Overseas Students' Difficulties -2
I wrote previously about the problems of studying in overseas (here). Loneliness and losing the relationship with other people was described. The second important issue is the language. We have been learning English for a long time in our previous studies. Starting just after the primary school, we were taught English for seven years during our school education. In undergraduate programs, English is one of the courses all students have to attend and once again we had a close relation with English in our postgraduate studies.
Altogether, we have been learning English as a second language for, at least, 10 years in Iran. After such a long time, one would hope to have a good knowledge of English. However, as you know, our language-teaching system is not perfect and usually the English programs concentrate on grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension, rather than everyday conversation and communication skills.
As an example, imagine two Iranian people learning English in different situations. The first one has been taught English as a part of his/her school and academic education and the second one has been living in an English-speaking country during the same time and has learnt English through working and living with native speakers. The first person is probably perfect in English grammar, comprehension, translation and even writing, however the second one will be more fluent in his/her day to day communication, listening and speaking.
Most overseas research students are similar with the first case. We can read and understand English books and journals – especially in the field of LIS. Usually we can translate English articles in Persian and maybe we write in English correctly. But we have many difficulties in listening and speaking English – two important communicational skills. Three to five years completing a Ph.D. in an English-speaking country forces us to improve our fluency in English. We need to communicate with people in their own language to meet our daily living needs. Shopping, travel, health care, recreation and education are major areas in which we should speak with people in English.
In summary, there are few opportunities for international research students to improve their English speaking skill through daily communications. Whether our Offer is conditional or not, personally I think it is useful and even necessary for all research students to attend in a suitable English course at least for one month immediately after arriving to the host country. Language learning must be more difficult for our friends in the non-English speaking countries such as France and Denmark because they have to learn a new language plus English.