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‘Mind your language,’ experts tell international students headed to Canada

Many international students face challenges in Canada because they are unable to properly comprehend and communicate in English, experts warn.
International students face significant barriers in accessing health supports, according to survey.

Dr. Ratna Ghosh often hears the expression from her Indian international students that they had “passed out in college in this year” when they are referring to their graduation dates.

Other Indian-origin English contortions in Ghosh’s collection include “too much good” for very good; “a lot many” for plentiful, and “I am a topper” for being the top of the class.

“On the other hand, common expressions here like ‘I’m doing good’ leads Indian students to try and figure out what good are you are doing,” said Ghosh, professor of education at Montreal’s McGill University.

While often passed over as hilarious, these colloquialisms are a symptom of a more serious issue that leads to communication and understanding gaps that ultimately impacts international students in Canada adversely, she said.

“Canada is a popular destination for Indian students, but the difference between Canadian English and English spoken by Indians is more complex than you might think,” Ghosh said during a recent conference in India on ‘Interpersonal Communication Challenges for Indian Immigrants in Canada.’
“Initially, it becomes difficult to understand the local accents and matching with the pace, and the tone of the language becomes problematic too,” she said. 

“Even as Canada witnesses a record intake of Indian students every year, many students find it difficult to understand the Canadian accent. This may lead to poor academic performances for students who otherwise scored high grades in (English Language proficiency) TOEFEL and IELTS tests.”

Skills to cope
Most of Canada’s international students come from India — 217,410 as of Dec. 31, 2021 — representing about 30 per cent of all international enrollments in Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 

Other top international education source countries for Canada include China (105,265), France (26,630), Iran (16,900) and Vietnam (16, 285), South Korea (15,805), The Philippines (15,545), The United States (14,325), Nigeria ( 13,745) and Mexico (11,550). From the 2007 school year to 2018, international student revenues ballooned from $1.5 billion to $6.9 billion, according to a report from Higher Education Strategy Associates.

Ghosh said that getting good marks in English proficiency tests does not always translate into good inter-personal and communication skills, which impacts the chances of success for international students.

“Aside from the language many of the international students don’t have a grasp of financial management during their study years in Canada and are not given a full understanding on what it means to study in in their destination of choice,” she said. “This leads to all kinds of social issues, some of which have unfortunately ended in suicides.”

Ghosh said Canada, the provinces and groups like the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada should mandate that international students take a-pre departure program that will involve day-to-day communication skills, financial management in Canada to overcome challenges related to the cost of living, and inter-personal relationships.

“This will not only help students but all immigrants succeed in Canada,” said Ghosh.

Helping Canada achieve economic goals

Welcoming international students and improving their language skills are essential for Canada to achieve its economic goals, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the recent Languages Canada annual conference.

“Both immigrants and international students need to be well prepared to enter the workforce,” he argued. “They need the tools to succeed and that starts with language ability in English and French,” he told language program directors attending the conference.

International education is a $23 billion industry across the country, employing thousands of Canadians in teaching, administration and recruitment, he said, according to The PIE News.

Patrick Dang, a veteran Vancouver-based international education expert who is an advisor to the Indo-Canada Education Council (ICEC), told New Canadian Media that a critical component to success for international students studying in Canada lies in their capabilities and competencies in the English language. 

“Too often students are not prepared for success due to a study plan that fails to recognize, train and prepare them for their ability to comprehend, context, communicate and understand in English,” said Dang, who is the president of the Seymour Education and Learning Colleges (SELC).

“Not to mention critical thinking that is often neglected and overlooked.”

Dang has been instituting mandatory courses to familiarize students on a variety of Canadian issues as part of the SELC foundational programs in India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and South Korea.

He said these courses are designed to prepare students for life in Canada, to fully comprehend the daily lessons and boost their inter-personal skills.

“We see students, who go through these courses, do very well as they are 10 times better equipped to succeed compared to students who enter directly into universities and colleges directly without this important step,” he said.