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Reviewing for the Exam

Critical Academic Literacies

  • Higher education

Plurilingual International Students Navigating the Academic & Language Challenges of Higher Education 

Recent decades have seen a rapid expansion of international students in higher education institutions worldwide. In 2017, more than 5.3 million students were enrolled in higher education institutions outside their country of origin (UNESCO, 2020). Concerns about the English language proficiency of international students who speak English as an additional language have given rise to the increased use of standardized English language proficiency tests such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in Canadian university admissions. The language requirements of universities are often based on the assumption that if students demonstrate English proficiency prior to admission, they will be able to function successfully in their new English-language environment and succeed in their program (Benzie, 2010).

However, students’ performance on proficiency tests may not reflect the actual proficiency and skills they need to succeed in higher education, particularly in graduate-level coursework (Friedenberg, 2002; Schmidt & Gannaway, 2007). To meet the expectations of their academic programs, international students also need an array of critical academic literacies that include academic language skills, discipline-specific knowledge and discourses, critical thinking skills, oral presentation and academic conversation skills, pragmatic competence,  and so on. International students are also faced with the challenge of adjusting to a education system that may differ from what they are accustomed to, within a new linguistic and cultural environment. Additionally, despite their diverse plurilingual and pluricultural repertoires, international students are often treated as a homogenous group in higher education institutions without personalized resources and support to navigate the challenges that they face in their graduate programs (Ambrósio et al., 2017; Zhang, 2016).


My research on international students in Canada focuses on their experiences navigating the academic and language demands of higher education in Canada, and how they draw on their plurilingual and pluricultural repertoires while developing the academic literacies required in their programs. The following are some of the sub-strands and publications from my research in this area:


Ambrósio, S., Marques, J. F., Santos, L., & Doutor, C. (2017). Higher education institutions and international

students’ hindrances: A case of students from the African Portuguese-speaking countries at two European Portuguese universities. Journal of International Students, 7(2), 367-394.

Benzie, H. J. (2010). Graduating as a ‘native speaker’: International students and English language proficiency

in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(4), 447-459.

Friedenberg, J. (2002). The linguistic inaccessibility of US higher education and the inherent inequity of US IEPs:

An argument for multilingual higher education. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(2), 309–328.

Schmidt, L., & Gannaway, D. (2007). E-Learning to aid international student transition: A case study.

International Journal of Learning, 13(12), 55-60.

UNESCO. (2020, July 20). Education: Outbound internationally mobile students by host region.


Zhang, Y. (2016). International students in transition: Voices of Chinese doctoral students in a U.S. research

university. Journal of International Students, 6(1), 175-194.

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