Improving English language support for Chinese students studying abroad: A journey of empowerment


Although Chinese students studying abroad may arrive at their host institution expecting to be able to communicate in English proficiently, the reality is often one of frustration with students struggling to understand lectures, participate in tutorial discussions and even make friends. These students may also see little improvement in their English language abilities because a) institutional English language support services mainly focus on academic English rather than everyday English communication skills, and b) they mainly socialise with their Chinese counterparts as they fear making mistakes in front of native English speakers, therefore constraining their speaking opportunities.

This poster explores Chinese students’ perceptions about communicating in English while studying abroad. In particular, it presents students’ own beliefs regarding their English language use, drawing on these to offer some policy and support takeaways for governments, universities, lecturers and ESL teachers to better empower these students.

Take-home message:

International students have contributed significantly to the internationalisation and funding of universities worldwide. However, as English is often their second language, they require ongoing language support to participate fully in their chosen program and ultimately to be successful. These requirements need to be better acknowledged and supported by governments, universities, lecturers and ESL teachers through a comprehensive review of English language policies and support programs that focuses on student experience and the student voice.

If done correctly, future generations of international students will be better empowered to achieve their academic goals and future career success. Listening to the voices of international students will not only stimulate collaborative solutions to their English language issues among all stakeholders, but further improve the teaching reputation of universities operating in a global world.

Key interest area: English language (ELT) 
Other key interest areas: Higher Education (HE), Mobility and learning abroad (MOB), Pathways (PATH)

Miss Karen Pruis

Librarian - Client Services Officer

Federation University Australia

Karen Pruis is a PhD student as well as a librarian. Her research aim is to explore the lived experiences of mainland Chinese students communicating in English while they study abroad. More broadly, her research is concerned with the internationalisation of education and the importance of the student voice for higher education policy and support services. Karen is particularly interested in how universities can develop English language policies and support programs for international students. Her work as a librarian gives her the opportunity to work with international students for whom English is a second language. She enjoys empowering them with the skills to locate information resources for their studies. She says watching them grow in confidence and achieve their academic dreams is a privilege.