more sombrero wearing, tricycle riding polar bears than eloquent techies!
 

IlyaKEightSix

Well-Known Member
"In my opinion, before any level of technical expertise, or costs saved on salaries can come into play, I believe that those that would find positions in such technical and INDISPENSABLE areas of work such as running the models that predict a VAST portion of decision making for firms large and small must first and foremost be able to communicate with the absolute most lucid clarity."

I have worked on wall street for about 6 years now and I fink there are more sombrero wearing, tricycle riding polar bears than eloquent techies!

This post has made my day. THANK YOU.
 

sameer

Active Member
A piece of unsolicited advice for anyone that is international (I am!) and wants to improve their ability to communicate -- hang with the locals, so to speak. If you are new to the US, it's within one's comfort zone to go hang with people that speak your native language or are from your country of origin. I did that too the first few months I was in the US. But if you start assimilating with locals, you'll be surprised at how quickly your communication skills will improve.
 

bigbadwolf

Well-Known Member
A piece of unsolicited advice for anyone that is international (I am!) and wants to improve their ability to communicate -- hang with the locals, so to speak. If you are new to the US, it's within one's comfort zone to go hang with people that speak your native language or are from your country of origin. I did that too the first few months I was in the US. But if you start assimilating with locals, you'll be surprised at how quickly your communication skills will improve.

To an extent. For instance, IlyaKEightSix uses the word "egregious" in his first post on this thread. Yet I am sure that at least nine out of ten Americans will be unfamiliar with this word and you're unlikely to encounter it in everyday parlance. For my part, I have to "dumb down" both my vocabulary and my ideas for American listeners. Enoch Powell, that great English classicist and politician, once said that only the English could speak English. I think he had a point. And my point, I suppose, is that being able to speak and write cogently and incisively requires more -- much more -- than merely being at ease with American idiom.
 

Uncle Max

Well-Known Member
I'm sure that "egregious" comes from GRE/GMAT/TOEFL vocabulary, not from the communication with local people ;)
 

Poirot

Active Member
"For my part, I have to "dumb down" both my vocabulary and my ideas for American listeners."

Very curious indeed! Are you of the notion that superior vocabulary indicates "smartness"? Also, how do you "dumb down" ideas?

In my book being articulate isn't a function of esoteric vocabulary but rather of clarity of thought. If you know what you are talking about, you would typically express is well.

Cheers
 

bigbadwolf

Well-Known Member
"For my part, I have to "dumb down" both my vocabulary and my ideas for American listeners."

Very curious indeed! Are you of the notion that superior vocabulary indicates "smartness"? Also, how do you "dumb down" ideas?

In my book being articulate isn't a function of esoteric vocabulary but rather of clarity of thought. If you know what you are talking about, you would typically express is well.

Well ... hmmm ... for example, instead of saying "nonlinear," I might say, "it's kinda curvy." After all, how would one explain "nonlinear" to some business type who doesn't even know what "linear" means? Instead of saying "the correlation coefficient is .95," I might say, "they're kinda related."

As Wittgenstein said a while back, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." If I don't have the words, I can't even conceptualise the phenomenon. Words like "partial derivative" and "Lebesgue integrable" serve a real purpose. In short, when I simplify my vocabulary, my ideas become simpler and less sharply-defined as well.

But now, like, I gotta go and chill out.:)
 

DominiConnor

Quant Headhunter
America has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the developed World, indeed behind some of the undeveloped world as well. Of course that's the population, not any given individual.

As Poirot says, grasp on English, it not of itself the only indicator of intelligence, and since America has such a high % of its smartest people who are immigrants whose first language is not English, it's not the best predictor.

There does however seem to be strong evidence that born-Americans are getting smarter (as measured by IQ tests) surprisingly quickly. It does seem to correlate well with obesity, since calorie intake in early years is known to have non-trivial effects on intellectual development.
 

sunnypathak

New Member
IlyaKEightSix ,

You yourself are from eastern part of europe..I have seen many eastern europeans with horrible accents..but I have seen them mostly in social seetings..because I cannot find as many in the academia...not trying to be rude here..

In future be careful not to mention any specific country's name in your title's thread. you could just have used Foreigners or something..it is offensive .. I guess you mentioned it because there are so many successful Indians in professional and academic settings that you subconciously relate all foreigners with accents with Indians..Not your fault..just the kind of puny brain you have been given..
 

IlyaKEightSix

Well-Known Member
IlyaKEightSix ,

You yourself are from eastern part of europe..I have seen many eastern europeans with horrible accents..but I have seen them mostly in social seetings..because I cannot find as many in the academia...not trying to be rude here..

In future be careful not to mention any specific country's name in your title's thread. you could just have used Foreigners or something..it is offensive .. I guess you mentioned it because there are so many successful Indians in professional and academic settings that you subconciously relate all foreigners with accents with Indians..Not your fault..just the kind of puny brain you have been given..

Kind of "puny brain I have been given?"

I'm not sure if the phrase "just the kind of puny brain you have been given" may have a completely different connotation in another language, but to me, it did come across as offensive. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, though, that you didn't mean it in the way I interpreted it.

As for associating accents with Indians, no. It's just that I see quite a few of them post here, and they, along with those of Asian descent, have been the kinds of people I've had the greatest difficulty understanding--and I've come across quite a few in academia, with poor teaching results in my experience. I understand my Russian professor very well (fine, I speak Russian to him if I don't understand something!), and my french/belgian optimization professor is just amazing as a professor, even if it takes her a little bit longer to get her message across.
 

bigbadwolf

Well-Known Member
As for associating accents with Indians, no. It's just that I see quite a few of them post here, and they, along with those of Asian descent, have been the kinds of people I've had the greatest difficulty understanding--and I've come across quite a few in academia, with poor teaching results in my experience. I understand my Russian professor very well (fine, I speak Russian to him if I don't understand something!), and my french/belgian optimization professor is just amazing as a professor, even if it takes her a little bit longer to get her message across.

Ilya, you're completely correct. And before someone pounces on me, let me hasten to add I'm from the Indian subcontinent myself. And I have problems understanding Indians when they speak (or write) English. Part of the problem is that the syntax of Hindi (and Urdu) differs radically from the European languages. Another part is the paucity of cognates -- e.g., French and German have many cognates with English whereas Hindi doesn't.
 

bigbadwolf

Well-Known Member
There does however seem to be strong evidence that born-Americans are getting smarter (as measured by IQ tests) surprisingly quickly. It does seem to correlate well with obesity, since calorie intake in early years is known to have non-trivial effects on intellectual development.

Dominic, you are surely purely our leg. I think you're referring to the "Flynn effect," where we sem to be getting higher IQs everywhere in the world. Sone English researchers have pondered on the paradox that while English IQs are going up, the average English 12-year-old has the mental age of a 9-year-old of fifty years back, i.e. IQ inflation seems to have nothing to do with enhanced intellectual performance (other than performing well on IQ tests).

If you look at the 8th- and 12th-grade syllabus of a century ago and compare them with those of today, there's a world of difference. I doubt many American schoolteachers could pass the 12th grade tests of a hundred years ago (let alone the students). What evidence there is suggests that Americans are not getting smarter.
 

sunnypathak

New Member
bigbadwolf,

let me guess you must be from pakistan/bangladesh..your post is hilarious "Part of the problem is that the syntax of Hindi (and Urdu) differs radically from the European languages. Another part is the paucity of cognates -- e.g., French and German have many cognates with English whereas Hindi doesn't"...

don't try to give these funny and meaningless reasons and try to be a linguistic expert, which you are not....

Ilya,

I don't know about you but I have lived in this country for almost 12 years now. During my academics/profesional time spent here, I have come across a number of non-english speaking people who had very bad accents and were difficult to understand. But thats life..you get to meet people with various strengths and weak points..

I work at one of the largest hedge funds in the world in NYC and some IT developers I come in contact with cannot speak very good english...But I have learnt to try harder to understand them..Guess it may be one of the slight negative sides of Globalisation and cultural melting pot which NYC is..But this should not discount the fact that they are world class programmers..some of the best I have seen yet....If their communication skills were a hindrance to our companies value-addition process, they would have been let go a long time ago)...but you and your likes would not get it...You and likes of this bigbadwolf come to US, spend some time here and start considering yourself superior to other immigrants...before you think of these bad english immigrants, think about your parents, and if they are in US, how well they speak english..I sure you get the picture....

if you were truly mature and smart (which clearly you and the Indian subcontinent boy bigbadwolf are not), you would not complain and give borderline assinine reasons ..don't make other people scapegoats of your own intellectual inferiority and shortcomings..

Moderators,

Please refrain people from creating threads with titles demeaning people from a particular country/region, even though it contains premeptive apologies...you should ban these type of guys from this forum..
 

Jonathan

Active Member
I grew up here(NY) and my English isnt perfect. For me, "Good English" was not so important, as long as I was understood and the other person understood me (keeping up with all the High School slang was fun at the time but became useless quickly). Currently, almost everybody I work with has an accent and if there is a misunderstanding then we take our issues to the whiteboard. English is truly an interesting language with all its accents and dialects, it helps to be familiar with different styles of speaking.
 

IlyaKEightSix

Well-Known Member
Sunny, did you read the first line of my post? I said "in my experience".

And when it comes to my grades, I *do* try to understand everyone's accent, since my grade depends on it, and later my job will.

I am sorry that you feel offended, but these are my experiences, and I shared them.
 

IlyaKEightSix

Well-Known Member
I grew up here(NY) and my English isnt perfect. For me, "Good English" was not so important, as long as I was understood and the other person understood me (keeping up with all the High School slang was fun at the time but became useless quickly). Currently, almost everybody I work with has an accent and if there is a misunderstanding then we take our issues to the whiteboard. English is truly an interesting language with all its accents and dialects, it helps to be familiar with different styles of speaking.

I don't think I know a single person whose English *is* perfect =P

But all I'm saying is that communication and understanding is paramount.

Each person in this world is like a node on a giant graph. Their communications skills are like a one-way edge connecting them to the rest of the nodes on the graph that is their language. If there is no way to get to a node, it might as well not be on the graph. If the edge weight is very long, then I would rather go for a closer node.

In my experience, some Indian/Pakistani/Chinese/Korean professors and TAs have been extremely difficult to understand. I shared them, and if someone gets offended, you can't win them all. That said, one of my coworkers is Indian and is a very smart man, albeit has an accent. Another one of my former high school classmates speaks excellent English despite being an immigrant.

Oh, and for those that don't know, I am also an immigrant. Arrived in the US when I was four years old. My father...I'd rather not talk about, and my mother barely makes ends meet by teaching piano, so all that I learned, I learned myself through the help of the professors and teachers that could communicate well. It is thanks to them that I am as far as I am today.
 

bigbadwolf

Well-Known Member
I shared them, and if someone gets offended, you can't win them all.

Why even bother? The man's a complete idiot. He has no arguments so he resorts, like all Indians, to ad hominem insults. Pathetic. And who gives a tinker's cuss where he works? Does that substitute for the absence of any argument? Now he wants us banned because -- boohoo -- he doesn't agree with our point of view.
 

bloodynri

New Member
Why even bother? The man's a complete idiot. He has no arguments so he resorts, like all Indians, to ad hominem insults. Pathetic. And who gives a tinker's cuss where he works? Does that substitute for the absence of any argument? Now he wants us banned because -- boohoo -- he doesn't agree with our point of view.

There wasn't any need to add "like all Indians" because I know many non-Indians that resort to ad hominem insults and I know many Indians who don't. Anyways, I know quite a few people who find the American and British accents hard to understand! LOL! There is no right or wrong accent. The language belonged to the English, they ruled a major part of the world, English became an almost universal language, many countries now speak it but they speak it almost like they're speaking their own language...just accept it...thats how it is!

I juzz hate ppl dat type like da way im typin dis.
 
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