Linda Tang made the long journey from China to New Zealand in hope it would offer her an opportunity to establish a life in a democratic nation which had a high standard of living. Ms. Tang holds a B.A. in English and is a former English lecturer at a university in China. She did not expect any problems in the nursing program and passed her courses. However, Ms. Tang was failed in her final year because it was claimed her accent would prevent patients from understanding her and might result in a fatal outcome. According to Ms. Tang, “to say my English is not good enough is just an excuse. I feel that what they have done is discriminatory, especially to the Chinese because we are penalized not for our lack of knowledge or ability, but simply because of how we talk.”
Ms. Tang scored 6.5 on the international English language Testing System to qualify which was the level required to enter the nursing program. She argues that while not being able to speak English might cause some problems, native born New Zelanders do not speak foreign languages which would damage their ability to communicate with foreign speaking patients.
Many years ago I applied for a teaching position in my native New York City and was told they would not pass anyone who spoke with a New York City accent so I faked it. Actually, this issue is complex. If a nurse misunderstands what the doctor says or is unable to communicate with a patient the outcome could be disastrous. On the other hand, are there sufficient numbers of Chinese speaking people in a hospital with whom she could communicate as she continues working on her English proficiency?