• Vol. 37 No. 12, 1034–1037
  • 15 December 2008

Supporting Learners who are Studying or Training Using a Second Language: Preventing Problems and Maximising Potential



Introduction: This paper looks at the barriers to effective postgraduate study potentially experienced by learners in the United Kingdom if their first language is not English. As part of the internationalisation of higher education, we are seeing a welcome increase in students leaving their home country to study. This brings benefits to both home and visiting students as they learn more about each other and come to understand differences and build on aspects they have in common. However it also brings specific challenges of linguistic capability, differences in cultural expectations of the role of learners and teachers and in the understanding of the nature of postgraduate study. English medium higher education institutions worldwide are increasingly engaged in development of courses on English for academic purposes, or for academic writing. There is even a Journal of English for Academic Purposes, with co-editors from Hong Kong and the UK. Previous research has tended to concentrate on teacher-centred issues such as maintaining the integrity of assessments (including a focus on inadvertent plagiarism), practical aspects such as familiarity and expertise with information technology and more recently an understanding that acculturation has a part to play in maximising the success of students moving from one country’s academic model to another.

Materials and Methods: This was a qualitative project during which students whose first language was not English were interviewed. Thirteen postgraduate students on a masters award in medical education were engaged in semi structured interviews to elicit their experiences, views and suggestions.

Results: Three themes emerged as important to the students in this study: understanding and being understood is not just due to the words we use; the nature of postgraduate study is not universal; and the need to maintain personal identity.

Travel and immigration are vibrant aspects of the international medical and educational field. Patients are increasingly mobile and finding healthcare professionals in a foreign country who can bring additional insights to help address their cultural and language needs can only benefit their care.

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