September 30, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Students working in a second language

Video >>
Ting Lu, Student, School of Law: “I think language is the most important thing. No matter to your school mates, to your professors or to people who are around you in your daily life I think communicating is the most important thing so if they want to study in this English speaking country, they have to speak English well and write English well.”

Nicola Pitchford, School of Pharmacy: “I think that being exposed to English at the rate and fluidity that home students will speak it is a really, really good thing for international students because even though the IELTS qualifications coming to our school are high, spoken language and listening is actually quite a major challenge.

“In psychology, like a lot of other disciplines, you’re learning a lot of new terminology, a lot of new names many of which are unfamiliar sort of, you know, overseas names and those, that sort of new vocabulary poses problems to home students, it’s going to have additional problems for international students that might not be as fluid as home students with language.”

Mike Clifford, Faculty of Engineering: “I had a UK student who was doing a Spanish module and he had to do a little essay in Spanish and give a presentation and that was, you know, a ten credit module. And then I looked back at what I was setting my students in English and that was maybe two credits’ worth of work, and then I had to think, well, actually, you know, if English wasn’t your first language, that was equivalent to that ten, to that ten credit module of my student, you know, doing the presentation in Spanish. So it might be five times as difficult in some modules, particularly the ones that involve a lot of written work, lot of discussion, lot of presentation.”

Samer Alkassar, Student, NUBS: “There are different levels of reading, different skills involved in reading and writing as well. The more you read, the more you get better, you know become a better writer so reading is a very very essential thing because the first thing you will be experiencing here once you start your course, whether it’s a Masters or a refresher course in like a Masters or a PhD, is the amount of reading that you have to do so there is a lot of reading you have to do there. It’s not frustrating the amount of reading, not at all, people here in the University want to make sure that you learn.”

Rebecca Moor, Legal Skills Advisor: “Many students come to me, regardless of where they’re from and say ‘I can’t get through the reading’, ‘I can’t take notes’, but here, these students have the added burden of dealing with a foreign language, or a language that they’re not as comfortable with, and so, essentially, the advice I gave to undergraduates this year was the kind of, sort of study skills advice that I would give to any student.

“So first I try to reassure them that there’s nothing wrong with them, that, yes, it’s slow going but it’s slow going for everybody. And then I guess there are all sorts of tips that you can give students.

“For example, teaching them how to skim, and I don’t mean to say that I teach them not to read carefully because of course, part of being a law student and part of being a lawyer is carefully reading and acquiring precision in your reading and your writing, but knowing how to read intelligently. So asking yourself for example, before you read a case, ‘What do I already know about this case?’ Students tend to dive into a case, for example, and see lots of precedent and lots of very complex legal words and they instantly get overwhelmed, and they don’t stop and think, ‘Okay, I don’t have to start from scratch, I actually know something about the legal principle that’s involved here’ or ‘I know something about the subject’, ‘hey, we talked about this in my lecture, my tutorial’. And then reminding yourself that you actually know something can sort of calm you down and give you the confidence to read through, and to look for key words. So you don’t have to teach yourself every single sentence.”

Chris Ennew, NUBS: “I think it’s about recognising that somebody who is working in a second language will necessarily take longer to do certain things, or to think about certain things or to craft how to respond to questions. And so, there is an issue of thinking about the way in which we interact with students that allows for the challenges of working in a second language.

“One of the big benefits, I think of, say, some of the kind of blended learning models and the use of discussion fora is it’s so much easier for people to ask questions. Because they’re not constrained by trying to get things out in a pressured environment. If English is a second language, you can take time to construct your sentences and you get the answer written down and so I think there’s lots of things that we can do that can enhance our interactions with the student body, and you know, they’re not all responses to the particular needs of international students. I suspect they’re of benefit to all students.”

Samer Alkassar
Nottingham University Business School
Mike Clifford
Department of Mechanical, Materials & Manufacturing Engineering
Chris Ennew
Nottingham University Business School
Ting Lu
School of Law
Rebecca Moor
School of Law
Nicola Pitchford
School of Psychology

Extracts from interviews with staff and students about experiences of internationalisation. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Learning from internationalisation collection. Produced November 2009.

Posted in InternationalisationStudents' academic development