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Break the walls down: Identifying and overcoming language barriers

Trinity College Foundation Studies

Wed Jul 22 2015


AMONG the many obstacles that overseas students find difficult to overcome when they arrive in a new country to study is the language barrier. Trinity College Foundation Studies students Kezia Angelica, Yang Xiao and Rachel Heng speak to staff and students about the barrier and offer solutions on breaking it down.

When overseas students first arrive in Melbourne, they are usually uncertain of some of the difficulties they might face. However, one of the issues they are aware of is the language barrier which for nearly all students can often be the only obstacle getting in the way of their life as a student.

Speaking to several students from Trinity College Foundation Studies, we look at the various problems international students encounter as a result of the language barrier.

Talking to strangers


Most students we spoke to say that talking to strangers was the hardest thing to do.

This doesn’t have to mean striking up a conversation with someone in your tram on the way to school. One student highlighted an example that it could be as simple as asking directions from a passerby on the street. The student might misunderstand the directions and end up at a wrong destination.

Socialising and making friends


Making friends is a crucial thing, especially for overseas students, as most overseas students don’t have any family here.

Of the 27 students we spoke to, 43 per cent claimed they have a best friend they had met during their study in Australia who does not share a common first language.

Although international students are capable of making friends, certain information that they want to communicate might become lost given the parties’ varying proficiency in the English language. It could be a challenge to talk to this friend about a problem in depth given the language barrier.

One Indonesian student preferred the company of other Indonesians because they could converse and understand each other in the same mother tongue.

“When talking in English, I can’t express as much as I can when I speak in Indonesian, that is why I prefer to go out with Indonesians more,” the student said.

Class participation

Another very real example of students struggling with language barriers is in class.

Many students might feel embarrassed to speak up if they provide a wrong answer or are unable to coherently articulate their thoughts.

Solutions to overcome the language barrier

Photo: Wan Shing Lang

Photo: Wan Shing Lang

Although the vast majority of students surveyed say that they’ve studied English for more than five years, the difficulties in communicating still persist.

Despite these problems, there are simple solutions to overcome it. Trinity College staff members recommend students get involved with extra curricular activities outside of class time such as the joining the college’s movie club, attending cooking classes or even participating in sporting activities to help improve their command of the English language.

The majority of students agreed and added that the most effective way to overcome the language barrier was to muster up the courage to simply speak to people in English.

While there are English support classes in the college, survey participants felt these weren’t quite as effective as joining clubs and getting to experience speaking in a real life situation.

Some suggested being more open to consuming all facets of English-speaking media, such as TV shows, films, music and books. All play a part in improving one’s English and therefore, aiding in overcoming the language barrier.

What do you struggle with when it comes to your grasp of the English language? Do you often feel embarrassed speaking in English with other people? What solutions do you have for other students to overcome the language barrier? Let us know in the comments below.

This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via