Supposing that Dr. A is teaching an undergraduate-level course, what would be the pros and cons for Dr. A to allow students to address himself in an "informal" manner?

By "informal" here I mean using what is employed in a number of languages for informal conversation. For example, this would be tutoyer in French or tutear in Spanish. (Hence, the question does not apply for an English-speaking classroom, but does apply for a French or Spanish-speaking one).

EDIT (clarification, thanks j91): In Spanish, French, German and other languages, the second person singular has two versions: "Tú", "Tu" and "Du" are the informal versions in Spanish, French and German, respectively, and "Usted", "vous" and "Sie" are the formal ones in the same order. "Tutear" is the act of using systematicaly the informal version and, in theory, should be avoided when speaking to a person in a position of authority.

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    Do you mean something similar to addressing a person with given name rather than family name, or family name with titles like Prof., Dr. ... – user3644640 Jan 31 '17 at 12:35
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    The OP is referring, for example, to the distinction between "tu" and "vous" in French, or the distinction between "tú" and "usted" in Spanish. – mhwombat Jan 31 '17 at 12:58
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    I can only speak for French, but it also depends heavily in the context. In Canada, using "tu" when speaking to a professor can be considered correct in some contexts (especially since some professors will ask to be spoken to in an informal way), whereas in France that could considered a "faux pas". Usually when I teach I let students decide how they want to call me, but I always speak to them using "vousvoiement", thus remaining more formal. This eases up tensions and to be honest, it does not matter. As long as you remain the figure of authority... – BlaB Jan 31 '17 at 14:06
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    The answer depends heavily on culture. In some cultures (or subcultures of those) the "tu" would be normal/standard, in others it would be offensive. – skymningen Jan 31 '17 at 14:12
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    Note that the reverse question makes sense, too: which language-dependent level of formality should a teacher use to address their students? Is tu/tú/du ok, or should one use vous/usted/Sie? – Federico Poloni Jan 31 '17 at 14:14

The effects of the decision to invite your students to address you informally, and whether this is considered appropriate at all, are very culture-dependent. In general there are several trade-offs. How you balance them depends on your personal judgement. My experience is that of a German who has worked both in Germany and Austria.

Possible upsides of having the students address you in an informal manner (tutoyer/tutear/duzen) include:

  • Students may be less concerned about perhaps embarrassing themselves in front of the "authority figure"; they may be more inclined to participate in class discussions and ask ("stupid") questions.
  • Less perceived role conflict on your side, if you are a very junior lecturer and empathize more strongly with the student side than more senior staff.
  • A more relaxed and friendly atmosphere in general

Possible downsides:

  • Students may be more willing to negotiate about grades etc.; and less distance between you and the students can make it hard to say "no"
  • Politely ignoring each other can be harder if you encounter students in a different social setting
  • Explaining or even just giving a disappointing grade feels more personal and unpleasant when you have crossed the line between you (tu, Du) and "You" (vous, Sie).
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    I would add that your decision can impact on how students behave around other members of staff. – Jessica B Nov 22 '17 at 16:57

Your question is completely subjective and context dependent. It adresses the balance between formal and informal, which depends on culture, personality traits, position in the academic hierarchy, etc. It's like asking, which are the pros and cons of teaching in full business suit vs Hawaiian shirt?

Some students will feel more confident if the class environment is informal. Some won't. Some won't see the difference. You (assuming you are the Professor) may feel at ease being talked in an informal tone, or maybe not. If you are in a new country or university and need to figure out your way, attend some classes and check which is the standard. Nonetheless, whatever you chose, don't withdraw your authority as Professor.

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    The same is in Italian, tu is the informal version. I've never heard a student in classroom addressing a professor with tu, unless the student was already familiar with the professor for other reasons. I would not allow a generic student to use tu with me and I wouldn't use tu with a student who is not specifically an advisee of mine. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 31 '17 at 14:09

I have lived in Mexico, Denmark and France, and made many extended visits to Germany. I have lived in the midwestern part of the U.S., where I called all my professors "Professor Jones," and I have lived in the northeast of the U.S., where all the younger professors went by their first names. Currently, I see my spouse's students creatively combining "Dr." with my spouse's first name. That's what seems to make them comfortable.

Based on these experiences, I would say, mode of address doesn't really matter one way or another. Respect for the professor comes (or doesn't come) from more substantive things than mode of address.

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    I don't believe you've spent a lot of time in France, then. "Mode of address" is part of respectful discourse in French. In most situations it would be disrespectful for an (undergrad, since that's the context) student to say "tu" to a professor without being allowed to first. – user9646 Feb 1 '17 at 8:40
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    @NajibIdrissi - My instructor in France made it clear that she expected the formal mode of address. It was not negotiable. However, if she had done otherwise, I doubt the sky would have fallen. – aparente001 Feb 1 '17 at 14:56
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    The sky wouldn't have fallen, but it would still have been disrespectful. Imagine a student calling their instructor "buddy" in the US. Sure, it's not the end of the world, but it's not polite either. – user9646 Feb 1 '17 at 15:16
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    @NajibIdrissi I meant the opposite of what you appear to have understood. I meant: if my instructor had put things on an informal footing with me, the sky would not have fallen. I did not mean: if I (the student) had attempted to put things on an informal footing with my instructor, the sky would not have fallen. In fact, if I had, she would gently and firmly have corrected me. Please note, OP's question asks about the professor's point of view. – aparente001 Feb 1 '17 at 16:57

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