5 Tips for Instructors: How to Communicate with Foreign Students

Studying abroad poses many challenges to foreign students. Some of them overcome these obstacles and others, unfortunately, do not. However, instructors play a vital role in helping foreign nursing students successfully overcome these challenges. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

5 Tips for Instructors: How to Communicate with Foreign Students

Studying abroad poses many challenges to foreign students. Some of them overcome these obstacles and others, unfortunately, do not. A study has shown that the main challenges for foreign nursing students are "new educational environments, modes of teaching and learning, cultures, and languages"(Chiang & Crickmore, 2009, p. 335). Instructors play a vital role in helping foreign nursing students successfully overcome these challenges. If teachers follow a few steps, the foreign students they teach will perform better and adapt more easily to their new academic environments. The following five tips will definitely help instructors improve both the emotional and the educational outcomes of foreign students.

Be Approachable:

When the teacher is approachable, it makes students comfortable. Foreign students feel especially vulnerable in academic environments. At times, they are unable to express themselves as they would in their native languages. Some struggle with building enough confidence to feel comfortable conversing in English. When students feel that they are welcomed to ask questions, it allows them to take ownership of their learning. Students sometimes blame professors who don't answer questions willingly for their own failures. Professors who make themselves available give students the opportunity to clarify any questions that they have and provide students with opportunities for additional instruction if they need it.A teacher who kindly approaches a foreign student and asks if he or she has any concerns may surprise the student at first. This is because most foreign students are educated in environments filled with teachers who insist that students not ask stupid or unnecessary questions. For this reason many foreign students feel inhibited. To combat this mentality, instructors should reiterate that there are no stupid questions because it will motivate students to speak out, ask questions, get answers and learn more.

Be Understanding:

A friend once told me a story about a midterm exam that she took. She had a question about the word "pumped." She approached the instructor to ask her what it meant. After two other foreign students asked the same thing, the instructor decided to write the word and its definition on the board for all of the other students. This story exemplifies an understanding teacher. Certainly, the foreign students who were taking the test were grateful to be given the definition of a seldom used expression that most likely was not being used to test their knowledge of the subject. On this test, they weren't penalized for being non-native language speakers. Instructors may unintentionally use words or phrases that students don't recognize from their English classes. Doing so puts foreign students in an uncomfortable position. If they have the courage to ask for help, educators should feel obliged to provide clarification for non-native speakers.

Another story from my own experience in graduate school exemplifies that when instructors are understating, students feel more courageous and comfortable. In my first semester, my professor was very cooperative. After having a conversation with her, she understood that, at times, I might need more time to finish up papers. So, she gave me one extra week to submit my papers, and I was relieved. Being understanding can decrease stress and tension for many students, especially foreign students.

Be A Guiding:

Seldom do students from other countries know what resources are available to them. Professors at schools are, very often, aware of what kinds or services are offered at the school or at other places in the surrounding community. Matching a student with an essential resource could change his or her academic career. Imaging if a student never learned about the school's writing center. That valuable program wouldn't be used by someone who really needed the help. Teachers should take it upon themselves to direct students to the help that they need.

Be Motivational:

Students who only hear negative feedback quickly lose motivation. If instructors review papers and begin by highlighting the strengths of the author and then starts to go through the mistakes, the students feels more confident and motivated to do better and better. On the other hand, if instructors only indicate the mistakes without encouraging the student in any way, it will discourage him or her and consequently have a negative impact on his or her educational progress and emotional status. So, instructors should remember that a little positive reinforcement goes a long way. Foreign students often feel inferior, so if they perform well, professors should not hesitate to praise them while giving constructive feedback.

Be Compassionate and Supportive:

Professors must consider that some of their foreign students are, at all times, experiencing culture shock and homesickness. Though this is not justification for poor performance, it may explain why some students' behavior changes from time to time. Be sensitive to their struggles. Having a teacher who understands may save students from failing out of school. Often, students' success depends on how mentally stable they are. If they are depressed, lonely or anxious, their academic performance may suffer. A professor, who listens to their stories, understands their challenges and provides moral support is an invaluable resource for a foreign student. Make sure students check in with you and with other students so that they build a network of support.

In conclusion, these are the five tips that can help instructors in better understanding and communicating with foreign students. By utilizing them, instructors can make a difference in foreign students' educational, social, emotional lives.


Chiang, V., & Crickmore, B. (2009). Improving english proficiency of post-graduate international nursing students seeking further qualifications and continuing education in foreign countries. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 40(7), 329-36.

I am foreign nursing student in the state of CT. Also, I am an RN in CT. I am studying Master in nursing education at University of Hartford. I have chosen this topic as result of my personal experience of being the only foreign student in the classes.

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Specializes in Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds.

Excellent article, Zainab_1985! I appreciate your words of advice and will apply them in my interactions with foreign students in my classroom or clinical :)

Specializes in Dialysis.

I would go as far as say this should apply to all students. Sometimes there are terms in the tests that aren't mentioned in notes or the textbook. Keep an eye out for shop-talk. ;)

Specializes in Trauma, ER, ICU, CCU, PACU, GI, Cardiology, OR.

an enlightening article, thank you for sharing...aloha~

Im an american living in the netherlands doing her nursing school in dutch. Nursing school is 10x harder in a foregein languauge.

Very good article, Zainab- nice work! I am hopeful that your message will be heard loud & clear by all in the profession!

All the best!

Steve W.

I came from another culture and here is what I noticed: There are numerous of times where nursing students are taught about being cultural sensitive/ competent, but most of my instructors are not. How funny is that? Most of my instructors will think I am quiet and not assertive/active in group work. Guess what??? In my culture, I am not taught to speak in group and talk to older person (instructors) the way others are taught in America. I am not asking them to overlook it, but at least try to understand especially when they tell students about being cultural sensitive to patients from other cultures. This irritates me when I have to ask them for references because are they the ones who know me? NOPE.

Anyway I love this article. I once had a teacher in high school read biology book with me and then she translated into more simple sentences. The funny thing was I got the highest grade in class. At that time, I have only been to America for 1.5 years. Language can be a big barrier.

As already noted, those tips are helpful and applicable to working with all students, regardless of background. However, I've got to wonder (and I realize I'm being terribly, terribly politically incorrect by saying this ... :rolleyes:) -- if someone chooses to go to school in another country, how come it's the job of the instructor to adapt to the learning styles, cultural expectations, etc., of the individual who made the choice to study in a different country?? (Especially in college, which is entirely an individual's choice to attend, unlike primary or secondary school.)


It may or may not be the job of an instructor to adapt to the learning styles, cultural expectations, etc., but if they do, those are the ones who go far and beyond their job. Those are the ones who are really compassionate about teaching, want to get to know their students and help them as the barriers come from being different culture is not what the students want. It is what comes with them. (and Some people do not get the choice to choose whether they want to study in a different country especially in college. If you also came from a different country, you would understand what I meant). I think it is the same thing for nurses. A person can be a nurse without considering about cultural differences when taking care of a patient who comes from a different culture, but when a nurse does, that is when she/he goes beyond a standard patient care.

most of these institutions says cultural diversity is their mission statement. if the instructor can not help students to adapt and feel at home, then there is a problem.

Congrats Zainab!

Your article is excellent, thanks for sharing!!

See you at graduation in a couple weeks!

Specializes in Cardiac care/Ortho/LTC/Education/Psych.

Hi,zaineb. I will print your article and share it with my peers . I know how it is when you MUST to study in different language and learn other costumes. It is always struggle.I worked with ESl group of students and I know how hard it is for them and faculty to work on same problem.Good job.