HANH PHO -

€˜AM I GONNA UNDERSTAND ANYBODY?!€™: INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND LANGUAGE DIFFICULTIES IN A MULTI-CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT : INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

Globalisation has renovated the way we study, in so far that the pursuit of knowledge has now exceeded beyond a geographical boundary of a country. It is increasingly popular for students to study abroad. English-speaking countries, such as the USA, the UK and Australia, are the top destination choices (Gil, 2014), and one of the most important requirements for successful academic sojourns at these countries is the student’ English skill. However, language barriers are usually reported as the biggest obstacle in overseas study, especially in the early stage of the sojourn. It is, therefore, important to explore language difficulties that students have when study abroad, which could help inform the future development of English teaching and learning. This paper, as part of a doctorate study conducted from 2017 to 2019, focuses on examining language issues that international students encounter in the first few months when they study abroad. Research setting was at a university in northern England, which has a rigorous agenda to develop internationalisation in higher education. The UK is also the country with the second largest population of student sojourners, after the USA (Gil, 2014). Participants were international students enrolling for the one-year taught master’s degree in Business and Applied Linguistics. These were among the two schools having the largest number of student sojourners in the researched university. All participants satisfied English language requirement for master's programmes (IELTS scored 6.5 and above). To study the dynamic experience of the students, mixed methods design was applied, using quantitative questionnaires (N=156) and semi-structured interviews (N=22). Findings showed that in the first few weeks of arrival, the majority of the students experienced language difficulties in both their social lives and their study. Many of them reported of difficulties in adapting to the local ‘English’ and the local accent. Because of unfamiliar accents of international lecturers, some students struggled to follow in class. Many students were also anxious about up-coming written assignments. Due to the lack of confidence in English communication skills, most students frequently maintained contact with people from home countries while avoiding contact with local students and people. Based on the findings, some recommendations on how to alleviate students’ language difficulties are provided. A strong emphasis on improving English communication skills and enhancing students’ confidence is thus highly suggested. Reference: Gil, N. (2014) International students in the UK: who are they really? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/oct/13/-sp-international-students-in-the-uk-who-are-they (Accessed: 30 August 2019).

Hanh Pho is a PhD candidate at School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, UK. Her research interests are culture, interculturality and identity; intercultural communication; cross-cultural transition, adjustment and adaptation; and internationalisation in higher education.