The ability to study in a place far away from your home country can be both exciting and terrifying. While meeting people from different walks of life and participating in new traditions can be fun, it can be hard to navigate a new language, especially if you are not 100% fluent. Sure, you may have had to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to be accepted into an American college, but the real test comes when you have to apply those skills in unfamiliar situations. Here are some common language barriers you may encounter in your studies, as well as ways to overcome them:
1. It’s common to misunderstand regional accents and colloquialisms
You may be used to hearing a very clear, very “middle-of-the-road” American accent (such as the kind on nightly news programs), so you may be confused when you hear a professor or classmate with a very pronounced regional accent. If the accent doesn’t trip you up, sometimes they may refer to something that sounds strange to you (for example, the phrase “six on one hand and half a dozen on the other”). Don’t be afraid to ask the speaker for clarification or to repeat something if you don’t understand.
2. Don’t only practice English with people from your country
It’s easy to connect with people from the same background because you face similar challenges. The downside of this approach is that they may not know much more than you do about cultural differences in communication. Try to interact with people from the local community, and immerse yourself in the local culture to get a better feel for how language is used in different situations. Locate a mentor who will give you feedback about your language skills. Avoid social isolation by becoming more involved on campus and speaking English whenever you can.
3. Communicate with your professors
Contrary to popular belief, your professors want you to succeed in their classes. Raise your hand in class to ask the professor to go over a point again or explain something in a different way if you don’t understand. If speaking up in class is uncomfortable for you, visit the professor during their office hours or make an appointment to discuss your concerns. It may also be a good idea to tape your lectures so that you can look up what you don’t understand or ask classmates for their assistance. Take advantage of campus resources like study groups and writing labs to help with your written communication.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Try not to get discouraged when you have trouble understanding someone or when you may have phrased something incorrectly. Many students, especially if they come from a country where English is not one of the main languages spoken, have difficulty understanding everything. While you are acclimating to campus culture, it is important to take care of yourself during this time. Enjoy hobbies, hang out with friends, and participate in other leisure activities to help alleviate some of the pressure. Set goals for yourself and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
Niki Bridges is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.