English as Lingua Franca: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of English Language on Vietnamese Graduate Student Learning

Christina W. Yao, Crystal E Garcia, Courtney Collins
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 209-225

In this study, we explored the learning experiences of graduate students enrolled at Vietnamese-German University (VGU), a transnational collaborative university that uses English as the language for instruction that is primarily conducted by German faculty.

Transnational education has gained in popularity across the globe, often with English serving as the common language, or lingua franca. However, English as lingua franca contributes to learning challenges as a result of English language dominance in academia.

Case study methodology was used to examine the learning experiences of graduate students at Vietnamese-German University, with the institution as the case and 24 participants as the unit of analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face which allowed for rich data.

Transnational education has gained significant attention in recent years, including how language may influence operations and motivations of institutions. However, few studies exist that examine English as lingua franca at transnational universities from the student perspective. The context of Vietnam is also important as Asia is a growing region for the establishment of transnational universities.

Participants expressed that the primary reason they chose to attend VGU was because of its use of English as lingua franca. However, they experienced several challenges, particularly with technical jargon and an overall language barrier in the classroom. Participants navigated challenges with three strategies for learning: asking the professor questions, talking with peers, and using supplemental resources to understand unfamiliar concepts.

Results from this study include implications for instructors to better meet the needs of non-native English learners in the classroom, such as supporting peer engagement, group work, and engaging in pedagogical training.

The findings from this study provides additional perspectives on how English as lingua franca allows for affordances and challenges for student learning at transnational universities in Vietnam. The results of this study could inform other transnational universities in Asia.

Recommendations for future research include examining English as lingua franca from the perspectives of instructors. Additional suggestions include longitudinal studies on the outcomes of graduates’ English language learning and how English language training contributed to their employment in the global sector.

Vietnam, Germany, transnational education, English as lingua franca, student learning
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