Universities Scotland

Race Equality Toolkit

Learning and Teaching

Racial Equality Strategies in Learning and Teaching

#2Meeting the needs of UK and international bilingual students

If someone is to navigate a culture, you can only do that if you have understanding of the language. Language used in particular contexts might mean different things. Language support is critical.

academic staff comment

Universities have rightly established challenging minimum English language entry requirements for international students based on the IELTS or TOEFL tests. Those students who have completed their secondary school studies in the UK and have had access to services concerning English as a second or additional language (EAL) will have satisfied examiners at Higher or A level of their English language competence. However, many of these students find the English language demands of higher education a significant barrier to

  1. participation, on an equal basis with native speakers of English, in learning opportunities
  2. demonstration, in assignments, presentations and examinations, of what they have learnt.

The following reasons can be found for this:

Such issues are likely to apply even more to international students unfamiliar with UK academic perspectives and conventions. These demands and challenges can be mitigated, and inclusion and equality of opportunity can be enhanced, if teaching staff consider the questions and action areas suggested below.

2.1Does entry to a programme of study consider the needs of bilingual students?

Minimum English language entry requirements should be strictly observed. Directors of studies or supervisors should ensure (a) that guidance given to students during pre-entry university English language courses is circulated to appropriate teaching staff to inform their support of the student, and (b) that the student actually attends recommended English language or study skills programmes.

Prior to commencement of study, students should be given written advice on the cultural and academic conventions and expectations of lectures, seminars, tutorials, practicals, academic reading and writing, and assessment practices (see the University of Leicester’s guidance for members of staff and academic departments for excellent examples of written advice for international students).

The programme guide should contain a glossary of technical terms and abbreviations, clear presentations of assignment requirements (broken down into constituent parts, wherever possible), and reading lists differentiated into essential, recommended and extended reading.

2.2Is there appropriate planning of learning and teaching opportunities in relation to bilingual students?

Research into the use of EAL as a medium of instruction has shown that the following approaches support the comprehension and communication of meaning:

2.3Are there specific strategies for enhancing learning in lectures, tutorials and other face-to-face settings for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds?

Lecturers should prepare properly before lectures. They should provide students with clear and readable handouts, not just verbal lectures. International students have a harder time picking up information because of accents, other students who understand have an advantage … international students are lagging behind.

student comment

Lecturers can assist accessibility to the curriculum for bilingual students by

Seminars and tutorials

At the start, tutors need to be clear about their expectations for student participation and clarify understandings of the purpose and conduct of seminars and tutorials. They should also

Development of academic literacy

Effective independent study will involve the development of academic literacy skills such as

These approaches to study may be familiar to some students in their first language, but may be challenging when carried out in English. To other students, this treatment of text may be culturally unfamiliar.

Students can be supported in the development of academic literacy skills in the following ways:

Assignment writing

The following resource was produced for academic and support staff working with international students. However, the advice and reflective activities are useful for staff working with all students, including bilingual students and those still needing to acculturate into the UK framework of university education. For example, see Unit 2 in the Facilitator’s Handbook, “Designing and planning learning activities and programmes of study”, and Unit 3, “Supporting international students in new cultures of learning”.

Burnapp, D (2009) “Supporting international students in UK Higher Education: a course for staff”, Southampton: Language, Linguistics Area Studies, HE Academy

  1. Research has shown that learning in the first language provides the best foundation for learning new concepts.
  2. Jigsawing:
    Groups of students are given different input on the same general topic. They discuss their stimulus in their group. Individual students then share with other students who have discussed different stimuli and together they synthesise their data to form a conclusion or to reach consensus relating to a problem, etc.
  3. Pyramiding:
    Students reflect individually on input, and then share reflections in pairs. Pairs then form small groups to extend the activity and to feed back eventually to the whole group.