In Germany, it is common for students to hold “Tutor” positions, which entail a weekly teaching class (e.g., 90 minutes) and the correction of exercise sheets handed in by students.

I would like to list such a position in my CV, which is in English.

What English expression should be used for this type of work? Is teaching assistant suitable?


Firstly, even in Germany there are different word for this. Besides Tutor there is also wissenschaftliche/studentische Hilfskraft, HiWi (short for Hilfswissenschaftler but has apparently different meanings in other contexts) or Übungsgrupperleiter, for example, and the usage of these words may even vary between different parts of the university and their usage among students/faculty/administration is not always consistent.

However, I think the most widely used term in English speaking countries is TA (teaching assistant).

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    Yes, but trying to convey the relatively subtle (edit: and university dependent) differences between Hiwis, Tutors, and "Studienassistenten" (we had those as well in Austria) when translating to a different language and different academic system is a lesson in futility, so there is no reason to go there. – xLeitix Jan 24 '16 at 10:29
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    While it's true there are different words, Hilfskraft and HiWi are rather more generic than Tutor - Hilfskraft and HiWi often refer to any (normally Bachelor/Master) students with a working contract for the university, whereas Tutor indicates a specific type of job they are performing. – O. R. Mapper Jan 24 '16 at 10:53
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    I downvoted because the first part of your answer is just wrong: "Tutor" and "HiWi" aren't related: There are non-"Tutor" "HiWis" as well as non-"HiWi" "Tutors". – Daniel Jour Jan 24 '16 at 18:32
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    @danieljour No, the part is not wrong. Neither Tutor nor HiWi is an official term at the universities I have been. The official term that is used is only "studentische Hilfskraft". But anyway, that was not what the question is about. – Dirk Jan 24 '16 at 19:52
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    Just to clarify. Is TA used outside the United Stated? It certainly isn't common in Australia (see below. What's the status of UK and Canada? If not, then it's probably better to say that it is widely used in United States? – Jeromy Anglim Jan 25 '16 at 3:20

What English expression should be used for this type of work? Is teaching assistant suitable?

Yes, this is pretty much exactly what it is. If you want to be particularly exact, you can write "Undergrad teaching assistant".

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  • I am not sure where you take the "undergrad" part from. I have witnessed classes who used students for "Übungen" (classes for discussing worksheet solutions) also in higher semesters. But as there is no direct equivalent, maybe "undergrad teaching assistant" is still the closest match. – O. R. Mapper Jan 24 '16 at 10:54
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    @O.R.Mapper Sure - I meant undergrad in the sense that the OP was still an undergrad (as opposed to a PhD student, as many TAs in the US seem to be, but much less so in Europe). Anyway, when translating between academic systems some fuzziness will be impossible to avoid, so it may be best to just write "Tutor (similar to TA)" or something like that. – xLeitix Jan 24 '16 at 11:04
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    Ah, in that case, it might be misleading in that such TAs in Europe can very well be Master students (and hence, by the American definition, probably "graduate students"), but that just confirms your statement about fuzziness. – O. R. Mapper Jan 24 '16 at 11:23
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    @O.R.Mapper Equating German and US master programmes is by itself a fuzzy analogy :) personally I consider Master programmes in Germany part of the undergrad education, simply because they are much closer in nature to a regular college education than to graduate studies (and also partly because the vast majority of students studies 'til Master). – xLeitix Jan 24 '16 at 13:47
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    Another problem with undegraduate teaching assistant may be that it is not clear whether undergraduate refers to the one who is teaching or the ones who are taught, i.e., some may miss that it’s not undergraduate-teaching assistant. – Wrzlprmft Jan 24 '16 at 13:51

It seems that tutor is a term that varies in meaning between English speaking countries. Teaching assistant is clearly a common term in the United States, however, it is rarely used in Australia.

In Australia, the word "tutor" can be used in a similar sense to what you describe in Germany. I.e., many larger university subjects are divided into lectures and tutorials. Typically the lectures are taken by a PhD qualified academic and presented once for all students. Tutorials are typically more interactive taking place in a classroom (e.g., having 5 to 30 students or so). Tutorials are commonly delivered by students doing their PhD and these students typically mark the assignments of those in their tutorial, and such students are commonly called tutors.

In Australia, the context is used to guide the meaning of the word "tutor". At the secondary level, private tutoring would probably be implied, but in the university setting, probably the classroom setting would be the default assumption. You might say that you are "doing some private tutoring" or "one-on-one tutoring" if you meant to distinguish tutoring outside the classroom.

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  • Surprisingly, your description almost exactly matches the situation in Germany. The only slight difference (that is probably also referred to by the OP) is that in Germany, tutorials (especially for classes in lower semesters) are often delivered by students doing their Master's or even their Bachelor's (often as little as one year ahead of the students they are tutoring). – O. R. Mapper Jan 25 '16 at 14:48
  • It's probably pretty much the same in Australia, I should update the language. You get quite a few masters and other students teaching bachelor-level units in Australia. In some departments there is a rule that the tutor must be studying for, or have, a higher level qualification than the unit that they are teaching. So for example, it would be unusual in Australia for a third year bachelor student to be tutoring a first year bachelor's unit. – Jeromy Anglim Jan 27 '16 at 0:33

An English term for someone who only corrects the exercise sheets of students in a class taught by someone else is grader.

An English term for someone who teaches a "satellite" class and grades papers from that, or the main class taught by someone else, is teaching assistant.

A "tutor" is someone who goes "one on one" with students. In this regard, the (American) English term is different from the German term.

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As mentioned by others 'Teaching Assistant' is probably the most accurate job description. The course itself would be known as a 'Recitation Course' or 'Recitation Section' in American English.

On my own CV, I have Übungsleiter (exercise leader) while I was in Germany, and 'Recitation Instructor' for my very similar American position.

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    Nitpick, if you want to get it right down to details: Übungsleiter might be misleading even within Germany; especially in setups where one person (usually a postdoc or PhD candidate) manages the exercises and designs the worksheets (who could thus be called "Übungsleiter"), whereas the recitation sessions ("Übungen") and the grading would be done by other people (who are then called "Tutor"). In this setup, the "Übungsleiter" is superior to "Tutoren", but does not necessarily act as a "Tutor" him- or herself. – O. R. Mapper Jan 25 '16 at 23:29

You could say teaching assistant. But teaching assistants can do lots of different things. If the person leads a weekly 90 minute work session connected to a lecture course taught by a professor then I would say more specifically "work session leader"; or "section leader" if there are several such sections connected to the same larger course. If the 90 minute sessions are a course by themselves then the person teaching them is a teacher.

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As a person who has worked in a professional on-campus tutoring environment with many professionally trained and CRLA Certified (levels 1 through 3) tutors, I must object to the loose definitions of tutor being used for American (and Canadian) tutors. I cannot however speak to the definition/role of a tutor in other anglophone countries.

First, a tutor is not a teacher/instructor at all. In fact one of the key guidelines of tutoring is to avoid presenting material that the student has not seen before. The role of tutor is to help the student to help themselves become better students, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the need for a tutor. Tutors respond to learner questions and needs, offering strategies and helping the student to find the answers for themselves.

Second, a tutor is not a mentor or coach. These roles are far more involved that tutoring and often go beyond the academic arena.

Third, a tutor can work one-on-one but they also can work with small groups of students. Some tutors also lead groups in what is called "Supplemental Instruction" (what you might call "satellite classes") but even CRLA acknowledges that SI is not tutoring.

There are many other aspects of being a good tutor but these 3 points are sufficient I think to help correctly define what a properly trained tutor does.

As for the use of "Teaching Assistant" per the original Question, I think that is fine for the college/university environment. However, be aware that the term became somewhat corrupted when it was borrowed by some of our basic education (elementary, middle and high schools) institutions. The role of a "TA" in those schools is more accurately called an "Instructional Aide" (IA) which is also known as a "paraprofessional" and the role often involves much more interaction with the children as well as assisting the teacher. Some IA's are even assigned to work one-on-one with children having special needs.

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The word Tutor was borrowed from German into English and is just as valid when used in English as when used in German. It means exactly the same thing in both languages.

The reason it does is because prior to adding tutor as a new word to the English language, there existed no English word that carried a definition that closely met the specific nature of the German definition of tutor and since the word was easy to pronounce it was readily adopted into English. In fact, the word tutor is a classic example of the dynamic beauty of the English language as an uncapped, ever expanding language.

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    "It means exactly the same thing in both languages": I disagree. At least in US English, as used within academia, "tutor" is used to refer to a person who teaches students individually. It would not be used for a person who teaches students in a classroom setting, as in the OP's question. Note that in general, the linguistic origins of a word are not necessarily an accurate indication of how it is used in practice, and how it is likely to be understood by readers. – Nate Eldredge Jan 24 '16 at 17:26
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    To illustrate @Nate Eldredge’s comment: If your argument were true, the American word entrée would mean appetiser. – Wrzlprmft Jan 24 '16 at 17:31
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    And by ordering a latte at the cafeteria, you'd get a glass of milk... – Massimo Ortolano Jan 24 '16 at 17:33
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    But we're talking about English, where "tutor" very much can and does refer to, for example, "A university or college teacher responsible for the teaching and supervision of assigned students", and would be used for a person who teaches students in a classroom setting. That it may have other meanings as well doesn't invalidate the claim in the first paragraph, and this piling on is just absurd. – Michael Homer Jan 25 '16 at 0:44
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    @MichaelHomer: That it may have other meanings as well doesn't invalidate the claim in the first paragraph – Yes it invalidates the statement that those both words mean “exactly the same thing”. Also, the other meanings are extremely relevant to the question: If I write on my CV that I worked as a tutor (English), this could mean that I was payed for individual coaching, private tutoring or similar. If I write that I worked as a Tutor (German), it cannot mean this. – Wrzlprmft Jan 25 '16 at 10:29

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