Can Your International Student Graduates Speak English?

flagsOn March 5, 2015 there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about teaching international students how to network—American style. It went on to say that those graduates seeking work or internships in the US need to be able to network. Networking as defined by the article refers to the ability of graduates to “reach out” to US companies which might be interested in hiring them.

Upon reading the article, I was reminded of an evening event at a major LA university where MBA students discussed topics of current interest in a panel led by a professor. Many of the 15 students were not native English speakers, and roughly half of them had difficulty communicating with the professor and with the other classmates. They had to repeat themselves often until hopefully understood because of their poor command of spoken English. Remember, these were graduate students who had been admitted into the MBA program after providing “proof” from one of two English language assessment exams which are commonly used by US universities. Obviously, little attention was given to their speaking skills at the time of admissions. Language skills seldom improve much after students are admitted into an academic program without additional formal training. This training is usually not available for students deemed “fluent” in English when admitted.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to meet international student college graduates who cannot speak English well. Or, to be more honest about it, who speak English too poorly to apply for a job or internship in the US. This statement certainly does not apply to all international student graduates, but it applies to too many of them. The tragic result for those graduates who are poor English language speakers is that their chance of becoming an acceptable English language speaker is nil. They have simply spent too much time practicing their poor spoken English while in graduate school. Those language habits are nearly impossible to change.

I would like to encourage US colleges and universities give serious consideration to additional English language assessment of students once they arrive on campus–specifically, a speaking assessment. Those whose scores indicate additional instruction is needed should be provided the opportunity to receive such instruction. Graduating students with a US degree who lack the speaking skills to conduct a phone or personal interview in English is a great disservice to the students.

See this post as it originally appeared on BES Chairman Perry Akins’ LinkedIn page.

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