Supporting Multilingual and International Students
Contributed by: Stacy Wittstock, PhD Student, School of Education
UC Davis is a linguistically diverse campus, with much of its student population being bi or multilingual.
- According to UC Davis Admissions, of the undergraduate students admitted in 2016-2017, about 41% spoke only English at home, 27% spoke English and another language, and 33% spoke only another language at home.
- Additionally, in the 2016-2017 academic year, about 14% of the total enrollment at UC Davis were international students (Budget and Institutional Analysis, 2017), with the university accepting over 60% of its international applicants for 2017-2018 (UC Institutional Research and Academic Planning, 2017).
Quick Note on Terms
Largely due to differences in theoretical approaches and critical perspectives between the various fields that work with and/or study multilingual students, there are a lot of different terms used in the literature for these students.
- ESL—English as a Second Language Student
- EFL—English as a Foreign Language Student (when taught outside the US)
- ELL—English Language Learner
- Non-Native Speakers
- Bilingual and/or multilingual
- Emergent bilinguals/multilinguals
Who are Multilingual College Students?
Multilingual students come from a variety of backgrounds in terms of language, culture, immigration or visa status, and time spent in the US. These differences in background often translate to vast differences in their English language abilities.
- International Students:
- Most are bi or multilingual, with some having taken English classes throughout their schooling, while others attended international high schools where English was the primary language.
- Refugee students (or those with similar backgrounds):
- May have fled political violence, social upheaval, economic deprivation, or other similar situations.
- May have limited or interrupted literacy development in both their home languages and English (Menken, 2013).
- Generation 1.5:
- Long-term permanent residents and the children of immigrants who arrived when they were young children.
- These students primarily grew up learning English in the US school system (Menken, 2013).
Challenges Multilingual Students May Face
- May be proficient in some modalities of English, but not others
- May experience a high amount of cognitive load
- May overestimate their level of preparation, both academically and linguistically
- May have difficulties completing or understanding course readings
- May feel uncomfortable participating in class discussions or activities
- May submit writing with consistent grammar or syntax errors, or lack knowledge of US writing conventions
- May experience cultural, racial, religious, and/or linguistic discrimination
- May also be first-generation, transfer, low-income, underrepresented minority, academically underprepared, or other intersectional identities and experiences
Other Challenges Facing International Students Specifically
- May experience culture shock, or have difficulties with cultural adjustment
- May have difficulties understanding culture-specific references
- May experience social isolation and/or a lack of meaningful relationships with their peers
- May experience homesickness, depression, or other issues related to mental health
Broad Teaching Suggestions
These are strategies that work for all students, not just multilingual and/or international students. Also, check out CEE’s Just-in-Time-Teaching resources on Multilingual and International Students for more specific teaching strategies.
- Take some time to understand your students’ backgrounds, and the knowledge, experiences, and skills they bring to your classroom
- Provide regular opportunities for students to interact with their peers and with you
- Provide frequent, timely feedback on writing and other work in class
- Be strategic in your feedback, and focus on what relates most closely to your course objectives
- Build in opportunities for student self-reflection and formative assessment
- Provide numerous opportunities for students to ask questions
- Intervene when you notice a student is struggling
Additional Resources and Services on Campus
- The International & Academic English Program
- The Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs
- Services for International Students and Scholars
- Writing Assistance Services, SASC
- Just-in-Time-Teaching resources
Center for Teaching Excellence [CTE]. (n.d.). Strategies for Teaching International Students. Retrieved from http://cte.virginia.edu/resources/teaching-a-diverse-student-body-practicalstrategies-for-enhancing-our-students-learning/international-students/strategies-for-teachinginternational- students/
Freedman, L. (n.d.). Teaching multilingual students. Retrieved from http://writing.utoronto.ca/teaching-resources/teaching-multilingual-students/
Gareis, E. (2012). Intercultural friendship: Effects of home and host region. Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 5(4), 309-328.
Glass, C. R. (2012). Educational experiences associated with international students’ learning, development, and positive perceptions of campus climate. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(3), 228-251.
Menken, K. (2013). Emergent bilingual students in secondary school: Along the academic language and literacy continuum. Language Teaching, 46(4), 438-476.
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Sweller, J. (2017). Cognitive load theory and teaching English as a second language to adult learners. CONTACT Magazine: TESL Ontario, May 2017. 5-10. Retrieved from http://contact.teslontario.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/03Sweller-CognitiveLoad2ndLanguage.pdf
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UC Institutional Research and Academic Planning [UCIRAP]. (2017). UC student/workforce data. Retrieved from http://ucop.edu/institutional-research-academic-planning/content-analysis/ugadmissions/student-workforce-data.html
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Yan, K. & Berliner, D. C. (2013). Chinese International Students' Personal and Sociocultural Stressors in the United States. Journal of College Student Development, 54(1), 62-84.