The Impact of Language Use and Academic Integration for International Students: A Comparative Exploration Among Three Universities in the United States and Western Switzerland

The Impact of Language Use and Academic Integration for International Students: A Comparative Exploration Among Three Universities in the United States and Western Switzerland

Michelle L. Amos, Rachel C. Plews
DOI: 10.4018/IJTESSS.2019070101
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This article investigates the prevalence of online activity and preferred language use in these tasks. A survey was administered to students enrolled at three institutions to determine the frequency of their engagement in different online tasks in addition to the language(s) that they used. This work uses Transformative Learning Theory as a lens to examine how these students use language to navigate their transition into their new roles as college students and members of new communities. Several differences were noted among the study sites, reflecting the culture of the region and the varied student populations. The authors suggest minor revisions of the measure and continued investigation with additional international study sites to broaden data and allow for specific, culturally-based suggestions for improved student support. Increases in both international student enrollment and technology use require exploration of how these students use the Internet. This work is unique addressing the need to balance student emotional support needs and their need for language acquisition.
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Increases in international enrollment and in technology use provide an important opportunity for English Language Learners (ELL) to access support prior to and during their academic studies. As students negotiate the intersection of their existing identity and the emerging identities available in their new environment, the home support network may serve as an escape from the challenges to identity. In contrast, students may choose to use these technology resources for reflection, exploration, and support as they engage with potential new roles. This study seeks to explore student use of technology and language to generate a fuller exploration of students’ experiences and how educators can support students in the transformative journey.

International students are recruited by colleges for financial reasons: they pay higher tuition rates and are ineligible for many scholarships that domestic students might receive. Over 67% of these students pay for their studies from their own family resources (Institute of International Education (IIE), 2016). According to the Open Doors project by the IIE, in 2015-2016, there was an overall increase of 7.1% from the prior year bringing the number to over one million international students enrolled in undergraduate programs. Over 60% of these students are from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea (IIE, 2016). Throughout Europe, the population of international students has been increasing after the introduction of the Bologna Process in the early 2000’s (Swiss Federal Statistical Office (SFSO), 2017a). It is also one of the largest destinations for international academic studies, with over 45% of 4.1 million students worldwide selecting a European destination for their studies (IIE, 2016). In Switzerland, international students make up 22.3% of higher education students (SFSO, 2017b).

Over one in five United States residents speak another language at home, with Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic being the most-spoken languages other than English (Camarota & Zeigler, 2014). In Switzerland, there are three official languages – German, French, and Italian. This creates a challenge for statistics about languages spoken at home, as multilinguism is embedded in society. In 2016, over 51% of European students in upper secondary education reported learning at least two foreign languages in school (EuroStat, 2016). At home, permanent Swiss residents reported that 60% of the population speak Swiss-German, 23% speak French, 10% German, 8% Italian, and 5% English (SFSO, 2017). Although the situation in Switzerland has different complexities compared to the United States, these diverse student populations require strategies specific to their language learning needs, in addition to their overall academic objectives.

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