Language and literacy skills of home and international university students: How different are they, and does it matter?

Danijela Trenkic, Meesha Warmington

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Although international students experience lower attainment at university than home students (Morrison et al., 2005), reasons are poorly understood. Some question the role of language proficiency as international students come with required language qualifications. This study investigated language and literacy of international students who successfully met language entry requirements and those of home students, matched on non-verbal cognition, studying in their native language. In a sample of 63 Chinese and 64 British students at a UK university, large and significant group differences were found at entry and eight months later. Furthermore, language and literacy indicators explained 51% of variance in the Chinese group’s grades, without predicting the home students’ achievement. Thus language proficiency appears predictive of academic outcomes only before a certain threshold is reached, and this threshold does not correspond to the minimum language entry requirements. This highlights a systematic disadvantage with which many international students pursue their education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-365
Number of pages17
JournalBilingualism: Language and Cognition
Issue number2
Early online date5 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

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© Cambridge University Press 2018. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • UK higher education
  • academic attainment
  • home students
  • international students
  • language and literacy skills

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