Language Barriers for International Students in English Speaking Countries and its impact on their educational achievement.


Internationalization of educational institutions in developed countries has not only provided opportunities for students from developing and underdeveloped countries to live, learn and groom in developed societies but has also helped a major contribution to the economies of the developed countries. OECD (2015) indicates that the number of foreign students worldwide has shown a dramatic increase of around 50% in the 7 years i.e. 2005 to 2012. The report shows some very important indicators that signifies the study of language barriers for international students in English speaking countries. The report shows that a majority of the foreign students (53% of students studying outside their home countries) belong to Asia region which is a non-native English speaking region. United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom are found to be the leading destinations for foreign students. The progressive adoption of English as a global language has not only caused the focus of foreign students to shift towards English speaking destinations but has also compelled non-English speaking countries to introduce international educational programs in this widely spoken and adopted language. The reasons for increasing trends in studies abroad not only include the desire among developing and underdeveloped nations to receive high quality education in order to enhance their earning levels, but has also been due to the host countries’ encouraging policies to attract more and more foreign students for economic gains. However to attract more and more foreign students, educational researchers find it more important to study the barriers such students may face in the foreign countries and then come up with the necessary solutions in order to overcome these barriers. Researchers find that language has been one of the major barriers working as a negative contributor to the satisfaction of international students in English speaking countries. The purpose of this study is to find whether English as a second language has any impact on the adjustment and academic performance of non-native English speakers in the English speaking countries.

Relationship between English Language Proficiency and Academic Performance

Research literature shows that English language proficiency affects academic performance among non-native English speakers. Andrade (2006) carried out a thorough analysis of research literature on the issues of international students in English speaking countries like US, Canada, UK and Australia. The study found English language proficiency to be correlated to academic performance among international students. For example, the study indicated that poor English proficiency has been negatively affecting academic performance of non-native English speakers. The argument was strengthened by the finding that non-native English speaker students reported problems with understanding teachers’ accent and speed of talking while on the other hand domestic (native English speakers) reported problems with policies. Moreover, the study reflected a positive correlation between TOEFL test scores and academic performance of international students. Stoynoff (1997) also found a strong correlation between academic performance (in terms of GPA, earned credits and course withdrawals) and English language proficiency among international students in freshmen year. This proves that language has a significant impact on the academic performance among non-native English speakers.

English Language Proficiency and Social Integration

Researchers find that language proficiency plays an important role in the extent of social integration that students experience in the foreign country, culture and new educational environment. Stoynoff (1997) studied 77 international students in the first six months of their freshman year, and concluded that a better level of language proficiency provides confidence to international students to socially integrate into the new culture and educational environment. This in turn helps them improve their academic performance.

Language Proficiency and its relationship to Stress among International Students

Research literature shows that poor language proficiency in a host country causes stress among international students which results in poor academic performance. Olivas and Li (2006) explains that poor language proficiency and cultural differences are potential sources of stress for international students because these two factors limit their social interaction. Limited social interaction results in poor adjustment to the new educational and cultural environment. Poor adjustment in turn gives rise negative self-perceptions of students regarding their success in the new environment. Thus Olivas and Li conclude that language proficiency eventually is strongly correlated to self-perception and hence academic performance.


It can be concluded from the above discussion that language proficiency has a very significant role in the adjustment of international students to the new culture and educational environment as well as in the academic performance of the international students. Moreover, the foreign educational institution not only need to focus on reducing the language barriers for international students through continuous language training programs but they also need to focus on helping international students in social and cultural integration in order for them to get adjusted easily and perform better in the academic endeavors.