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Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of questions that faculty often ask regarding working with international students.

NC State has a vibrant and growing international community. There are 6,000 students from 129 countries enrolled for the spring 2023 term. Top sending countries include India, China, South Korea, Iran and Bangladesh. While our population is concentrated most heavily at the graduate level, we do enroll over 1,000 undergraduate and non-degree international students. Top colleges for NC State’s international community include the College of Engineering, College of Sciences, and College of Management.

International students are important members of the Wolfpack and bring fresh ideas, perspectives, and energy to our community. Given the lengthy process they undertake in order to be able to study in the U.S., international students place a very high value on their education and take it very seriously. A degree from a U.S. institution of higher education is frequently the ticket to future success and job opportunities, not to mention societal prestige and the pride of their families. Our global economy requires that all students be able to think creatively, communicate effectively, demonstrate flexibility, and take risks. Having international students as classmates can help our domestic students to develop these skills.

Now more than ever, graduates find themselves working alongside people who are different from them in their careers; it is likely that they will have coworkers from other countries, especially if they work in the fields of science or technology. Networking is important for students, and networks that expand the globe are beneficial to all NC State students and faculty. For students who are unable to study abroad for financial or academic reasons, having international students on campus is a way of bringing the world to them.

All NC State undergraduate and graduate students are required to demonstrate a minimum level of English proficiency before enrolling in any credit-bearing classes. Currently, undergraduate students must have at least a score of 80 on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), 6.5 on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or a 110 on Duolingo for direct admission. For conditional admission, students must have at lease a score of 50 on the TOEFL, 5.5 on the IELTS and 85 on Duolingo. The Graduate School requires students to have at least an 80 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS, but certain programs may have higher requirements.  

High-achieving students who do not meet these language requirements may be admitted conditionally to the university through the Intensive English Program (IEP). Completion of the IEP will then satisfy the university’s English language requirement.

Standardized test scores reflect a student’s proficiency at a given point in time. If students do not actively use their English, it will be lost just like any other skill. Furthermore, learning to effectively use English for a variety of academic tasks requires time and sustained practice.

Speaking and writing with clarity, using accurate paraphrases and summaries, and choosing the right word that conveys the correct nuance are all skills which need to be practiced in order to be improved. While many international students may feel reasonably comfortable writing a five-paragraph essay in the humanities, they may find it challenging to write a lab report where the passive voice is used extensively, for example. To some degree, these language conventions must be explicitly taught to both international and domestic students. Provide models whenever you can and be clear with your expectations.

Learn more: Language Considerations

Language learning, especially as it applies to an academic context, is a process and takes time to develop. You will notice that certain skills such as listening and reading (receptive skills) are generally easier for your international students than are speaking and writing (productive skills).

If students have persistent errors in writing, grammar or speaking, send undergraduates to the Academic Success Center for assistance and graduate students to the Graduate Writing Center (GWC). If you know the type of writing or grammatical errors students are having trouble with, let them know (eg. active versus passive voice). Otherwise, highlighting constructions or passages in the students’ work should give the tutors a good indication of the areas requiring extra help.

Graduate students have access to writing support including workshops and workshop series, writing groups, advising meet-up hours, and a writing retreat each semester.  Contact Katie Homar for more information.

NC State’s English as Second Language program offers credit-bearing courses specifically for non-native English speaking international students. FLE 101 is the required undergraduate English composition course designed for non-native speakers of English while English 101 is designed for native-speakers of English or near-native speakers of English. It is strongly recommended that students take their FLE 101 course during their first year at NC State so that they have a strong foundation in writing and research skills on which to build in subsequent semesters. If you have international undergraduate students in 2nd year or higher classes who are having significant problems with their writing, ask them if they have already taken FLE 101.

The Intensive English Program (IEP), ESL Program, and Office of International Services (OIS) offer conversation classes. The IEP’s classes are 15 weeks in length with a shorter summer 10-week session and a limited number of seats are available. A nominal fee is assessed. IEP also offers especially designed classes for visiting scholars that are 10 weeks in length for a nominal fee. These classes are designed for visiting scholars. Both the ESL program and OIS offers free drop-in classes open to current students, visiting scholars, and spouses.

The IEP also offers evening courses on a short-term basis.  These courses are open to the community and address topics such as business English writing, conversation, pronunciation, and test preparation.

Intention and tone carry a lot of weight. Talk to your international students as you would any NC State student: with patience, caring, and a sincere desire to help. Do not speak louder than you normally would in conversation or use exaggerated gestures.

Try using shorter sentences and simplifying your vocabulary if students are having trouble following you. It may be helpful to use paper to write down words or ideas or just to focus students’ attention.

Instead of asking, “Do you understand?”  after your explanation to the students, try asking,  “What questions do you have for me?” or “What additional information can I provide you?”   You might also want to consider having students tell you what they’ve understood so you can check their understanding and provide correction or clarification where needed.

Remember that the nodding of the head by an international student does not necessarily indicate agreement or understanding. It can just mean “I’m listening” or “I follow what you are saying.”

In follow up emails with students, you may choose to summarize your discussion with them once again. This will give students an extra opportunity to check their own understanding and confirm what you’ve told them.

It’s important to avoid making assumptions based on national or cultural stereotypes or even experiences with other international students, as such assumptions can be wrong and lead to marginalization and impede communication. Just as not all Americans think alike or behave similarly, this is also true for international students. Treat the students as individuals while being mindful of the cultures and educational systems from which they come.

Learn more: Language Considerations

At NC State, all students should be held to the same academic standards. You will find your international students to be just as academically prepared or even better prepared in some subjects compared to your domestic students. However, international students may need extra time, guidance, and assistance in order to be successful in their studies, sharpen their academic language skills and navigate the expectations of the U.S. system of higher education.   

While international students should be held to the same academic standards, consider offering some leniency to issues surrounding language. In other words, be judicious when taking off points due to spelling and grammar on written assignments if the meaning is clear. You may also want to consider allowing an international student the opportunity to rewrite an assignment or earn extra credit in your course.

Learn more: Creating an Equitable Classroom

Focus on the students’ ideas and the strength of their arguments and reasoning over their grammar and/or spelling. We strongly recommend that graded work not be heavily penalized due to grammatical errors unless the problems are persistent and/or impede comprehension or clarity. 

If you have a rubric or set of criteria that you use to evaluate assignments, provide them to students ahead of time so that your expectations are clear. Provide students with models of strong work as well as weak work.

Be very clear if you will allow international students to get outside language assistance from those who are not their professors or TAs as this may pose a potential academic integrity violation.

Learn more: Assessing Writing

There are many reasons why students may choose to speak in a language other than English. A student might be asking for clarification, connecting with members of their social group, or experiencing language fatigue in English. There could also be other reasons related to cultural values and identity. All students at NC State have the right to speak in their preferred language while on their own time—during breaks, eating lunch, studying in the library, relaxing at any of the spaces on campus, etc.

Be careful not to assume that choosing to speak in a language other than English is a negative reflection on that student’s English proficiency. Recall that all degree-seeking students are required to demonstrate a level of English proficiency that indicates their readiness for academic work.

Some may feel that they are acting in the students’ best interests by letting them know privately how speaking in another language may be perceived, especially by those who do not understand their language. While it is fine to have a discussion with students about this, ultimately it is the students’ decision to speak in the language of their choosing outside of class, and it is also their legally protected right to do so. Choosing to speak in a language other than English on one’s own time should have no impact on future academic, research, or employment based opportunities. A faculty or staff member implying to the student that it would, or engaging in activities that in fact do have such a negative impact, could be a violation of the law.

Names are unique and personal to one’s identity and often carry meaning as it relates to family and culture.  While it is understandable that some names may be difficult for an English speaker to pronounce, it is important to refer to someone else by using their preferred name. Failing to use a student’s preferred name has the potential to convey they are not important or as valued as other students. Rest assured that most international students are aware of the potential difficulties English speakers may have with their names and do not expect perfect pronunciation. It is OK to ask a student for help learning how to pronounce their name. This type of personal effort is often appreciated.

With that being said, it is also important to keep in mind that some students may have English names that they either chose or were given to them by teachers in their home countries.   These students may want their professors to use their English names rather than their given names.

In all cases, every effort should be made to call students by the names that THEY prefer, whether that is their given name, family name, English name, or something else, and to show a genuine attempt to pronounce their names correctly.

Guide to the Pronunciation of Names

How We Say Our Students’ Names and Why It Matters

Resource Guide Committee

Assessing Writing Guide

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