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Dealing With Language Differences as an International Student

Colombian student Isabella tells us how she is overcoming the language barrier since her arrival to Belfast; and offers some tips to improve English language skills while at Queen's.

Three students sitting on the lawn in the quad

Being an international student has been one of my life's most exciting and enriching experiences. However, being in a foreign country where my mother tongue is not spoken, I recognise the difficulties that studying can bring considering the differences in language, and the limits on our learning and sociability that language barriers can generate.

However, during the last semester, I have been able to discover certain aspects that have allowed me to overcome my shyness with English by becoming more receptive to the language on an academic and everyday level.

Things every international student should know before coming to NI (weather, culture etc)

Queen’s Academic Aids

Fortunately, Queen’s is a university that considers the diversity of its students and staff, while considering the limits in language and cultural shock that they may have. That is why there are several programmes in the university, especially in the Graduate School that offer services to facilitate the academic writing processes in English and make you feel prepared and confident in the completion of your assignments and submissions.

Make friends of different nationalities

I understand how convenient it can be to find someone in Belfast who is from your country or who shares the same native language as you.  However, just speaking your native language won't help you feel more confident in your English and at the same time deprives you of meeting new people and making new friends.

Two students talking at the coffee bar in the Treehouse, BT9

Socialise with students of different nationalities in your accommodation!

Try to surround yourself with native speakers as much as possible, or with people from other nationalities that you would have to speak in English only, whether it's participating in social activities from university or your accommodation, joining clubs or study groups, or even looking for a language exchange partner.

You learn from your mistakes

Making mistakes while speaking in another language is a natural part of practicing it. No matter how capable we are of studying at a university in a second language, we will never stop learning new things about it; in fact, we are also learning new things about our own language all the time. Don't worry too much about making mistakes when speaking or writing, as it is through these mistakes that you will learn and improve. Accept mistakes as part of the process and move on.

Student in tutorial at the Graduate School

Every mistake is a lesson

Use a translator only when necessary

I've also used a translator because it makes it easier for me understand some words I don't understand. However, I try not to make this a constant in my academic process, but only when necessary. Reading and writing in English is ideal for assimilating the language because it helps you improve your vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension. It also familiarises you with the culture and expressions of the language in your academic setting. With practice, you become more fluent in reading and improve your comprehension.

Google translate app logo

Don't rely on a translation app, use it to enhance your learning instead

Attitude and disposition

It has also been intimidating for me to participate in classes, or everyday conversations among my friends. However, little by little, I have tried to trust in my communicative abilities in another language. We always have something to contribute to conversations or discussions in class that can be valuable for those who listen to them, maintaining a good attitude and disposition has increased my confidence in my English proficiency and improved my learning process and reception of the topics of the classes.

Four international students in group photo

With my friends from Italy, Germany and Belgium; and myself, Colombian

In short, overcoming language barriers as an international student takes time, effort, and dedication. However, with the right strategies and a positive mindset, it is possible to achieve a high level of proficiency in a foreign language and make the most of your experience as an international student.

Find out more

Information for students from Colombia

English Language courses at Queen's

Blog: Improve your Language Skills at Queen's

Isabella Barros De La Rosa

Violence, Terrorism and Security | Postgraduate Student | Colombia

Hello, my name is Isabella Barros, I am 24 years old and I am from a beautiful city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia called Barranquilla. I am currently pursuing my master's in Violence, Terrorism and Security at Queen’s.

I am very into running and outdoor activities. That's why Belfast is so amazing to live in, because of the landscapes, and the spaces for this kind of hobby.

Besides running and studying, you can find me in any bookstore, wandering around the city, or enjoying a pleasant coffee in a cute cafe!

Isabella Barros De La Rosa