Language and International Student Satisfaction Linked?

Student in libraryA new report on international student satisfaction is out, and the results are mixed. Students in the three countries surveyed are generally satisfied with the academic side of things, which is good news. But satisfaction levels are noticeably lower in important areas such as networking, “friendship with domestic students, organized social activities, and visa or immigration-related advice.” It is also apparent that schools with higher concentrations of international students from a specific country tend to rank lower in overall student satisfaction—likely indicating integration problems.

How are U.S. institutions responding to international student needs?
Even though the number of international students pursuing higher education abroad has almost quadrupled in the last 30 years—with the United States attracting more than any other country—the number of U.S. institutions offering programs and support services for international students is on the decline.

What role can the foreign language department play?
Spoken language ability may be a large factor in student satisfaction. Chinese students, for example, are members of one of the largest—and least satisfied—international student communities. While many Chinese students study English from a young age, they are frequently taught using methods that focus on written English; spoken English is sometimes neglected. This supports the report’s suggestion that “greater familiarity with English may help explain higher satisfaction rates for students from India compared to students from East Asia.” Offering flexible ESL study options may help close the communication gap.

But connecting international students with American students via culture and language exchange clubs may be another step in the right direction. If students from China, for example, connect with American students learning Chinese, there is a greater opportunity for natural, student-led learning based on real-world communication goals, and both sets of students broaden their social networks for future international career opportunities.

The results of the report are obviously complex, as Canadian students—presumably in most cases strong English speakers—rank only just above Chinese students in overall satisfaction and willingness to recommend a school. It is worth noting, however, that the sample size of Canadians is much smaller than Chinese (341 versus 4,516 respondents). Also significant is that while Canadians rank closely with Chinese on “active recommendation,” they have significantly higher “satisfaction” scores than their Chinese counterparts—likely reflective of their ability to integrate into the general student body. This indicates that increased institutional investment in foreign language programs might pay off in increased international student satisfaction.

What does your institution do to help international students integrate into the general student body? Or is there room for improvement? Share your experiences here, and pass this article along to colleagues concerned with international student satisfaction and success!

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