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Language Considerations

At NC State, all non-native English speaking international students are required to demonstrate an English proficiency level indicating readiness for academic work. In addition to the challenge of taking courses in a new language, international students will need to adjust to the U.S. system of higher education and its various requirements.

Students enjoy a warm fall day at Mary Yarborough court on main campus.


In this section, you will find information on how to better engage with international students, check for understanding, and help them adjust to the U.S. classroom and its expectations. The NC State University Tutorial Center provides helpful writing and research resources and the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has a good collection of resources providing English language support.

Adjusting to Speech Styles

We all have unique features to our speaking styles, from our accents to our rate of speech to the non-verbal mannerisms we use. It takes time for students to become accustomed to these differences.

A large number of international students will only have been directly exposed to one type of English during the course of their studies in their home countries; some may have had very little contact with native speakers of English.   


  • During the first few weeks of classes, speak a little more slowly than usual.
  • Repeat or rephrase key ideas. Summarize important points.
  • Use signal words or expressions to indicate what is coming next.
  • Use a variety of techniques to check for understanding.
  • Avoid or minimize idiomatic expressions.

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Cultural, Historic, and Popular References

It is commonly known that college-age students may not understand the historic, cultural, or popular references made by members of older generations. This is even more true with international students.


  • Do not assume that all of your students possess the same background knowledge.
  • Give context and a brief timeline for historical events.
  • Be judicious in your usage of pop cultural references.

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Vocabulary and Idioms

English does not have a close correspondence in the way things are spelled and the way that they are pronounced. Often times, students will be familiar with the written form of words, especially discipline-specific words, because they have seen these words multiple times in their readings. However, they may never have had the opportunity to hear these words spoken or it may be the case that they are pronounced differently in their native language with the stress on a different syllable.

In addition, understanding and correctly using slang, idioms, and metaphors demonstrate high proficiency and comfort in a given language and culture. For example, in the U.S., sports metaphors are frequently used in daily life but they can pose challenges particularly if students have little understanding of or exposure to a given sport. Note that these types of expressions are rarely taught in English courses in the students’ schools.


  • Provide students with a list of keywords or concepts that will be frequently used in your class ahead of time.
  • Say keywords and write them down or point to them on a slide to assist internationals in making the connection between the written and spoken forms of specific vocabulary.
  • When using idiomatic expressions or metaphors, be sure to include a rephrase of what you mean. If you do not, students may interpret the phrase literally and become confused.

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