Rina F. De Vries and Els Van Geyte discuss small changes that can help our international students in lectures.

More students than ever before are choosing to pursue an international education; for example, international students now form circa 20% of the student population at the University of Birmingham. This increasing presence of international students in the university classroom has implications for teaching and learning, posing both challenges and opportunities. International students have to adjust to a new cultural and academic context, and they will need to be assisted in this. Also, for many of these students, English is not their first language, but a second or third language in the native county, or was learnt as a foreign language at school.  Even if international students have met the English language entry required for university study in an English-speaking environment, this does not mean they will not experience any language difficulties. As Leask and Caroll (2013) state, many international students need additional support during their studies to achieve the competence in English needed for successful functioning in their discipline after graduation.

Inclusive teaching strategies aimed at communicating successfully across different cultural and language backgrounds can benefit the process of adjustment. According to Gide and Wu (2010), the first point to consider for teachers is to follow a student-centred approach, and gain awareness of students’ cultural backgrounds and the learning strategies they are accustomed to apply. It is important not to stereotype and, for instance, to assume that because a group of students is Chinese, they will be used to a ‘vertical learning style’, with the teacher acting as ‘sage on the stage’. However, it can be useful to recognise that students from Eastern cultures may need more encouragement and support to build the confidence to transition to a learning style where they actively ask questions and participate in discussions.

Focusing on language, Leask and Caroll (2013) stress that teachers need to monitor their English use to evaluate how understandable they are to international students by asking themselves questions such as: do I speak too quickly? Do I signal clearly when I am changing topics or moving to a new section in the lecture? Do I invite students to tell me if they don’t understand me? Arkoudis (nd) also outlines some practical strategies to enhance comprehension. Examples are providing information about lecture content in advance, or giving additional background information to help students grasp certain key concepts. Making lectures available online, so that students can prepare or revise later, can promote understanding and active learning; likewise, formulating a clear ‘take home message’ will reinforce the key points of the lecture. Another adaption that can be made to make teaching more inclusive is adapting the curriculum by adding an international focus or using international examples. This will also benefit home students, offering multi-cultural perspectives and promoting engagement with a culturally and linguistically diverse student body.

By applying some of these strategies, academic study will become more accessible to international students, leading to more and more effective learning.

Further Resources

Arkoudis, S. (nd). Teaching International Students: Strategies to Enhance Learning. University of Melbourne, Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Teaching International Students: Pedagogical Issues and Strategies.  Regents of the University of Michigan, Centre for Research on Learning and Teaching.

Equiip (2017). Strategies and Recommendations for the International Classroom  (Video) 

Gide, E. and Wu, M. (2010). Strategies to teach information technology courses to international students as future global professionals: An Australian case. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 2, Issue 2, 2010, 4793-4799

Leask, B. and J. Carroll (2013). A Quick Guide to Developing English Language Skills. Melbourne: IEAA.

Ryan, J. (2005). Improving teaching and learning practices for international students: implications for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. In J. Carroll & J. Ryan (Eds.), Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All. New York: Routledge.