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Teaching International Students Across the Curriculum:
Supporting Academic Listening/Speaking

Prepared by Soonhyang Kim, FTAD

Adaptation, indeed, is what is expected of the two parties – significant
development in the case of the students, and a greater awareness and sensitivity
in the case of teachers. It is an important caveat that one seeks to develop
or adapt the students, not to transform them.

- Jeremy F. Jones, 1999, p. 251 -

When you have non-native English speaking international students in your classroom, there are several important issues and classroom management strategies related to speaking and listening skills that you may need to keep in mind to help them have a positive classroom experience. Most of the pedagogical suggestions below could be applied to all students, not only to international students. At the same time, however, we need to be aware that there are difficulties and/or needs of international students, which might not be shared by domestic students. Domestic students may express concerns similar to those of international students, but for different reasons. For instance, “domestic students may choose not to participate in class discussion because of being introverted, uninterested in the subject matter, or unprepared for that day’s lesson. International students, on the other hand, may be silent for any of those reasons too, or for other quite different reasons having to do with linguistic proficiency, cultural conventions, or educational background” (Dr. Diane Belcher, former Director of ESL Composition Program at The Ohio State University, currently a professor at Georgia State University).

Research findings and pedagogical suggestions are discussed in this article involving the following three main possible problematic areas of international students in classroom participation related to speaking and listening: (a) difficulties in note-taking and comprehension problems, (b) a lack of second language confidence, and (c) unfamiliarity with the U.S. academic classroom discourse patterns and expectations.

Note-Taking and Listening Comprehension Are Difficult

Lack of note-taking skills and problems with note-taking are troublesome areas most often reported by international students, as well as listening comprehension problems. Consequently, students’ lack of comprehension may contribute to their silence in oral classroom discussion (Ferris & Tagg, 1996; Ferris, 1998).

Pedagogical Suggestions

A Lack of Second Language Self-Confidence Inhibits Speaking in Class

Non-native English speaking international students have expressed difficulties in oral classroom participation because of a lack of confidence in their ability to express themselves and in their ability to formulate ideas in English and to respond quickly in a discussion (Cheng, 2000; Liu, 2001, Liu and Littlewood, 1998; Morita, 2002, among others).

Pedagogical Suggestions:

U.S. Academic Discourse Patterns and Instructors’ Expectations Are Not Clear or Familiar

Unclear and conflicting expectations between instructors and international students may cause confusion and misunderstanding for international students (Ferris, 1998).

Pedagogical Suggestions:

We need to keep in mind that there are multiple factors affecting international students’ classroom participation patterns in addition to the factors discussed here. You, as teachers, play a critical role in creating a positive learning environment for everybody, including international students.

Special Note:

Most of the pedagogical suggestions listed here came from the real voices of round table participants on “Teaching International Students” held by the Office of Faculty & TA Development at The Ohio State University on February 20, 2003 and some pedagogical suggestions come from the previous research. The eleven participants consisted of ESL professionals, the director of the Office of International Education (a support unit for international students), instructional consultants from FTAD, subject-matter instructors, and international graduate students.