Language and culture barriers trip international students

While the language is a major challenge for Chinese students in Melbourne, cultural differences can also lead to isolation, Alice Ong reports.

Ellie Khoo, an AUG Student Engagement Coordinator, thinks that the language barrier is one of the major challenges Chinese students face in Melbourne.

“Students often don’t get the information that they need, due to the language barrier. As a result, they lose out on opportunities to get involved,” Khoo said.

But recent discussions in the industry had identified that cultural differences were a more significant barrier than the language itself, she said.

“All international and local students and institution staff need to have more cultural awareness and be equipped to be competent in working with people from different cultures,” Khoo said.

The total population in the City of Melbourne increased by 108 per cent between 2006 and 2011, with the biggest migration group in Melbourne city being from China, according to the 2011 census.

It found 66 per cent of Chinese people in Melbourne speak very little English, with Mandarin their first language.

RMIT Engineering student Franco Fu said the main difficulties and pressures of being an international student in Melbourne were the language and cultural difference between China and Australia.

Fu said he had English classes in China, but did not learn much English there as most of the time they speak Chinese.

“Of course it is more comfortable for me to speak in Chinese or to communicate with other people in our daily life,” he said.

Khoo said, “Social isolation has also been an issue around students whose first language is not English.”

Students need to be aware of their own fear of communicating with others, as this is often the trigger for the barrier, she said.

“Confidence in communicating using body language, written communication is very important as a first step of overcoming the fear.” she said.

She also said, “University or college staff, as the authoritative figures in the campus, play a part in facilitating interactions between students to help Chinese students be more confident and participate more.”