The Language and Cultural Barrier of Foreign College Students in the USA

free essayThe United States of America is one of the most developed countries in the world. The level of its development allows giving its citizens a proper education. That is why students from all over the world come there to study at a college. The point is that they face different problems not only with the curriculum, but also with finding friends, communicating with others because of a language problem and understanding the American habits. This is because in their country everything has been different.  The research paper will deal with two aspects of the misunderstanding issue: cultural and language barriers as well as difficulties that such problems may cause. The essay will be divided into several parts: a problem part that will include a short outline of the issue with the language and cultural barriers. This problem exists at colleges of the United States of America. A literature review part will contain a brief overview on the literature used and researches conducted on these topics. A hypotheses part will contain the explanation of the theory that can help foreign students to adopt better. A part of research methods will contain a brief outline of research methods existing in this area of studies and the explanation how these methods may be implemented in the research. A discussion part will contain a critical analysis of the theory. Besides, the research paper will contain a research proposal that will help international students to get adopted.

Students from all over the world come to the United States of America because of a high level of education that they cannot obtain in their motherland. Despite the thought that this country is a dreamland, and everybody can get there what he or she wants, a foreign student faces different problems:

  • Language problems;
  • Cultural differences;
  • Home sickness;
  • Financial problems;
  • Curriculum difference;
  • Social and psychological adjustments.

The paper will deal only with the first two problems as even if a foreign student knows English well, it does not mean that he or she will show good results in study. One should understand not only the language but also the way people think in this country. That means that a student should know culture of the United States of America quite well. He or she should know the habits of citizens, and the way they think. To my mind, the language and cultural problems are the most important to solve, because if a person cannot deal with them, he or she will always stay a foreigner in the country. The person will always have some problems not only with co-students, but also with co-workers for further. This research paper will contain a theoretical approach and a practical one, thus, foreign students may understand the importance of recommendations that will be given in the end of this essay. The point is that sometimes foreign students come to the United States of America without any knowledge of English and the demand from professors at college to speak their mother tongue. That is what the second aim of this paper is based on, i.e. to show foreign students that a professor should not speak their mother tongue, but that they should adjust to the professor.

There have been many researchers conducted on the issue of language and a cultural problem of foreign students at colleges of the United States of America. On the other hand, this research paper will contain an analysis of some of them, which are the most essential for this area of studies. These are such as the article by Ying Jin and Joanna King Overcoming the Language Barrier: The Literacy of Non-Native-English-Speaking Adults; the research paper by Sulap Khatiwada Barriers Faced by South Asian International Undergraduate Students Pursuing Higher Education in the USA. As well this is the research by Joseph J. Lenkart Information Literacy and International Students: Cultural Barriers and Language Preferences; the report prepared by Patricia Chow What International Students Think About U.S. Higher Education: Attitudes and Perceptions of Prospective Students in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America; and also the article by Helen D. Hazen and Heike C. Alberts Visitors or Immigrants? International Students in the United States.

The first to be analyzed is article by Ying Jin and Joanna King Overcoming the Language Barrier: The Literacy of Non-Native-English-Speaking Adults. It was written in 2009. Since that time, it has become a very essential study in the field of exploring the issue of language and cultural problems of foreign students at colleges of the United States of America. The authors of the research have used the data collected in 2003 to show the difference between literacy of non-native English speakers in comparison with the literacy of their native English speaking peers. This research contains the data collected by these two authors. The researchers have shown that there are different kinds of literacy, and that people that lack one kind will surely lack the other one. For example, the research has shown that Hispanic people that did not obtain any education and those that lack the computer literacy will miss the prose literacy as well. Besides, the study has shown that non-native English speakers have a poorer life than adults for which English is their mother tongue:

Nearly half of non-native-English-speaking adults were not computer literate. Over half reported having at least one computer in their household with Internet access; nearly 30 percent of the non-native-English speaking adults were out of the labor force. Among adults with lower literacy, fewer non-native-English speaking adults were out of the labor force than native-English-speaking adults; nearly half (49%) of non-native-English-speaking adults with low literacy were employed full-time, a higher percentage than their native-English-speaking peers with low literacy (37%). (Jin and King 9)

The research conducted by Ying Jin and Joanna King has shown that in the United States of America the person should speak English if he or she is willing to get a well paid job and to have a normal social life. On the other hand, the data for this research are of 2003; and, nowadays, the situation is different, so one should not believe this research fully.

The research paper by Sulap Khatiwada Barriers Faced by South Asian International Undergraduate Students Pursuing Higher Education in the USA was written in 2012. This means that the results presented in the paper are the fullest and up to date. The research contains the outline of problems that Asian students face when coming to the United States of America to study. The author states that the international students face not only language or cultural problems, but also social problems, the issues with a new type of studying. This is due to the fact that they are used to different systems of studying in their countries, and legal problems with obtaining the visa. The writer has divided all types of issues a foreign student may face into five kinds, which, in turn, are divided into five subtypes. Besides, the authors present the statistics of the amount of international students from Asian countries beginning from 2001. According to the studies, the main problems a foreign student faces are some financial and legal problems. Besides, the research shows that professors and friends are those that support foreign students the most, and international offices or ethnic communities are those from whom foreign students get the least support. The research conducted by Sulap Khatiwada is one of the fullest researches nowadays. It presents the collected data from different aspects, besides it contains a division of all problems into different categories and subcategories. It makes it easier understand the whole problem. However, the disadvantage of data is that there had been less than ten respondents. As a result, the research does not give a full practical overview. The study by Sulap Khatiwada Barriers Faced by South Asian International Undergraduate Students Pursuing Higher Education in the USA is very useful from a theoretical point of view; although it lacks some data.

The research article by Joseph J. Lenkart Information Literacy and International Students: Cultural Barriers and Language Preferences gives a brief overview on the issues of language preferences and some cultural barriers that the international students face, while coming to the United States of America to study at college. The author states that all the cultural problems foreign students face are because “of limited exposure” (Lenkart 2).

Lenkart suggests that libraries may help international students to adopt involving them into students’ organizations and different clubs. The author understands that these non-native students risked and changed their comfort zone to the unknown country with the unknown culture. Now, librarians’ and professors’ job is to encourage them. The author suggests that a language barrier will exist until these students do not have the access to the information in their mother tongue. In the research paper, the writer states that it is very difficult for an international student to read books or any other kind of information in the foreign language, especially in the first months. He gives several pieces of advice for college authorities how to ease a problem of language and a cultural barrier that international students may face: “Academic libraries, with an inclusive agenda, can develop some community based language resources that accurately reflect the needs of their international patrons” (Lenkart 4)

The research paper of Lenkart contains a practical approach to the problem of cultural and language barriers. This makes it useful for representatives of college authorities how to help these students overcoming the problems. On the other hand, the author’s suggestions may not be called as right. The author has not approved his research with the data collected. One cannot know whether this method will work or not in this situation. Speaking about language barriers is worth to mention that foreign students do not need to read books on the subject in their mother tongue. Later, in a class, a student will also begin to answer in his or her mother tongue. To my mind, the research conducted by Lenkart does not contain the discussion of this problem. It involves only suggestions how to solve that issue. On the other hand, this article may be useful for college authorities. Actually, the suggestions described there may be worth implementing in life. This work is worth reading as it contains many ideas that should be developed and implemented into life as a part of another research. This implies the data collected.

The report prepared by Patricia Chow What International Students Think about U.S. Higher Education: Attitudes and Perceptions of Prospective Students in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America was presented in 2011. The report is very essential for studying the cultural and language barriers. It outlines the main reasons why students all over the world come to the United States to study. Besides, this paper contains the newest data research being helpful in understanding the problem. According to the polls, about 75% of such students worldwide are willing to study in the United States of America; 76% of respondents have stated that this country is a country with the best choice of universities, high schools and colleges. Also, the study has shown that the United States of America is on the first place in the rating of the most desirable countries to study in (74.9 % of students are willing to study here; the second place was obtained by the United Kingdom with 8.4%).

The advantage of the research paper is that it contains the tables and graphs. This makes it easier to understand the situation. Besides, the author of the report has given a description for every region in the world: Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia with a full analysis of the region itself and the analysis of those countries from which there is the majority of students at colleges in America. This research may be very essential for those that do not have the opportunity to collect the data from all over the world.. The author has given a detailed statistics on each point and the explanations that also may be helpful. As a conclusion, Patricia Chow has outlined the main “push” and “anti push” factors that may influence on the decision of any student whether to study in the United States of America or not.

The article by Helen D. Hazen and Heike C. Alberts Visitors or Immigrants? International Students in the United States was written in 2005. It deals not only with the issue of barriers that students face, but also with the problems of their further life. The question what influences on their decision whether to leave for their home country or to stay in the United States of America is displayed here as well. The studies conducted by the authors of the research suggest that some students come to the United States of America with an aim of immigrating due to the level of some economic development and professional perspectives. Besides, the authors state that the decision whether to stay in the United States of America after graduating from college or university differs by nationality, gender, a field of studies and other. The essential part of these studies is a study done on some reasons of coming to the country. The authors suggest that the purposes are:

  • Original intentions;
  • Changing intentions;

Desire to stay in the United States of America:

  1. Advantages in the United States of America;
  2. Disadvantages of their home country.

The authors have shown in their research that the main reasons to come to the United States of America to study is due to a better education level and the higher possibilities to get a job in future. On the other hand, the main causes to return back home are social factors and personal ones. However, the study has shown that students are tending to change their minds from time to time during the period of studying at college or university, whether to stay or come back home. The point is that students that do not have any language problems will not hesitate and most likely will stay in the United States of America. In contrary, those who have either a language or cultural problem will return back home after graduating. The research paper written by Helen D. Hazen and Heike C. Alberts is very essential to understand the real intentions of any foreign student.

Hypothesis

Nowadays, almost every college or university in the United States of America has its own program to help foreign students get adopted and overcome language and cultural barriers. Scientists suggest that a person the best adopts when he or she lives in the family of native speakers. The international student will have the opportunity not only to learn the language better but also to get to know the culture of ordinary Americans, their habits and the way they are living. The most popular programs are summer programs, when a foreign student is invited to the family of his or her co-student to spend summer together. In the end of season, a foreign student does not seem to be a foreigner anymore. He or she speaks fluently English, uses slang words properly and is being used to the American way of life. Such programs have another advantage: those students that do not have money to spend vacations in their home country will be welcome in one of the American families.

This approach is explained in a social interactionist theory developed by Vygotsky. The scientist claims that a person learns any language much better in the environment where it exists and not only by means of exercises or texts. Vygotsky emphasizes the pragmatic level of language and not on its grammatical, lexical or phonetic levels. Besides, the author of this theory states that grammar should be studied in the very end.

Vygotsky compares this principle with principle concept of learning mother tongue. First of all, a child listens to parents; then he or she begins to speak the language. When being at school, the kid learns grammar rules. A scientist suggests that everything also depends on the environment, because the person should hear the language studied everywhere. That is why the existing programs when an American student welcomes his or her international co-student at home for summer is very effective in learning English.

On the other hand, such approach may have several disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that the language is unstable. It tends to change quickly. It will be difficult for a foreign student to catch up with all the tendencies that exist in the modern American English. The other disadvantage that is worth mentioning is that there are different dialects of any language. Sometimes it will be difficult for the foreign student to understand anything. Also, the student will have only the basic knowledge that may cause some problems with understanding his or her opponent at higher levels of conversation (for example, the person will not know some scientific terms or will not be able to confirm his or her point of view). The benefit of this theory is that it is based not on the grammatical use of a particular form or construction but rather on the capability of a speaker (in this case, a speaker is a foreign student) to have the conversation, to express his or her points of view without even thinking about a grammatical basis using a sentence or word combination. The main idea of this theory is to speak. Meanwhile, the conversation with a native speaker will have the opportunity to master his or her pronunciation and gain a better feeling of language. Such conversations will help students to gain self-confidence. They will not be afraid to speak to others and to make a mistake.

This theory seems to be perfect for encouraging international students for learning English and helping them to overcome both the language and culture barriers. However, different scientists, including Noam Chomsky, have criticized a social interactionist theory. They have stated that the language is the inborn capability. One cannot learn the foreign language without knowing its grammatical structures and rules. The scientist states that the person has a decoder in his or her brains that allows understanding the mother tongue. However, it is not programmed to understand a foreign tongue. Only with the means of learning grammar rules one may program the decoder to understand other tongues. On the other hand, one sees that the theory of Vygotsky works. Many people learn the foreign language simultaneously while learning culture and habits of those that live in the country and speak that language.

Methods of Analysis

There are different methods of analyzing the information. They all are divided into different types. This research is aimed at showing how foreign students overcome such problems. In the end, according to the results received, it will be clear what recommendations students should follow not to have any cultural and language barriers. The research methods are the following ones:

  • A quantitative method;
  • A qualitative method;
  • Interviewing:
  1. Face-to-face interviews;
  2. Telephone interviews;
  3. Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI);
  • Questionnaires:
  1. Paper-pencil questionnaires;
  2. Web based questionnaires.

In the research conducted, such methods as questionnaires (both the paper-pencil and web based questionnaires) and the method of a quantitative research to collect and calculate the data have been used. At college, where the research was conducted, there are 50 foreign students from all over the world, i.e. fifteen students from Japan, ten ones from China, five from Brazil, ten from India and ten from the United Kingdom. All students were proposed to answer the questions from two questionnaires: one regarding a language problem and another regarding a cultural issue. Students from the United Kingdom did not answer the first questionnaire, because they did not have any language problem.

The first questionnaire contained the following questions:

  1. Where did you come from?

a. Asia c. Europe

b. Latin America d. Africa

  1. Gender

a. Male b. Female

  1. How long have you been living in the United States of America?

a. Less than a year c. 1-5 years

b. 6-10 years d. more than 10 years

  1. How long have you been studying English?

a. Up to one year c. more than a year

b. 2-7 years d. more than 7 years

  1. Do you have friends at college? Are they from your home country?

a. Yes c. No

b. Some of my friends are from my home country, some of them are not.

  1. What is the most difficult for you at college?

a. Understanding professors b. Lack of communication

c. Financial needs d. Feeling lonely

The questionnaire about cultural problems contained five questions:

  • Do you attend any college clubs or meetings?

a. Yes b. No

  • Are you home sick?

a. Yes b. No

  • Do you feel comfortable in the United States of America?

a. Yes b. No

  • Do you celebrate your national holidays here? If yes, with whom do you celebrate them?

a. Yes b. No

  • Would you like to return home if you had such an opportunity?

a. Yes b. No

The students answered all the questions. It appeared that they have less cultural problems then language ones.

Questions/answers Yes No
1. 30 students (60%) 20 students (40%)
2. 25 students (50 %) 25 students (50 %)
3. 25 students (50 %) 25 students (50 %)
4. 45 students (90%) 5 students (5%)
5. 41 students (20%) 40 students (80%)

As one may see, students feel comfortable in the United States of America. They celebrate their holidays and are not afraid to communicate with others. On the other hand, the research has shown that students have a language barrier, i.e. they are afraid to begin a conversation. According to their answers, most of them (70%) have begun learning English a year before entering college. Thus, they do not have enough skills to speak it fluently. Besides, the research has shown that foreign students try to stay in touch with those being from their native country: they are afraid to lose each other and this slight connection to their home. Perhaps, this fear does not allow them to have the American friends or to stay in the United States of America even after graduating. However, the most difficult one for students was the lack of communication. The suggestion is that they are willing to communicate with American co-students, but they lack their self-confidence and are afraid to talk first.

Discussion

The research paper The Language and Culture Barrier of Foreign College Students in the USA was aimed to show that students coming to the United States of America to study face different problems, i.e. the lack of financial support, cultural differences, and social problems, the lack of psychological support, language barrier or legal issues with obtaining visa. The most essential of them are language and cultural barriers. The research paper contains the literature review with the analysis of five most important articles and some researches in this field of studies. The hypothesis where the social interactionist theory is explained and the analysis are also included into the essay. A sociologist Vygotsky has developed the social interactionist theory and explained that the person may learn the foreign language without learning any grammar rules and doing different exercises. In my opinion, this theory may be implemented into life for every college or university of the United States of America. The point is that with such an approach, a foreign student has the opportunity not only to learn English as foreign but also get to know the American culture, habits, and the way of life. On the other hand, this theory has several disadvantages. For example, the researchers have shown that in order to be able to speak fluently any foreign language one needs three months of living in that environment. Most students coming to the United States of America do not have such an opportunity. Besides, the foreign student after living for three months in the United States of America will barely be able to understand difficult scientific terms. In my opinion, the most attention should be paid not on the issue of a cultural problem but of the language. The point is that nowadays the world is living at the age of globalization. That is why the American culture is not new for foreigners, especially for the youth. However, they may be confused by different terms or slang words that an ordinary American uses. The research, while writing this paper, has shown that foreign students are more worried about the language issue. On the one hand, they are willing to have American friends and to communicate with them. They want to share their knowledge and experience, tell about their country and habits. However, they do not have this opportunity because they are unconfident about their knowledge of English. They are afraid to come up to an American and begin a conversation, thinking that he or she may laugh at them. The point is that American students as well as professors at colleges should help those students to get used. In the research, the method of questionnaires was used as well as the qualitative method of collecting data. However, the data cannot be called as full because there were only fifty respondents for the second questionnaire about cultural difficulties. Forty respondents were answering questions about language obstacles. To my mind, to have the clear perspective researches more data should be collected with using the method of web based questionnaires. For example, one may post the questionnaires in the social network and let all foreign students answer them. This will be effective, while studying the issue of language and cultural problems of foreign students. Besides it will be useful for better understanding the problems that foreign students face. Professors at colleges and universities will make their help more effective as well as the representatives of students’ committees.

The amount of international students coming to the United States of America to study extends with every year. That is why it is important to pay the attention to wellbeing of such students. Professors as well as co-students should not forget that it is difficult for such pupils to get adopted and feel comfortable far from homeland. Foreign students need the support because they have risked and come to the United States of America to obtain a better education. Students’ representatives should do everything to make such non-native pupils feel comfortable and do not feel as foreigners. The point is that Americans think that such students already have friends and do not need their support. Meanwhile, foreign students are afraid to come up to an American and ask for help or start a conversation. The problem is that students sometimes think too much.

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