Author(s): Wright C, Schartner A, Young T
Abstract: This study explores the quality of English language interaction in a common multilingual setting: international students at a UK university. It has been claimed that lack of adequate English is one of the biggest barriers for international students’ success (Andrade, 2006; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Zhang & Mi, 2010), but it remains unclear how successfully students can overcome these barriers, especially in speaking and listening. The findings are gathered from interviews with seven pairs of female international students at UK universities, after one month and again after eleven months. We use qualitative thematic analysis to explore participants’ perceptions of barriers and opportunities they encountered in interactions in academic and informal contexts. Participants remained frustrated throughout the period of the study with their perceived capacities in speaking and listening, such as going to the bank. Some participants claimed to have as little as 20-30% comprehension in lectures, and avoided opportunities for interaction with English speakers. Some factors outside participants’ control were identified, such as university accommodation practices promoting same-country groupings. Other factors reflected participants’ own choices, e.g. preferring to socialise with compatriots to feel “more cosy”. The data reflect participants’ conflict between an awareness of chances to find English-speaker interaction, and challenges in taking up these chances. These findings, albeit small scale and exploratory, bring useful insights for both pedagogical models of language learning and socio-cultural theories of L2 identity and language use.
Notes: Original and innovative research, using qualitative thematic analysis in a longitudinal design to track changes in student opportunities for interaction in international higher education settings. Adds a novel perspective to more common snapshot analyses of student engagement in international study settings, and provides a student-centred view to the debate within institutions on how to improve interactional opportunities for international students.