Student Advice

Language Barrier

Uni Compare  · May 5th 2021

Studying abroad can be the opportunity of a lifetime, however, in some cases, unexpected things can happen, and it may not go according to plan.


The main issue that students face when studying abroad is the language barrier. Language barriers can always cause issues, especially since a number of students from the UK usually travel abroad and expect whichever country they’re in to speak their language, which isn’t how it works.

When studying abroad you will need to learn the language of the country that you're in at that time. So let’s take a look at language barriers, language barrier meaning, some language barrier in communication examples and how you can overcome them.

Language barrier

What is a language barrier?

So what is language barrier and is there a language barrier definition?

A language barrier is a phrase that describes a barrier or block in communications between different languages or dialects.

Here are some language barrier examples:

  • Dialects: This is more regional than national, but there can be subtle differences, either in general and local slang or through a difference in cultural norms within the language. For instance, Chinese has a number of different dialects, such as Mandarin and Cantonese.
  • Language Disabilities: No, this is not another word for language barrier. Not all language barriers are down to nationality, some can be down to things that are unique to the individual. Examples of physical language disabilities are dysphonia, accents, articulation disorder, stuttering, hearing loss or speech impediments.

There is always a language barrier to communication or language barrier problems, but there are always ways around them. If you’re travelling with the Erasmus Programme, they will help you out with any language barrier issues you have.

What is a cultural and language barrier

A cultural barrier is when people are unable to understand another person’s culture or way of life.

Religion is usually the hot potato that people refer to when they talk about cultural barriers, people who are not aware of the customs of certain people’s religions or customs usually end up inadvertently running afoul of their cultural customs, or intentionally if you’re Tommy Robinson or Katie Hopkins.

When travelling or studying abroad, you need to be aware of people’s cultures and customs and how they may expect you to do certain things or behave in certain ways, and these have to be respected.

Language barrier at university

How to overcome a language barrier?

There are a number of ways around a language barrier in communication, no matter what it is. If there is a language barrier problem, you can always look into lots of different solutions, we’ve got some good examples of how to overcome language barrier.

  • Use an intepreter: This is a bit on the expensive side, but this is very useful for students, especially if you are travelling with a friend who has a very good understanding of the language. Your university or educational provider may provide you with an interpreter if they notice that you have some issues with a language barrier in communication. An Interpreter will be expensive however, so make sure you keep an eye on costings or if this can be covered by a bursary or grant.
  • Study the language: This may sound like an obvious one, but studying a language is a great way of being able to at least understand the basics of the language, if not become fluent! Fluency in language is very unlikely, but you can at least pick up some of the idiosyncrasies of the language, this will help you if you find yourself coming up against a language barrier.
  • Don’t shout: It’s difficult to come up against a language barrier, especially if you have a language barrier at work, however for many people who speak English, you may come across an English language barrier when abroad, the best thing to do is keep your calm, don’t shout, keep your temper and remember that people are not deliberately trying to misunderstand you.
  • Speak in fewer syllables: It seems silly but it’s true. In fact, many public speakers use this technique, Donald Trump has been known to use it in his rallies, although that’s probably the only time in your life that you should ever replicate Donald Trump. With this technique, language barrier communication issues can be circumvented a lot easier. This can help you to with breaking the language barrier a lot.
  • Write it down: This won’t always help you when speaking verbally in a conversation, but it does help you a lot. You are able to write a word out, enunciate it and learn how it works in terms of what syllables and accents make it up. You won’t need to write a language barrier essay to work it out, but writing words that you don’t understand will help a lot.

These techniques can help you a lot with any language barriers. It won’t leave you with no language barrier issues at all, but it will help things a lot, especially if you’re on a university gap year.

Language barrier at uni

How can body language be a barrier to communication?

Body language is a non-verbal way of communicating and everyone who isn’t Amy Santiago subconsciously communicates this way.

You might not think that it can impact you, especially if you're abroad, but your body language says more than your words ever could.

Speaking can be tough due to the language barrier, but you can say more with your body by animating your words.

If your heads are down, your arms are folded or your back is turned to people, then you are more likely to lose people’s interest, so looking engaged is half the battle in itself.

This is a very important part when combatting the language barrier of communication.

How does language barrier affect health care?

Everyone needs to remember that healthcare is different in different countries. For those living in the UK, healthcare is free via the NHS (though who knows for how much longer) and is a right, rather than a commodity.

In other areas of the world, like America, universal healthcare is a hotly debated topic and one that can echo on into the ether for a very long time.

However, when it comes to general healthcare (whether universal or otherwise), there may be a language barrier in nursing communication, which means that nurses or doctors may struggle to administer any healthcare to you since they don’t speak your language.

But there are ways around encountering a language barrier in nursing.

In some countries, like the US, there has been a call for both federal and state officials to enforce a federal mandate for people requiring language assistance or those that have a limited understanding of English. In the US, a number of states already require third-party reimbursement for any hospital-based interpreters.

Make sure you're careful when you're abroad, if you need translation services then you can ask and the interpreters can help to define language barrier for people that need them to help if there is a language barrier in healthcare.

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