BCM212 Research Proposal: How Language Barriers Influence the Academic and Social Life of Vietnamese International Students at UOW

“Do you know how smart I am in Vietnamese?”

“Yes” – was all I said in my first tutorial at UOW.

Eight months ago, I arrived in Australia, so confident that I would have no trouble with my studies, having had twelve years studying English as a second language. Yet in that tutorial, I was horrified to find myself suddenly unable to utter anything other than a single “yes” for the roll call, seeing how fast and fluent domestic students were.

bcm212 asm 01 illustration
My digital artwork: “Language Barriers”

It is just one small incident, but from my own experience and stories of Vietnamese peers, I realised how challenging it is to switch from your mother tongue to using another language almost 24/7.

“Listening and speaking in a new language is tiring. […] People speak quickly and you may feel embarrassed to ask them to repeat what they said.”

In addition, the adaptation is simultaneous to learning to do everything else by yourself, being far away from family, thus

“[They have to] overcome the language barriers and social barriers, learn to communicate more effectively, learn the local systems, and deal with the slights and frustrations.” (Marginson 2012, p. 9)

As the entire international student body at UOW would be too large a sample, I have narrowed it down to Vietnamese students studying a bachelor degree. My research aims to answer this question: How exactly do language barriers influence the academic and social life of Vietnamese international students at UOW?

I will first approach the issue top-down with some secondary research, drawing a big picture from academic papers. Based on this, I will make a survey to collect quantitative data from the overall sample to address key problems posed by language barriers.

This is followed by a bottom-up approach – using focus group with some questions such as:

  • What hinders you from speaking up in class even when you have a clear idea in mind?
  • How did you end up sticking with friends from the same country?
  • Have you ever been made to feel/felt like you are not as smart just because your English is not as fluent or as fast as native speakers?

I will also conduct a semi-structured interview – of which questions can be answered in a variety of ways (Croucher & Cronn-Mills 2015, p. 158) – with a Ph.D. student in Education about reasons for the incompetent English background of Vietnamese students.


When I first saw that image a few years ago, I simply laughed it off. Now that I have been through it, I genuinely sympathise with anyone with language barriers and hope that by the end of this research, I might figure out some solutions to this.

Because we all are very smart in Vietnamese, you just need a little patience to see that in English, we are just as brilliant.



Croucher, SM & Cronn-Mills, D 2015, Understanding Communication Methods: A Theoretical and Practical Approach, Routledge, New York.

Marginson, S 2012, ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, University of Wollongong, delivered 21 February, < http://focusonteaching.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@cedir/documents/doc/uow119828.pdf>.

Author: Minh-Anh Mia Do

book-smart and sugar-addicted || the written word & all things linguistics || email: dmad920@uowmail.edu.au

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