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Understanding Language Barriers

Going abroad? Dig deep and see what we can help you with

Studying abroad can offer students so many wonderful experiences and opportunities, however, potential students need to realise that language is important and it can make or break their time overseas.


Some degree courses abroad are taught in English, and dependent on the countries or universities, there will be more degree courses taught in English than in other areas. However, prospective students should thoroughly research whether their programme is taught in a language that they are fluent, or greatly understand before applying. There is nothing worse than feeling overwhelmed with not being able to understand a language or what a person is saying, and students won’t be able to complete their degree if they feel this way for three years.

If you are fluent in another language, or the language that a degree course is taught in, some universities require you to take a test to prove your abilities. Depending on the transition, you might be able to take this test when you arrive or during the application process, or another test which you can take in your home country. Verify what test you need to take and pass to be accepted on the degree course beforehand, as you wouldn’t want to waste time and money passing an exam that doesn’t mean anything to your university abroad.


All prospective students wanting to study overseas should begin to learn the native language of that country – even if it is fluent in English. Nobody can expect everything to spoken or written in English when they studying abroad as you may find yourself flustered in a situation where English isn’t available.

There are many self-teaching language books and online tutorials available, as well as handy apps you are able to download to your Smartphone to help you learn the basics. To gain a better understanding of the language, there are expensive packages to help you speak and write like a local. If you are going to spend a lot of money on a tool to help you, you should ensure it is at the right level for you and that the product is highly reviewed.

Some universities, for example in Norway, offer students free language courses to aid their studies, which is a great incentive to learn the lingo whilst abroad! Lots of information on different languages in each country can be found at the embassies in your home country.

When you arrive

When students arrive in their chosen country the opportunity to test out their language skills increases with the locals they meet, the shops they visit, the classes they attend and their fellow students and friends. By socialising with locals, you will learn the skills to ask in depth questions and gain a better understanding of the colloquial or common language that isn’t taught in textbooks.

Prospective students need to understand that when they arrive in their new country, they’re not going to be able to speak fluently in another language straight away, especially in a country that speaks English. You may have dreams of walking into a bakery and being able to have a full conversation in another language but that might not happen. Students need to have realistic expectations about living abroad and realise that not every person they meet will want to give them a language lesson.

There may be a barrier

Even if your fellow classmates speak English or you are comfortable with another language, there can still be language barriers or difficulties you might face. Not every student in your class will be as fluent as you are, and vice versa when it comes to communication. If you are having trouble getting your message across you can speak to the international department at your university or speak to your teacher or tutor on how to resolve this issue.

Google Translate

If all else fails, always carry a phrase book, language dictionary and download Google Translate on your phone so you are fully prepared for any situation. You can set up certain phrases on Google before you enter a supermarket to help with you whilst you are shopping, or translate what you are trying to say and show a fellow student for help.

The first thing all students should learn before they go is, ‘do you speak English?’ as well as friendly greetings and important phrases in the language.