Non-Native English-Speaking Students' Perspectives of Culture, Language, and Academic Success: Narratives of Graduate Students in the Southern United States

Non-Native English-Speaking Students' Perspectives of Culture, Language, and Academic Success: Narratives of Graduate Students in the Southern United States

Maja Stojanovic, Petra A. Robinson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5268-1.ch011
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The chapter examines how non-native English-speaking graduate students perceive academic success and possible linguistic and cultural challenges in graduate schools in the United States. Data were collected from six in-depth individual face-to-face interviews specifically to understand the complexities and nuances in the perceptions of non-native English-speaking graduate students related to their academic success and possible challenges they face that may be caused by the lack of native-like language proficiency. Students' perceptions revealed the importance of cultural and language training for key stakeholders. Graduate schools as well as those teaching multicultural classes, among other stakeholders, should utilize this information to help modify English language programs and curricula for current and new students.
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The relationship between English language proficiency and academic success has been described as complex, as well as ambiguous (Graham, 1987). The vast number of non-native English-speaking (NNES) graduate students in American graduate schools (Institute of International Education, 2018b) signals the significance of exploring questions regarding communication, linguistic, and cultural competencies needed for success in graduate level programs. Up to now, these questions have mostly been explored through quantitative methods (Andrade, 2006, 2009; Bayliss & Raymond, 2004; Graham, 1987). The reason for this qualitative study on the perceptions of non-native English-speaking students was twofold. It was our aim to add to the limited body of qualitative research regarding these students in order to improve their experiences and chances of academic persistence and success. Moreover, as language proficiency is highly important in US graduate schools (Cho & Bridgeman, 2012), we wanted to understand how students described the way this proficiency related to their perceptions of their academic success.

The topic of this chapter, in which we seek to highlight the students’ perspectives regarding their graduate school success, is significant because of the increased number of non-native English-speaking students in the US (Institute of International Education, 2018a) and whose enrollment benefits the country in various ways. Non-native English-speaking students in the US contribute greatly in a multiplicity of ways. Of importance, particularly with the contemporary impacts of globalization, these international students help in strengthening international relationships (Bastien & Johnson, 2018). Additional benefits come by way of funding, which is primarily from personal or family funding sources for a large number of those students (Institute of International Education, 2018b). This means that these host institutions benefit greatly from these students, not only by having a diversity of cultures, but also by the revenue (Andrade, 2006) generated by their enrolment. These facts make the topic of multicultural classrooms and NNES students’ success significant for study and one which should concern more than just students or their professors.

The purpose of the study presented in this chapter was to explore the perceptions of non-native English-speaking graduate students regarding the importance of native-like proficiency for success in a US graduate school. The central question which guided data collection and analysis was the following: How do non-native English-speaking graduate students perceive the importance of language and cultural proficiency in an English-speaking environment (US Research 1 institution) for their academic success? The rationale behind the question was to gain genuine insight from the students, based on their personal lived experiences, in order to develop further understanding of NNES students’ experiences and offer practical advice for a multicultural classroom.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Language Proficiency: The ability to speak/use a language.

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language; the preferred English language test for applying to American universities.

Cultural Understanding: The ability to understand and communicate with people from other cultural backgrounds.

Non-Native (English-Speaker): A person whose first language is not English.

International/Foreign Student: A student whose country of birth is not the country where he/she is studying.

IELTS: International English Language Testing System; a standardized English test needed for study, work, or migration.

Academic Success: Success in an academic program, defined by the participants in this study as GPA, successful research and publications, and knowledge.

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