Sample Case Study on Culture/Language Barrier for Minority Students

Manuel Gomes lives in Boston with his family. He is the last born in a family of 11 and the only individual in his home to attain high school education. Manuel and his family moved to the United States during the civil unrest in Cape Verde. His parents enrolled him in school, and unlike his other siblings, he was able to pursue education. He will be graduating from high school at the age of nineteen. Although Manuel deems his graduation as a success not only for him but also for his family, he states that his experience in school was difficult. Manuel faced both cultural and language barriers. Immigrants from countries where they utilize their native language to learn find it hard to learn and utilize English as their second language. The language barrier not only makes it hard for these students to understand what they are being taught in class, but it also makes it hard for them to form connections with other students who are fluent in English. Besides, culture shock makes it hard for international students to interact with other people. Manuel, like many other international students, has to adapt to a new education curriculum as well as a lifestyle change, which can affect their ability to learn.

Findings and Discussion

The language barrier is one of the issues that international students face when they study in the United States. International students studying in the United States have to adopt the chosen language in their institution to learn (Sherry, Thomas, & Chui, 2010). In Manuel’s case, he had to learn Crioulo as well as English. Manuel found it hard to learn new languages, which is why he had to graduate later than many American students. Many immigrants come from countries where English is not the first language, and they are forced to learn the language while learning other subjects. Many students fail in their courses because they cannot understand what their teachers are saying or express themselves adequately in English.

International students find it hard to interact with other students due to the language barrier. The international students find it hard to join discussion groups since they are afraid of being unable to express themselves and being laughed at. Manuel states that it was hard for him to make new friends since he did not know how to communicate in their language. Moreover, he could not talk to a girl he liked since he did not know how to tell her of his interests due to the language barrier. Minority students end up forming friendships with each other since they have common attributes. Teachers need to understand that students from foreign countries do not understand the English language as students from America and take the time to instruct them on how to understand the language and express themselves (Yan & Berliner, 2011). Moreover, there should be initiatives by institutions that encourage students who are already conversant with the language to help those who are not. International students experience language shock when they join American schools since they find it difficult to communicate in the chosen instruction language.

Culture shock is also another problem faced by international students. People from different backgrounds have varying beliefs and values. Each group believes that their values and beliefs are correct, and when these groups are put together, conflicts arise. International students carry their cultures; however, their beliefs and values are often challenged by the American culture (Sherry, Thomas & Chui, 2010). Manuel, in his interview, states that back in his country, children obeyed their parents, they would not smoke or deal drugs, but in America, children are disrespectful, and they deal drugs. In addition he believes that children in America disregard social structure.  In Cape Verde children are a community’s responsibility but in America children have legal rights which makes it hard for their parents to help them develop social morals and values.  In his opinion, his country Cape Verde had rules and regulations that children had to follow, but in America, children have the freedom to do anything that they want, including disregarding their parents. Students from conservative backgrounds might find it hard to adapt to their new environment. Many end up feeling a sense of loneliness and homesickness because they find it hard to adapt to their changing environment (Yan & Berliner, 2011). There is a battle within the individual to carry on with their beliefs and values and to adapt to the new culture so that they can fit in. Therefore, culture shock makes it hard for international students to adapt to their new environments.

The loss of identity is also another cultural issue that minority students face. People form identities based on their groupings and backgrounds. Individuals identify as Americans since they have been brought up in America; thus, they understand the beliefs and values of the American people. Minority students from different parts of the world would also identify with their cultural backgrounds since they have been brought up believing in their values. However, minority students face identity challenges when they enroll in American schools due to the difference in culture (Sherry, Thomas, & Chui, 2010). Moreover, the fact that other people look at their culture as inferior and conservative makes many minority students have a hard time forming an identity. Manuel states that when people come to America, they want to talk like them, and they even state that they are American, thus forgetting their roots. Manuel states that he identifies with his country and looks forward to going back home, where he believes there is love for one another and understanding. Many international students forget about their culture and values and adapt to new behaviors, which they believe will help them fit in (Yan & Berliner, 2011). Institutions should be able to create environments that allow every student, despite their cultural backgrounds, to feel appreciated. There should be activities that allow every student to share their culture in school so that each of the students can learn to appreciate the other students’ cultures.


Minority students have a hard time adapting to their new learning environment in the United States due to cultural and language barriers as well as identity shock. Many of these students find out that American culture is different from their culture, making it hard for them to settle in their new surroundings. Moreover, the language barrier makes it difficult for these students to communicate with students who are already fluent in the English language. Besides, minority students feel like outsiders when they are undergoing an identity crisis. Therefore, language and cultural barriers make it hard for minority students to adapt to their new surroundings in America.



Sherry, M., Thomas, P., & Chui, W. H. (2010). International students: A vulnerable student population. Higher education, 60(1), 33-46.

Yan, K., & Berliner, D. C. (2011). Chinese international students in the United States: Demographic trends, motivations, acculturation features, and adjustment challenges. Asia Pacific Education Review, 12(2), 173-184.