Language Difficulties of International Students in the USA

by Sophia Brakeman

Do you want to study in the USA but afraid your English isn't that good to study in the US universities? That's a very common feeling in international students. Don't worry; if you're able to read through this article, you shouldn't have trouble adapting and successfully engaging yourself in the academic process.

Nonetheless, American education isn't well prepared to sufficiently teach international students. We mean that the US universities are less optimized for teaching both the English language in international groups and the professional competencies that their respective degrees encompass. The proficiency and professional competencies of the students influence the learning process a lot.

We'll look at 3 main language-related problems that international students experience in USA universities:

1: The Adaptation Process for Foreign Students Is Non-Existent

The effectiveness of teaching foreign students in American universities, the quality of their professional training largely depend on the success of their adaptation to new environmental conditions both linguistically and in day-to-day routines.

The well-being of adaptation and, as a consequence, the success of the learning process of foreign students, undoubtedly, is influenced by such factors as the country (features of socio-cultural, political, economic life, the climate of the region, etc.), where the foreign student came from, properties of his character and personality; and the quality of the pedagogical system.

The first two factors are, in a sense, "a given." However, didactic adaptation directly depends on the pedagogical system's ability to consider foreign students' interests and needs flexibly. Therefore, ESL teachers and the administration of educational institutions should pay special attention to studying these needs and "build" educational processes according to them.

Factors to Consider

It is important to emphasize that knowledge and skill in practice, taking into account the personal needs of foreign students, contribute to reducing the time for successful adaptation of foreign students and directly affecting the effectiveness of their subsequent education. Simultaneously, there should be no ignorance regarding several extra-linguistic factors directly or indirectly related to the adaptation of foreign citizens to study and live in the USA.

This includes ethnic characteristics of students, their religious preferences, conflicts in the study group, friendly sympathies or antipathies, living conditions, etc. The ignorance almost always harms the organization, implementation of the educational process in general, and teaching ESL in particular.

Teachers must also take the psychological characteristics of each student into account, trying to recognize potential leaders, introverts and extroverts, etc., from the first lessons, using not only purely pedagogical (observation, conversations, etc.), but also special psychological methods (surveys, testing, questionnaires, etc.).

In Reality

Nothing of what we've described really happens. The foreign students are just thrown into the US educational system to adapt on their own. For many, this adaptation doesn't happen, and many either leave the university, employ college essay editing to the max, or scrape by with the lowest possible GPAs.

2: Not Enough of a Connection Between Professional Competencies and ESL

One of the leading motives for foreign students to study the English language is interest in the language and the prospect of using it in future professional activities. Such cognitive interest can only be stimulated by educational material, which maximally reflects the specifics of the profession being acquired.

The term "professionally-oriented learning" is used primarily to characterize the learning process in a particular vocational educational institution as a whole or within a separate academic discipline, where the tasks of preparing students for the successful implementation of real professional activities (or any of its components) are purposefully implemented.

Wrong Interpretation of the Term

However, more and more often, the term "professionally-oriented learning" is used to characterize the process of teaching ESL, focused on the study of professional vocabulary and terminology, for work (reading, translation, etc.) with literature specifically, for communication in the field of professional activity.

It is the professional orientation of the ESL teaching content that provides students, future specialists, the opportunity to use the language as a means of professional (and not just everyday) communication, as a means of obtaining information necessary, useful, and significant both for obtaining a chosen profession and, possibly, for further scientific and professional growth. Therefore, the process of teaching English as a foreign language should be professionally oriented.

The Core of the Professional Learning Issue

The issue of the professional orientation of the training content is closely related, in particular, to the implementation of complementary subject connections, which is one of the main conditions for the effectiveness of the educational process, the formation and development of the cognitive and professional interests of students.

Considering that foreign students studying in different areas and specialties of training in many universities are often united in one study group for ESL classes. One of the real ways to solve the problem is to organize a professionally oriented home reading.

No Continuity

It is important to maintain continuity in training. We mean the relationship and interdependence between the three main stages of language training for foreign students: initial (preparatory department) - basic (1-2nd courses) - final (3-4th courses).

First, solid foundations of lexical competence must be laid already at the initial stage of training (preparatory department) since the initial stage is a transitional one to mastering professional knowledge. Secondly, the value of linguistic knowledge and skills increases significantly in the 2nd year of study at a university, which is due to the tendency to switch to unprepared speech for expressing one's own thoughts.

However, this rarely happens in US universities (in those that offer ESL-focused learning). The educational process has no continuity, and the study of the language is logically not connected to the professional competencies of the student's degree. This makes the student learn most of the professional vocabulary independently, which significantly impedes their academic efforts.

3: Badly Implemented Competence-Based Approach for ESL Students

One way to intensify students' educational activity, to increase their level of motivation to study English as a foreign language, contributing to the development of activity and creativity, is the competence-based approach.

The competency-based approach is based on the development of competencies as a set of interrelated personality traits:

They're set concerning a certain range of objects and processes necessary for high-quality, productive activity concerning them.

In the professional training of future specialists from among foreign students, the ESL teacher at the university is primarily concerned with the formation and improvement of linguistic and communicative competencies as necessary and, in many respects, decisive conditions for foreigners to enter the linguistic culture. Linguistic competencies encompass the totality of knowledge and skills associated with the development of English phonetics, graphics, morphemics, grammar, etc., by foreign students.

Language Competence

Communicative competencies are understood as the ability to realize linguistic competence in various verbal communication conditions, considering social norms of behavior and the statement's communicative expediency. It is the formation of communicative competence that is the leading goal of teaching English as a foreign language.

At the same time, according to experts, the main key components in the composition of communicative competence are speech skills: the ability to speak, the ability to read with understanding, the ability to understand by ear, and the ability to write. In particular, a foreign student must introduce himself in English, write a letter, an inquiry, an application, ask and answer questions, lead a discussion, etc.

What's There to Amend

The ESL teacher is faced with ensuring that students use the English language for real - educational and professional – communication by including them in the classroom in real language communication, in the exchange of information, including modeling educational and professional situations for real communication. Every foreign student must have the opportunity to participate in the process of verbal communication.

The solid changes are needed because, as of now, only the most basic competencies are being covered. Yes, writing is covered, but not to the extent that would teach students about the differences of various written inquiries. The same goes for speaking and reading – so much is being missed, which leads to the separate skill being developed but not fully-fledged competencies.

Preparation Is Key

With the USA's current educational system, international students have to do incredible amounts of language preparation to be somewhat successful in college. Until something changes, international students are recommended to work extraneously with tutors to develop their competencies.


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