Language Barriers

Embarking on an international journey sounds great, but throwing in the mix attending a foreign university, language barriers and cultural exchanges brings on a whole new experience. Attending university has opened my eyes to the amount of international students pushing on through their education, despite numerous challenges, which luckily enough I do not have to face.

As we carry on with our usual study we don’t tend to think about the challenges that international students encounter. As for many Australians, English is our first language, which we are well and truly proficient in. In some cases language creates a barrier often preventing international students from verbal communication. Throughout my time at university I have come across several international students who understand English to a degree, but not to the extent that we locals do. Despite Australians knowing and speaking English, we have adapted the language to various accents, incorporating slang and colloquialism. This may present challenges to international students understanding Australian abbreviations and terminology that we have adopted as a culture. Kell and Vogl (2006, p. 7) elaborate on this, stating that “international students prior to coming to Australia have spent many years learning to speak English and thus enter the country. Lack of intercultural encounters due to: unaware of the extent to which local accents, fast speech and Australian colloquialisms are going to reduce their ability to speak and understand English in Australia” (Scheyvens et al., 2003).

Lack of understanding can potentially lead to anxiety about conversing and building bonds with students, an unfortunate challenge international students can possibly face. Language, in particular Australian twists on words, plays a large impact in students being able to assimilate with locals and adaption to culture. Australian culture as a whole is diverse and the vast amount of difference can cause limitations to international students assimilating and bonding. Kell and Vogl’s studies deduced that international students “really wanted the experience of speaking conversational English and getting to know what they saw as Anglo-Australians” (2006, p. 5).

The lack of communication due to verbal boundaries raises the concern that international students may not be having the best possible experience studying abroad. It is unfortunate that this occurs, but each students experience abroad is what they make of it. International students throwing themselves in the deep end by absorbing themselves into Australian culture, whether it may be through watching Australian television shows or attending social events allows connections to be formed. Reaching out to Australian culture, as well as representing their own facilitates the notion of hybridity. As Marginson mentions, hybridity is not “displacing or giving up elements of prior identity”(2012, p. 8), but rather embracing both elements of culture. Taking on board the idea of hybridity enables international students to overcome issues within Australian culture all whilst holding on to their own.

Unfortunately there are challenges for international students involving language barriers. I credit those who tackle the challenges, take on a hybrid approach and persevere to merge into Australian culture, as well as domestic students who warmly welcome students from abroad.

Kell, P and Vogl, G (2007) ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’,  Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006.

Marginson, S (2012) ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012, available online at


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