Studying abroad is fantastic no matter what you study – or even where you go – and studying abroad in a language which isn’t your mother tongue can be even better. For all its trials and tribulations, it’s a worthy challenge and a sure-fire way to boost employability.
If you really want to experience a new culture, understand the people and be a real part of your host country, you’re going to want to speak the language.
Whether you’re studying in a dialogue you’ve only recently picked up or one you’ve known for years, there are a few universal struggles you may come across when putting that knowledge into practice within a university setting. The Conversation has highlighted three…
1. Not participating in seminars
The problem: You’re anxious about making a fool of yourself by mispronouncing something or not knowing the words to describe what you’re trying to say…so you just keep quiet.
Faculty are likely to interpret this as a lack of enthusiasm and commitment to the task, whether that be a tutorial, seminar, group work or presentation.
The Conversation even reported that international students can become so concerned with their language skills that they even see themselves as inferior to their peers.
The solution: No matter how intimidating it may feel, speak up during seminars. We bet you’ve done the work and have something to contribute so don’t let your language worries stand in your way.
No one is there to poke fun at you, they’re also there to learn and they just might learn something from you if you dared to enter into the chat every once in a while.
2. Poor relationships with those around you
The problem: Relationships can be particularly tough when dealing with faculty, whom you don’t see in social situations in the same way you see your peers.
Simple things like not understanding the expected formalities or informalities when talking to those around you can be really problematic. You can be misunderstood or even considered to be rude.
The Conversation reported that the majority of students are not taught how to cope with the intricate power dynamics and structures higher education presents.
And, as language is a “key inhibitor” to forming relationships in Western culture, while building relationships and connecting with those around us is key to our wellbeing, not to mention an integral part of human nature, it’s crucial that students know how to connect with their peers and faculty.
The solution: Quite simply, ask. We know, we know, it means speaking to people again but if you want to get better at something (like speaking a language) practice is a pretty good way to go about it.
Ask your professor directly how they would prefer to be addressed. Stay in contact, pick up on the way they speak to you and try and replicate this level of formality or informality. You could also ask your friends, especially if they are domestic students, how it’s customary to interact with faculty in your host country.
By keeping in regular contact with your professor, you should lessen any anxieties you may feel and build a natural working relationship with them.
3. Missed diagnoses of learning difficulties
The problem: Particularly in written work, students who may be struggling with learning difficulties such as dyslexia go undiagnosed if they are writing in a language which is foreign to them.
Faculty instead interpret mistakes in spelling, punctuation or grammar as students not speaking the language sufficiently rather than identifying underlying learning difficulties that require specialist help.
The solution: If you feel there’s even the most remote possibility of you having a learning difficulty you should reach out to the university. Whether this be an academic service the university provides or to a trusted professor, there will be someone on-hand who can help you get tested.
If you’re diagnosed with a learning difficulty, special help will be put in place to help you which might just make all the difference to your education.
So, be brave, put yourself out there and don’t doubt yourself. We are human, we make mistakes and if you’re studying in the language, we bet you have a much better grasp of it than you tell yourself in your head.