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How international students in the UK can overcome language barriers

You've just visited a non-native-speaking country for the first time and suddenly realised your battery is flat. "What a shame!" You exclaim in utter disappointment. Unfortunately, Google translate had gone quiet on you when you needed it the most. Desperate times, indeed! Honestly, it is no fault of Google Translate but your failure to charge the device while on the plane or train. That's an imaginary prelude which many can relate to, especially during adventurous trips, summer expeditions, or educational pursuits. There is a subtle nervousness that sends shivers through your body when you suddenly realise a communication barrier with staff at the airport lobby or stewards by the train platforms. This condition is known as xenoglossophobia, which results in some degree of apprehension when using a second or foreign language. Remember, at this stage, Google Translate is not on hand to aid your communication.

For non-native English speakers visiting the United Kingdom for educational reasons, there could be some degree of uncertainty and discomfort when communicating to native speakers at the early stages of their arrival. It is a more significant challenge for non-native-speaking international students than tourists. There is an expectation of more advanced use of English verbally in lecture and study groups for international students. Their written proficiency is used when working on term papers, essays, and end-of-semester exams.

Data from Universities UK revealed the top 10 countries where international students hail from China, India, United States, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Italy, France, Germany, Nigeria, and Greece. Let’s look into some helpful tips for non-native-speaking international students in the UK.

Tips for international students in overcoming language barriers in the UK

Listening, reading, writing, and speaking in English can be pretty challenging for some non-native international students. It is a hurdle that can certainly be overcome. Here are some simple adjustments or tips that will be helpful to international students.

  1. Join a movie Meetup group: There are Meetup groups for book swaps, acting, 3D modeling, futures trading, and a range of interests. It could be beneficial to join a cinema or movie group, where you can meet up with members to see a movie and discuss your experience with the plot, script, or characters in a social setting. Joining a Meetup group will increase your listening, conceptualisation, and verbal communication. Since there is a fun and social element to this advice, you could notice subtle and significant improvements.
  2. Become a university volunteer or student mentor: Some universities have volunteering opportunities and partnerships to benefit non-native-speaking students. For example, LSE has volunteering opportunities for students during their time at the university. Their volunteering centre assists students in finding suitable placements at a charity or not-for-profit organisation. These volunteering services can range from a few hours, a couple of days, or several weeks depending on the student’s capacity and availability.
  3. Register with a sports club at your university: Most UK universities have designated teams for sporting activities such as rugby, football, basketball, cricket, rowing, and a host of others. Student union bodies in universities like UCL (University College London) also create an opportunity for students to start a sports team or group of their own. Can you find your favourite sports among the available teams? No? Maybe, it is time to create one and use the opportunity to build a community, foster friendship, and enhance your spoken English competency.

These are some tips to help you improve your English language proficiency. Technology applications such as language apps and game-based learning are also helpful. Notwithstanding, finding the right balance between communication in a physical setting and the technology ecosystem is essential. Here is wishing you the very best in overcoming the language barriers as a non-native international student in the UK.

Londonist DMC


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