Changing country and adapting to a new culture is difficult for anyone. The only exception to this rule is when someone only temporarily changes location for an extended vacation. I have never heard of a person complaining about how comfortable the sand feels or how cold the cocktail was in Ibiza. But being an international student doesn’t compare to a vacation. It’s hard work and it is challenging due to the language barrier.
As an international student, you are going to be surrounded by other people who only speak English. Even if you have a basic understanding of the language, it can be difficult to hold a conversation without some delays. Sometimes you will find that words that you know just won’t come out right.
Besides needing English to speak to others, you are going to need to have a good understanding in order to succeed in school. You are going to need to be able to read and write in English, so that you can do your assignments and keep up with your classmates.
Furthermore, you may be required to be a part of a debate team, and this definitely requires a good understanding of the language, because you will want to the debate.
In this article we will address the communication difficulties that international students will encounter and how to overcome the hardships that emerge from being a foreigner who is learning or improving their English.
Lastly, we will give you some of the best tips that you can use in order to improve your English level.
How to approach change and why is it such a big deal?
Interacting with a new culture is never what you expect. In fact, one of the best strategies that you can use is to not have any expectations. Depending on your nationality, you could have different customs and you might experience what is called a “culture shock”.
You might think that your English level is pretty good, and still find yourself in the position of not understanding what the person you are talking to is saying.
A study published in Australia, revealed that international students have five large issues that affect their mental wellbeing.
The sense of loss appears from not being close to your home, your family, and your friends. Even in today’s age, when you can talk to anyone over the internet, at any time, and mostly for free, being many miles from the ones you love is difficult.
- Apparent lack of Social Support
Because you will probably not know anyone when you move to become an international student, you might feel like there is no social support. However, the truth is that there will be others like you, who will feel the same way and you will be able to reach out to them so that you will support each other. Also, teachers and students at international schools are more than welcoming and do their best to show it.
Cultural stress is very common because every nationality has particularities that are largely unknown to newcomers. The fact that you will have to fit in and that those around you can’t relate to your traits makes things even more complicated. It’s a two way street. You will need to find a way to fit in, but rest assured that the society will integrate you regardless of the differences.
Most of the participants to the study found it difficult to communicate in English at the same level they communicate in their native language. This issue could affect your emotional state because you will be inclined to think that people will laugh at you or think less of you because you can’t communicate properly. This isn’t true and you will need to work with yourself in order to understand that everyone at the school is fully aware that you are an international student and that English is not your first language.
Sometimes, international students coming from the UK have difficulties, even if they speak English as a native language.
For example most people would expect a phone call when the British says “I will call you at 5 pm”. However, they will be visited by that person. English is a funny language.
- Emotional and Physical state
Due to the large array of emotions that accompany the experience of being a new international student you might feel overwhelmed, lonely, and stressed. This can affect your physical state.
Tension migraines tend to be common, as well as tiredness and insomnia.
Many new international students said that everything felt overwhelming and it made them stay indoors more and sleep for long periods of time, without feeling rested. This might be a symptom of depression and if it happens to you, know that the school doctor is always available.
Do your best to get a lot of fresh air and force yourself to socialize. You would be surprised of how accepting people are.
What you can do to improve your English?
Learning is always a personal experience. Yes, it is important to have the support of your social group and of your teachers, but in the end, it all comes down to how dedicated you are and how much work you are willing to put in.
These are a few small steps that you can take, that will offer a great deal of help on your journey.
- Watch television and movies
Doesn’t this sound like fun advice? What could be better than lying on the couch and watching a movie? Well, learning English while enjoying some quality time, should qualify as multitasking.
By watching television and movies, you are not only listening to English (and translating it into your own language), you can also pick up on slang words and see how we truly communicate.
If your English level doesn’t allow you to at least partially understand what the characters are saying, use subtitles in your language. If you understand almost everything but miss a few words or phrases, set the subtitles to English. This will allow you to learn a few new words, how to use them properly and, most importantly, how to spell them correctly.
Most online providers, like Netflix, will allow you to change the language and the position of the subtitles.
You can even watch some documentaries about living and studying in America, so you kill two birds with one stone.
- Reading is another great way to learn more English
In fact, it is almost better than watching television because when you read, you can take your time. Unlike television and movies where, if you miss a meaning, you miss it, you can re-read any sections that you have difficulties with.
Reading won’t just help you improve your English. It will help you enrich your vocabulary and become familiar with the correct sentence structure.
Even if you are not 8 years old anymore, a diary can be a very useful tool, when you are trying to improve your English level. By writing down the happenings of your day, as well as any new words that you learned, or some things that you want to work on, you will be working on your English comprehension and grammar.
A diary has another great advantage. It is often used as a therapy tool aimed at helping people to express their emotions. Keep in mind that you are going to be flooded with a multitude of emotions, and you keeping a diary will help you a lot. Moreover, you can use it to help other students, after you overcome your difficulties.
Make sure that you get yourself a good dictionary that is fully updated. It would be even better, if you would get a learner’s dictionary. Not only will you have a good resource, it can also help you with translations of your native tongue.
You can find a lot of online dictionaries, and when you urgently need help, you can always have access to Google translate. It definitely isn’t a precise tool, but it does its job.
Instead of stressing about your mistakes, make sure that you are learning from them. English is a complicated language. You are going to make mistakes and that is OK. What is important is that you learn from your mistakes so that you don’t continue to make the same ones over and over again.
Nothing makes you learn English more than being surrounded by others who don’t speak your language. You are going to have to communicate with them using the exact language you are learning. It might be complicated at first, but then you will notice massive improvements.
If you go to a school filled with international students, you may be tempted to spend most of your time talking in your native tongue. However, that is not going to help your English. Make an effort and speak only in English for a while.
- Understand the differences between languages
Languages are different. In fact, some are extremely different. For example, the Turkish language uses gender and irregular verbs in a completely different way than we do. In such a different way that sometimes, there are no genders. While Chinese doesn’t have genders or plurals and singulars, not in the grammatical sense we know here.
Every language is melodic in its way, and the only way to adapt to its rhythm is through practice.
Teachers, who work at international schools, are aware of this fact. They know that some of their students have learned English only as a second or third language, and they know how to talk to them and what to ask of them.
In school, your teachers probably focused on how to say certain words and on grammar. In real life learning takes practice, listening, reading and talking to other people.
- Hire someone to talk to you
A small investment can go a long way. Look up Americans working on freelance sites and hire them to have conversations with you. Talk about simple stuff, and ask them to occasionally correct you. Talk about talking in English or about the last movie you saw. A few hours of conversation with a native, before you leave for the international school of your choice, will do wonders on your language skills.
Most freelancers who would do this tend to be students and won’t charge much. They can tell you about their experience in their schools and you can ask questions. You can learn a lot just by using this simple trick.
- Last, but definitely not least, choose the right school
If you truly want to succeed in an American school, you are going to need to choose the right one. They are not equal when it comes to international students. Some schools are just better equipped to handle students who are not native English speakers. This is because good international schools employ teachers who are dedicated to their craft and who focus on language difficulties and how to solve problems.
It can be really hard to master English, especially if you are moving to another country for school. Not only could you be dealing with homesickness, you may end up struggling with the language. You are going to need to be able to communicate with the other students, as well as read and write to finish your assignments so you must work at improving your English. By immersing yourself in the English culture, you can really get a handle on the way that we talk.
The best thing that you can do is to make sure that you choose the right school. Good teachers who are used to international students, and who are willing to learn from them, can really make a big difference!
Contact us for a school that works hard and is focused on inclusion, so that you can succeed as an international student. Start your international success story with true professionals who pride themselves with the success of their students.