Mastering The (Uni)versal Language

Australian English – a Linguistic Challenge for International Students in Australia

Australian English – a Linguistic Challenge for International Students in Australia


The experience of studying abroad is – to international students – supposedly and saliently an active process of self-formation in which the student oscillates between two adaptive strategies known as multiplicity (consciously switching between different selves corresponding to different settings) and hybridity (synthesizing multiple cultural identities into one newly formed self) (Marginson 2012, p.). However, in reality, the experience is hardly fluid, as a great many international students are immediately faced with the dreadful language barriers on their arrival in Australia.

According to Kell and Vogl, “The internationalisation of the university had included the increased use and reliance on English as the lingua franca of higher education” (2007, p. 2). Hence, the hardship emerges once the distinctive characteristics of Australian English are taken into consideration – “informal and colloquial nature” (Kell & Vogl 2007, p. 1), accents, and fast speech. These linguistic traits trouble mostly students with an Asian educational background whose focus is merely on reading and writing (Kell & Vogl 2007, p. 4).

These language barriers hinder the students academically, as can be seen in this video:

For students from non-English speaking background, listening and taking notes during lectures can be extremely hard due to the unfamiliar accent of the lecturers, and writing in a second language is just as challenging – the video gives a representative, though quick, glimpse of these difficulties (Dalliias 2015).

Socially, language barriers prevent the students from really fitting in with the general community of their host country, as their “lack of proficiency in colloquial English” makes them alien to “social norms and conventions of Australian life” (Kell & Vogl 2007, p. 8). Not only do they find it hard to initiate conversations with local students because of not knowing what to say, but also all too often, they find themselves caught up in frustration with the inability to articulate what they have in mind to local peers.

img_1443 Source:

Nevertheless, in the end, most international students successfully strive to achieve what they aspire both in the academia and society, conquering these linguistic challenges by creative means e.g. watching TV series in English, attending language courses (Dalliias 2015), or striking up friendships with Australian landlords (Kell & Vogl 2007, p. 7). As Marginson (2012, p. 9) have well put, “They must have [a remarkable self will], if they are to overcome the language barriers and social barriers, learn to communicate more effectively, learn the local systems, and deal with the slights and frustrations”.


  1. Dalliias 2015, Fears at University – Language Barriers, online video, 10 Oct, Manchester Metropolitan University, viewed 20 August 2016, <>.
  2. Do you know how smart I am in Spanish?, image, The Lizzie McWasson Movie, WordPress, viewed 20 August 2016, <>.
  3. Kell, P & Vogl, G 2007 ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006.
  4. Marginson, S 2012, ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, University of Wollongong, delivered 21 February, <>.

Author: Minh-Anh Mia Do

book-smart and sugar-addicted || the written word & all things linguistics || email:

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