Prior research demonstrates that international students encounter many difficulties as a result of language and cultural barriers, educational and financial difficulties, interpersonal challenges, racial intolerance, loss of social support, estrangement and homesickness (Sherry, Thomas & Chui 2010, p. 34).
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Language proficiency is the single most important factor that determines the educational success of international students since it does not only affect their ability to succeed by influencing their psychological state of mind (Doron et al 2009, p. 516), but impacts their capacity to interact socially with other students (Olson 2012, p. 27).
Valez-McEnvoy (2010, p. 82) reports that language barriers are known to lessen students’ capacity to successfully understand lectures, take notes in class, complete assessments and examinations, and engage in productive communication.
Attrition rates for international nursing students with language barriers, for example, have been reported as high as 85%, not mentioning that their pass rate in National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is 21% lower than native speakers (Olson 2012, p. 26).
From this analysis, it appears that there exists a wide body of knowledge on the perceived consequences of the language barrier problem among international students. However, relatively little is known about the coping strategies adopted by these students to deal with the language barrier problem.
More importantly, there still exist gaps in knowledge on the most successful coping strategies that international students can adopt to overcome the challenge presented by the problem of language barrier in the pursuit of their education abroad. It is these gaps in knowledge that this study seeks to fill.
For international students, it is obvious that language is not only an instrument of structuring communication but also a noteworthy aspect that positively or negatively influence their educational achievement (Selvadurai 1998; Simpson & Cooke 2010).
Due to these factors, international students with language difficulties often experience stress which acts as a barrier to successful acculturation (Mettler 1998, p. 100), communication competence (Hallberg 2009, p. 188), and educational progression and success (Nielsen 2005, p. 527).
Indeed, available literature demonstrates that not only is it increasingly difficult for students exhibiting language deficiencies to do well in their studies, but they often experience too much arousal due to irrational fear of failing examinations and communicating with others, resulting in harm to mind and body (Sanner, Wilson & Samson 2002).
In light of the above, this study purposes to employ Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) Transactional Model of Stress to investigate the coping strategies used by international students presenting with language barriers. The model utilises two appraisal systems – primary and secondary.
While the primary appraisal refers to the initial perception about a stressor (language barrier) and whether it is judged to be positive (leading to eustress), negative (leading to distress) or benign, the secondary appraisal refers to the coping responses the person draws on (Gibbons, Dempster & Moutray 2011, p. 622).
It is demonstrated in the literature that the interaction between the perception of stressors and the individual’s response is governed by a number of moderators, which include self-efficacy, perceived control, support and coping style (Krohne 2002; Hallberg 2009).
According to the model, there are two types of coping strategies, namely problem-based and emotion based. While problem-focussed coping strategy involves activities centred on changing the stressful situation (e.g. planning), the emotion-focussed strategy involves activities centred on modifying an individual’s reactions to stressful situations (e.g. positive reinterpretation) (Doron et al 2009, p. 516).
It should be noted that the stressful situation in this study is the language barrier experienced by international students as they go about fulfilling their academic objectives. The justification to use this model arises from the fact that problem-based coping approach has been found beneficial for student learning, performance and wellbeing (Gibbons, Dempster & Moutray 2011).
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Gibbons, C, Dempster, M & Moutray, M 2011, ‘Stress, coping and satisfaction in nursing students’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 67 no. 3, pp. 621-632.
Hallberg, D 2009, ‘Socioculture and cognitivist perspectives on language and communication barriers in learning’, World Academy of Science Engineering & Technology, vol. 60 no. 2, pp. 186-195.
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Valez-McEnvoy, M 2010, ‘Faculty role in retaining Hispanic nursing students’, Creative Nursing, vol. 16 no. 2, pp. 80-83.