How do you successfully bring together people who don’t speak the same language?
Bringing together international students is an essential part of higher education institutions’ mission. It is through the exchange of ideas, cultures, and languages that we can expand our horizons and create a better future. However, finding and recruiting students who speak different languages can be a challenging task.
Language programs often face hurdles in attracting international students due to language barriers and cultural differences. In this article, we’ll explore some of these challenges and strategies for overcoming them.
One of the biggest challenges, as you may imagine, is recruiting. How to identify and recruit students who speak different languages. Where to look for prospective students interested in studying a foreign language. We could split the main solutions in two:
- Advertising. This can be expensive and time-consuming. To do so, remember you need to advertise in different languages, so you will need to translate the material and have a link in that same language to redirect.
- Alliances. You can touch base with other institutions doing the same thing to exchange students from one university to the other. This solution is pretty good in the medium term. But it keeps the system closed to handpicked institutions.
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Understanding each other
Another challenge that language programs face is the language barrier itself. Many students who are interested in studying a foreign language may not have sufficient proficiency in the language to communicate effectively. Language programs need to find ways to bridge this gap and make their courses accessible to any student.
Cultural differences can also pose a challenge for language programs. Students from different cultures may have different learning styles, preferences, and expectations. Language programs need to be aware of these differences and be able to adapt their teaching methods and materials to meet the needs of a diverse student body.
There are several strategies to tackle this:
Language assessments: You can offer assessments to determine the level of proficiency that a potential student has in the target language. Based on the assessment results, the program can recommend appropriate courses or resources to help the student improve their language skills before arrival and during their stay.
Language immersion: Language immersion programs are a great way to help students build language proficiency quickly. These programs offer a full immersion experience, where students are surrounded by the target language and culture, which can help them develop language skills quickly and effectively.
Preparatory courses: Language programs can offer preparatory courses that help students improve their language skills before enrolling in more advanced courses. These courses can be tailored to the student’s level of proficiency and can cover topics such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Culture Immersion: you can make a list of suggested reads, movies, and all kinds of popular material that will help students get to know the target language.
Variety of formats for class material: adapting content to audio, video, audiovisual, pdf, different languages and so on is a considerate way for students to approach a new skill in the format they feel the most comfortable with. It requires translating, developing and time, but it’s worth it.
What are the best practices for language programs to overcome these challenges? First and foremost, language programs need to be proactive in their recruitment efforts. This may involve, as mentioned, reaching out to international schools, partnering with foreign language associations, and leveraging social media to promote their programs.
A language program at a university in the United States was struggling to attract students for their Chinese language courses. Despite having a talented and experienced faculty, enrollment in their Chinese courses remained low.
The language program decided to take a proactive approach to recruitment. They reached out to local international schools and offered to give presentations to students about the benefits of learning Chinese and the opportunities available to those who become proficient in the language. They also partnered with the local Chinese-American Association and participated in community events to promote their language courses.
In addition, the language program leveraged social media platforms to target potential students. They created engaging and informative posts highlighting the benefits of learning Chinese and showcasing the experiences of their current students. They also utilized paid advertising on social media to reach a wider audience.
As a result of these efforts, enrollment in the Chinese language courses at the university increased significantly. The language program was able to attract a more diverse group of students, including those from outside the university, and the program received positive feedback from students about their experiences learning Chinese.
By reaching out to potential students through various channels, the language program was able to overcome their enrollment challenges and achieve success.
Another best practice for language programs is to embrace cultural diversity and promote intercultural exchange. This can be achieved through events and activities that celebrate cultural diversity and encourage cross-cultural interactions.
Some examples of events that language programs can organize are:
International festivals: Host an annual international festival that showcases the food, music, dance, and traditions of various cultures around the world. This can be a fun way for students to learn about different cultures and interact with people from different backgrounds.
Language clubs: Create language clubs for different languages and encourage students to join. Language clubs can organize events and activities that promote language learning and cultural exchange, such as conversation groups, film screenings, and cooking classes.
Cultural immersion trips: Organize cultural immersion trips to countries where the target language is spoken. These trips can provide students with an opportunity to practice their language skills in a real-world setting, while also learning about the local culture and customs.
Guest speakers: Invite guest speakers from different cultural backgrounds to come and speak to students. Guest speakers can share their experiences and insights on different cultures and provide students with a unique perspective on the world.
These are just a few examples of events and activities that language programs can organize to promote intercultural exchange. By embracing cultural diversity and encouraging cross-cultural interactions, language programs can create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment that helps students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures.
Are there examples of successful language exchange programs?
Yes, to mention only a few successful exchange programs:
The Erasmus Programme: The Erasmus Programme is a European Union student exchange program that has been in operation since 1987. It offers university students the opportunity to study or work abroad in one of the participating countries. The program has been hugely successful, with over 4 million students participating since its inception.
Middlebury College Language Schools: Middlebury College offers intensive summer language programs in eleven different languages, where students can achieve significant fluency in as little as eight weeks. The school’s language immersion approach has been successful in developing students’ language skills, with many graduates going on to work in fields such as diplomacy, business, and education.
Monterey Institute of International Studies: The Monterey Institute of International Studies is a graduate school of Middlebury College that focuses on international education and training. The school offers a variety of language programs, including immersive programs and courses in translation and interpretation. Its language programs are highly regarded, with graduates going on to work in a variety of international careers.
AFS Intercultural Programs: AFS Intercultural Programs is a non-profit organization that provides international exchange opportunities for students of all ages. Its programs range from high school exchanges to gap year experiences to language immersion programs. AFS has been successful in helping students develop cross-cultural communication skills and gain a global perspective.
CIEE: The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) is a non-profit organization that provides study abroad programs for students of all ages. Its programs include language immersion programs, as well as programs focused on specific academic areas. CIEE has been successful in helping students develop language skills and cultural understanding, as well as gaining valuable international experience for their future careers.
Language programs face a range of challenges when it comes to finding students in other languages. However, by being proactive, inclusive, offering language proficiency assessments, and embracing cultural diversity, they can overcome these challenges and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students. Especially if you count with a language solutions team to assess you in any need you may have.