Challenges International Students Face Learning English in the UK

Challenges International Students Face Learning English in the UK


International students the world over face a wide range of problems in studying overseas. This is as true in the United Kingdom as it is anywhere else in the world. However, learning English in the UK and the other challenges international students face on a daily basis can be overcome.

1. Learning the Language

Language barriers are a major complication in the life of any international student, and there really is no one size fits all method to address this situation on the part of universities. This is for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, different students have different levels of expertise with the English language ranging from former United Kingdom colonies that have a strong tradition of teaching students English to more culturally distant areas where few people learn any English beyond what they see at the cinema. Different countries also have different means of teaching languages ranging from intense memorization to constant conversation in the tongue.

Finally, it is difficult to gauge exactly how well international students speak English, making it difficult for teachers to really know where to begin.

A major step towards mending this problem lies in giving personal attention to international students trying to learn English in the UK. Because there is no one single method for doing this, it likely falls to the students themselves to overcome any cultural barriers and ask for personal attention if they find themselves struggling to learn the language. Teachers, conversely, must be willing to give that attention and be prepared to engage students in a way that both of them can handle. While teachers can keep an eye out for warning signs that a student is struggling with the language, students should also find it in themselves to let it be known that they're having problems with the language.

2. Culture Shock

Students coming to the UK to study from overseas tend to be more than a little overwhelmed by how different life in the United Kingdom can be from life in their home countries. Some countries have cultures similar enough to that of the UK that students can navigate the waters well enough, but this is uncommon. Students from countries with radically different cultures face a number of difficulties in adapting to the local culture, starting with getting used to the weather to facing a lack of social support structures that are an integral part of education in their home countries.

Addressing issues of culture shock is generally a matter of pushing oneself to get comfortable. This again is the responsibility of both students and universities. However, many universities are trying to do their best to integrate international students to like in the UK. Many encourage students to take part in activities common in the UK and form connections with other students, be they native students or other international students. While not every culture will embrace every aspect of UK culture, a sincere effort to take part in these activities is important. United Kingdom culture is not always easy on foreigners, but many find that it's easier when they have some assistance in coming to grips with the quirks of the land.

3. Different Learning Styles

Finally, it must be noted that not every country, not even every former United Kingdom colony, has an educational system exactly like the UK's. Differences in educational systems can create a number of difficulties for international students. Sometimes these differences are subtle, such as what subject matter is considered more important. Usually, however, the differences are far more severe, such as the UK's focus on independent study (a number of countries focus heavily on group study and intense time in the classroom rather than the UK's model of less classroom time and more off time research) or the lack of social networks that are considered integral to a student's success back home.

Each of these problems is a difficult one to address, and each one is unique to each country and every student. Support structures for students can be very important in addressing the differences in educational styles. A key element of this is that students should not be afraid to ask for help, even if doing so would be seen as a shortcoming back home.

About the Author

Anabela Barros is a professional who runs nacel London, a popular language immersion program offering students opportunities to live abroad and learn English as a second language.

To learn more about these exciting programs, visit

  • 31 March 2018, Saturday
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