Teaching International and Multilingual Students

International students about to take a ferry ride on Lake Champlain

Who are UVM’s International and Multilingual Students?

While this seems like such a simple question, the answer is in fact complex. Some of our international students are monolingual native English speakers, while some of our multilingual students are not foreign nationals. Read more…

General Resources on This Page:

Helping students with:

Other Campus Resources

The Center for Cultural Pluralism offers some faculty events each semester.

UVM Professional Development and Training offers workshops on a variety of topics, one of which is diversity and inclusion on the UVM campus.

Resources for Your Students

The Office of International Educationsupports all international faculty, staff, and students on the UVM campus. See list of student advisors.

The UVM Writing Center provides writing support to undergraduate students.

The Graduate Writing Center provides writing support to graduate students

The Tutoring Center provides tutoring to undergraduate students

The Center for Academic Success

Who are UVM’s international and multilingual students?

While this seems like such a simple question, the answer is in fact complex. Some of our international students are monolingual native English speakers, while some of our multilingual students are not foreign nationals.

International Students

UVM enrolls over 900 students at the doctoral, master’s, undergraduate and non-degree levels. Our students hail from 65+ countries, with China sending the largest percentage of our international students (consistent with trends across U.S. higher educationopens new tab). Other top sending countries are Canada, India, Nigeria, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

International students represent 5% of our undergraduate student population (up from 1% in 2010), reflective of increased enrollment among international students nationally. International students represent 10% of our graduate population. In spite of recent growth, UVM’s international population as a percentage of our student body remains significantly less than most peer and aspirant public research universities.

In addition to degree-seeking students, UVM hosts two types of non-degree international students: Exchange students and Global Gateway Program students (at the pre-undergraduate and Pre-Master’s Programs levels). Exchange students are completing their degree at a university in another country, but are studying abroad at UVM for one semester or one year; in exchange, a UVM student studies abroad at that student’s home institution or a consortium partner institution. Global Gateway Program students are conditionally accepted to UVM at the undergraduate or master’s levels pending successful completion of a one-, two-, or (undergraduate only) three-term pathway preparation program focusing on academic English, U.S. academic culture and distribution requirements.

Some of our international students are native English speakers or have been speaking English since elementary school (such as students from Australia or Scandinavia, respectively). For non-native English-speaking students, specific minimum scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language or equivalent are required for admission to UVM as a matriculated undergraduateopens new tab, as a matriculated graduate studentopens new tab, or as a pathway program student.

Regardless of a student’s academic English proficiency, international students’ transition to study in the US includes adjustment to American teaching and testing methods, which commonly differ significantly from those in the student’s home country, and unfamiliarity with certain U.S. cultural or historical references if not explained.

Multilingual students

While many of our multilingual students are international students, many others are U.S. citizens or permanent residents who were raised in homes where a language other than English was spoken and who attended high school (and perhaps all of their primary and secondary schooling) in the U.S. Whereas these students are likely to have a greater command over U.S. cultural or historical references than their foreign national peers, some will experience similar challenges in academic writing. UVM does not currently have data on the language spoken at home by our students, but is exploring how to systematically capture this data for future student intakes.

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Academic Integrity

Rules regarding academic integrity can vary from country to country as can the strictness with which they are enforced. To make expectations clear:

  • It is helpful to include a link to UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity (PDF link) in the course syllabus and to follow this with a few words in class to underscore the importance of these rules and how they will be enforced in your course. For example, exactly what is prohibited by a term like ‘collusion’ may not be obvious given that some kinds of student-to-student sharing of ideas is typically encouraged.
  • International students may not be familiar with the kinds of learning support available on campus or may be uncertain when it is appropriate or permitted to use them. It is helpful to be explicit about the campus learning support services available to them and specifically direct students to use them where relevant.
  • Given the great variation in academic citation expectations across disciplines, from country to country, and even from one type of assignment to another, it is helpful to be clear regarding your expectations (and the specific citation style you require, where relevant).

Tips sheet from UVM’s Writing in the Disciplines Program Plagiarism, Source Use, and Writing Ethics (PDF link)

UVM Policy – Code of Academic Integrity (PDF link)

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Student Support Outside the Classroom

For many international students, getting support outside of the classroom is a new concept. Specifically, students may not be familiar with online university management systems, office hours, study groups, how to find a tutor, or how and when to connect with their classmates outside of class. Students may also be hesitant to use these services and/or uncertain of when it is appropriate to do so. Here’s how you can help:

  • Invite or require your students to visit during office hours at the start of the semester. Sometimes an initial visit is all a student needs to help him or her feel comfortable with this concept.
  • Consider adding to your syllabus a section on how to find a tutor, whether it’s through the Tutoring Centeropens new tab, the Undergraduate Writing Centeropens new tab, the Graduate Writing Centeropens new tab, or privately.
  • Introduce your Blackboard course at the start of the semester.
  • Before an exam or other major assessment, consider organizing a study group. Simply set a date, time, and place based on a quick inquiry of student availability. Since international students may be less familiar with this kind of learning support and unsure what is involved, consider an explicit invitation or expectation of attendance.
  • When assigning group projects, leave a space on the assignment handout where students can list their classmates’ names and contact info.

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Assignments and Tests

International students may incorrectly assume that academic norms in the U.S. are the same as those in their home country. Consider using the following strategies to help your students understand what is expected:

  • Provide examples of projects, essays, and other assignments so students can clearly see the type of work expected.
  • Go over the directions before the start of an assessment. When appropriate, ask students to paraphrase the directions to demonstrate their comprehension.
  • Before giving tests, provide a review activity with the same question types you’ll be using (i.e., multiple choice, short answer, matching, etc.). Students who practice with assessment formats are much more likely to be successful.

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Collaborative Assignments

You may have noticed that some of your international students tend to either self-segregate or hang back during group discussions or other collaborative assignments. In addition to any personal shyness or self-consciousness a student may feel, many international students have had little experience with these types of assignments in their prior studies.

Some strategies that can help students step up to the challenge of working with their classmates include:

  • Assigning partners/groups to create a balanced mix of international and multilingual students with native English speakers.
  • Consider assigning each group member a specific role or task so that the expectations for collaborative work are explicit.
  • As students are working in their groups, identify students who seem to be reticent to participate and engage them by checking in with their group progress.

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In-class Presentations

International or multilingual students may view in-class presentations with heightened anxiety, with the pressure of public speaking in a non-native language added to what is, for many, a new and unfamiliar type of academic assignment. Some strategies to help students prepare successfully for presentations include:

  • Be specific about how the presentation will be evaluated and whether students should or should not use notes. Consider providing a specific time limit (e.g., 10 minutes) whenever appropriate.
  • Encourage students to use PowerPoint and/or distribute a handout or outline to the audience, to help keep everyone on point and in sync.
  • Make clear that students should rehearse their presentation (multiple times!). Encourage practicing in front of a native English-speaking friend or tutor several times to work out their jitters and get feedback.
  • Invite students to visit you during office hours to discuss their plan—ideally, well in advance of the due date.
  • For group presentations, seek a mix of domestic and international students and a structure ensuring participation by all.

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Listening Comprehension

By definition, university lectures convey information that is previously unfamiliar to students in the course. In many subject areas, this information may include highly technical vocabulary and/or may require specific types of background knowledge that international students may not have (e.g., regarding US culture or history).

Here are some tips to facilitate listening comprehension and note-taking:

  • Help students know what they will need to listen for. Try starting the lecture by briefly summarizing the objectives of the day’s lesson/lecture and then closing with a brief re-cap; display this information on PowerPoint slides.
  • Allow occasional “wait time” for checking comprehension, making connections, or doing Q&A between different sections of the lecture.
  • To help students recognize the key technical vocabulary or concepts referenced in the lecture, consider posting them on Blackboard before the lecture, or putting them on a PowerPoint slide that you review at the start of the lecture, and/or introducing an online resource where they can access such a list.
  • Often, just a few words can help clarify an expression or cultural reference that international students would otherwise miss.
  • Make class materials such as handouts or PowerPoint files available in Blackboard after class. If audio-visual materials will be played in class, it can be helpful if these are posted to Blackboard beforehand so that students are able to preview and/or review them.

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Many international students may be used to pedagogical and cultural frameworks where there is a different understanding of instructor-student interactions and course expectations (e.g. lecture-based classes and written tests as opposed to interactive classes and project-based assessments). Here are a few strategies that can help increase effective class participation by international students:

  • Include on the course syllabus a clear statement of expectations regarding attendance and participation (e.g., if participation is graded, include a list of the kinds of contributions included in this assessment).
  • Consider offering a variety of participation modes (in-class, written, online, etc.) to allow students multiple routes for taking an active role in class interactions.
  • Mix full-class discussion with opportunities for students to interact in smaller groups, perhaps with a rotating representative from each group reporting out at the end.
  • For students coming from different linguistic or cultural backgrounds, activities that provide a few moments to reflect and prepare (e.g., free-writes) can greatly support participation.

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Reading Comprehension

  • Given that it takes longer to read effectively in a non-native language, students can read more efficiently when they have a clear idea of the purpose of the reading assignment. For example, is the reading intended to provide general familiarity with a range of views or is it information that needs to be studied and retained in detail?
  • Clarifying what you want students to get out of a reading can improve both their comprehension and time management. Give them a list of key terms or concepts to look for, or questions you want them to find the answers to.
  • Consider using in-class group discussion and/or discussion boards on Blackboard as an opportunity to expand on reading assignments. Be sure that the groups include a mix of both American and international students.
  • Let students know they can visit you or their TAs during office hours to ask questions.

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In order to be successful in your course, your students will need to have a clear understanding of both instructional and course-specific vocabulary.

Instructional vocabulary includes terms specific to tasks you might assign and expectations associated with them (e.g., “response paper”, “literature review”).

Course-specific vocabulary includes key words and concepts frequently found in class readings, materials, and lectures.

To help your students, consider offering a list of instructional and course-specific terms at the beginning of the semester and/or before the start of a new unit. The list doesn’t have to be long or exhaustive; a list of 10-20 words per unit will do.

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Appropriate norms for academic writing can vary across different cultures and educational systems. A few challenges that international students face due to these differences include appropriate framing of their own or other writers’ ideas, as well as proper application of a genre or a required academic style. Some strategies for creating and evaluating writing assignments include:

  • Clearly explain expectations and objectives for the writing assignment.
  • Because it takes much longer to write correctly and effectively in a non-native language, it is helpful to provide as much lead time as possible for assignments.
  • Consider dividing the assignment into stages or drafts. This can facilitate the writing process and give students an opportunity to implement feedback effectively.
  • Prioritize what to focus on when giving feedback. (For example, it might be counterproductive to provide detailed feedback on grammar choices in cases where major ideas or arguments are not developed appropriately.)
  • Refer students to on-campus or online resources where they can access guidelines about certain academic styles and conventions (citation, paraphrasing, bibliography, etc.)

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