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Low English Proficiency and International Students’ Academic Success

There is an opinion that the biggest challenge that international students experience in UK universities is low English proficiency. I entirely agree with this argument because a lack of mastery in the English language prevents foreign students from gaining as much benefit from their studies as possible. Although some people may claim that financial problems are the most considerable barrier to international students’ success, this viewpoint is debatable. Even though overseas students usually pay higher tuition fees than home students, financial challenges pertain to both groups, whereas low English proficiency is a problem characteristic of foreign students. This essay will argue that insufficient knowledge of the English language hinders international students’ academic achievements because it leads to difficulties in understanding, communication, and relationship building.

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International students, having no proficiency in the English language, struggle with getting a solid grasp of learning materials. Due to a lack of appropriate English skills, such students have problems with understanding the lectures they listen to and the assigned texts they read. For example, when listening to lectures, they may find it difficult to understand lecturers’ accents, unfamiliar specialized terms, or spontaneous styles of lecture delivery (Aizawa et al., 2020). When reading textbooks and other assigned sources, less proficient international students usually spend much time looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary (Aizawa et al., 2020). The necessity to translate a lot of specialized terms into their native language to gain an insight into the subject decreases international students’ efficiency of learning. They not only miss part of information during the lectures but also have to devote time to overcoming language barriers, while other students may direct their efforts toward deepening their knowledge of the subject. As a result, overseas students with low levels of English mastery are likely to obtain less knowledge than their more proficient peers over the course of their university studies.

Foreign students with insufficient English language skills may also experience difficulties in communication in the classroom. They can struggle with formulating their thoughts in English both orally and in writing. For example, Chinese students in UK universities often keep silent and refrain from participating in class discussions because they cannot express themselves clearly and do not want to lose face in front of their peers (Zhu & O’Sullivan, 2020). Even if international students can easily communicate in English in their everyday life, they may face difficulties in the university setting due to the necessity to use specialized terminology in their responses. With low levels of English proficiency, overseas students also have issues with writing assignments. It is challenging for them to write long papers and adhere to stringent rules applied to academic tasks (Aizawa et al., 2020). In addition, less proficient international students struggle with using appropriate referencing and academic communication (Aizawa et al., 2020). Thus, overseas students’ inability to communicate in English effectively, especially in the university setting, prevents them from showing the best academic results.

Finally, international students who do not speak fluent English encounter problems with building relationships with their instructors and peers. Since English proficiency influences students’ ability to keep up with the curriculum, those with low levels of proficiency sometimes fall behind the group, which undermines their reputation in the university. For example, students who fear to speak up in front of the class because of a lack of confidence in their English skills usually have trouble interacting with professors (Zhu & O’Sullivan, 2020). Lecturers usually regard students’ silence as passivity and unwillingness to take part in the learning process (Zhu & O’Sullivan, 2020). As a result, their attitudes toward such students become unfavorable. Likewise, active students may not like their passive peers, which may lead to strained relationships in a group. Difficulties in studies because of language barriers and tense relationships with instructors and groupmates may cause international students to suffer from anxiety, which can further worsen their academic performance. Hence, low English proficiency affects overseas students’ success in university studies not only directly but also indirectly, by taking a toll on their relationships with others.

In conclusion, a lack of English mastery is the greatest issue that international students in UK higher education institutions are faced with. Inadequate competency in the English language does not allow foreign students to comprehend all the information they hear and read over the course of their studies. Furthermore, a low level of English proficiency prevents students from sharing their thoughts in the classroom, which makes them seem passive and unprepared for the class. Finally, international students’ passivity stemming from their lack of English knowledge undermines their relationships with lecturers and peers, leading to stress and anxiety. As evidenced by the reviewed negative consequences of low English proficiency, this problem has a large effect on students’ academic achievements. Therefore, it may be advised that international students should take preliminary English courses to improve their English language skills before entering a university in an English-speaking country. This way, they will be more prepared for their studies overseas and will be able to focus on obtaining relevant knowledge rather than overcoming language barriers.


Aizawa, I., Rose, H., Thompson, G., & Curle, S. (2020). Beyond the threshold: Exploring English language proficiency, linguistic challenges, and academic language skills of Japanese students in an English medium instruction programme. Language Teaching Research, 1-25.

Zhu, H., & O’Sullivan, H. (2020). Shhhh! Chinese students are studying quietly in the UK. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 1-10.

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