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Anglo-Sax-Off: Language Barrier at R

December 22, 2022
- Akshara, Anvita, Ayan, Kritika, Kushagra, Nancy, Pratham, Riya, Sarthak, Shivanshi, Shreya, Sneha


  1. The survey, testimonials, and interviews were taken in 2021; hence, the information and perception regarding some of the topics in these data sources might not truly reflect the current scenario by a slight margin. However, the article is up-to-date regarding follow-ups to the programs and steps mentioned as of December 2022
  2. The authors do not claim that this article can be equated to the lived experiences of people who suffer from language barriers. Instead, it attempts to summarize the problem by relying on secondary research and survey results for gathering data.


Language Barrier is the term used to describe the problems associated with communication between people who do not speak a common language. This problem seems simple to understand and solve on the surface, but several complexities are attached to it. When students from across the nation are admitted to the IITs, they adjust to the newer environment and shift from their homes. This adjustment becomes even more complicated when they experience difficulties communicating in English. The lack of proficiency in the English language might bring invisibility in the academic, professional, and social environments on campus.

The Union Home Minister of India stated that 95% of the students in India had received their primary education in their mother tongue. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 provides for higher education institutions and programs in higher education to use the mother tongue or local language as a medium of instruction besides offering programs bilingually.

Watch Out! surveyed around a hundred people in May 2021 and conducted a few interviews. An astounding 88% of the respondents admitted that a lack of fluency in English affected their academics and social lives. This report brings you the survey results and our analysis of the situation.

Problem Identification

Language barriers are harsh in how they relate to various aspects of an individual’s life. They lead to uncertainty, mistrust, and disrupted productivity. We attempt to divide the problem further to identify the ill effects better:

1. Effects of language barriers on Academics

Academics take up a massive chunk of a student’s life, and with reason. All the hours spent in the classrooms since the first year should amount to something. Professors predominantly use English as the medium of instruction, and students not well-versed in the language often struggle to express themselves. Even if the students can grasp what is being taught and the study material, they often struggle with asking much-needed queries and doubts about the subject. This can lead to emotional stress and affect their learning ability, hampering their academic progress. Subsequently, they may face a lack of interest in the subject and are not able to keep up with the tutorial classes. The result can be disastrous, a steady slip in grades that limits students’ opportunities.

Choosing another language as the sole medium of communication in classes with students from different regions is not feasible. However, it has been observed that some professors teach in a bilingual environment or confirm the language preference of the class. Even though this measure is helpful, it doesn’t go a long way in erasing the language barrier. The reason is not every student (or professor) is comfortable with Hindi or other vernacular languages.

To gain more insight into how professors perceive this issue, Watch Out! conducted a short interview with Professor Bhanu Prakash Vellanki.

[Excerpts from the interview]

WO: Have students ever approached you asking for explanations in another language?

Not directly. I understood the difficulty faced by students who were not comfortable speaking in English when they met me after class with queries that were directly addressed in the class. Also, I could sense a certain section of people who were always switched off after an initial effort to engage with the proceedings in the class.

An aspect to note is that around 10% of the students fall in the above category. The percentage decreases with time. Choosing another language for the medium of communication is not feasible. English is the common language that a majority of students can understand.

Feedback forms can be a method to understand the extent of the problem.

WO: What were your actions when you observed this disparity?

I requested MTech students fluent in Hindi to hold sessions on Saturdays or Sundays. Many students used to come, but catching up with all the material in one interaction session was impossible. I even gave additional marks in CWS to boost their morale.

WO: Does this affect the academic performance of such students?

Yes. A lot. It reflects in their academic performances regardless of whether they are from Hindi or non-Hindi-speaking states.

WO: What do you think is the best way to accommodate these students?

Initially, additional classes (one per week) with MTech students might be a band-aid solution.

WO: What should students facing these issues do, according to you?

Typically, the students who cannot follow the class due to a lack of proficiency in English feel left out, and some drift further away during their later years on campus.

The only way forward is to face the challenge and understand that English language proficiency will hold them in good stead later on, too; thus, they need to make an effort to improve themselves by reading newspapers like The Hindu or novels, according to their interests. Rosetta Stone is a great tool to enhance proficiency in languages.

2. Effects of language barriers on placement and internships

Around 29% of the students battling through the internship and placement season were impacted due to a lack of proficiency in English. The lack of confidence and nervousness, combined with the inability to communicate their point, puts them at a disadvantage. This disparity is majorly felt when it comes to interviews and group discussions. Moreover, it becomes increasingly challenging to answer technical questions while one’s mind is preoccupied with battling language issues.

Numerous companies have an English proficiency section in their recruitment process. Some also restrict their mode of communication to English. This threatens a student’s chance to pursue their interests and can cause a dip in their learning curve.

3. Effects of language barriers on social life:

To a large degree, the campus culture of Roorkee is defined by the various campus groups. The buzz about campus groups starts before students even set foot in college. There is a desperate need to get selected for these hugely popular groups, but a mammoth task lies in getting through their intensive recruitment process. Fluency in English gives students an edge in group discussions and team activities, which are essential to several recruitment processes. This puts others at a disadvantage.

At a personal level as well, measures of inclusion need to be taken by the students to alleviate this barrier. As a 4th year ECE student puts it - “Although many people face the same set of problems and their peers are well aware of it, there is little they can do to help their friends.”

People uncomfortable (or underconfident) with spoken English tend to miss out in large social settings and get alienated. The subsequent loss of confidence leads to a lack of interaction, and they often withdraw from getting involved in activities.

Institute-Level Interventions to address the Language Barrier Problems

When a student is not proficient in English, it brings a certain invisibility to them in the social, academic, and professional spheres of their lives. It becomes the responsibility of the Institute to address these problems while reducing the effects of such proficiency gaps in the everyday academic life of the students.

So far, the institute has incorporated two courses to address this directly. These are the Communication Skills Course (HSN-001) and the Technical Communication Course. The Student Mentorship Program has also introduced a LEAP program to address this issue. In the past, the campus also subscribed to the language software Pearson MePro for students to have a self-paced learning experience. This software was introduced in the online semester for the 2020 Batch, primarily for students of Communication Basic. Currently, its availability is not confirmed.

1. Communications Course HSN-001 & Tech Communication

The Communications Skills course is a part of the academic curriculum in the first semester. Until 2020-21, the course was divided into two courses: Basic and Advanced. Thereafter, they merged the two into a single course, namely, HSN-001.

In the year 2020-21, the students were given a choice between Basic and Advanced, whereas, in the years preceding, a test was conducted to determine the same. Those with the medium of instruction as their vernacular language during the school days mainly chose Comm. Skills - Basic. The students aimed to achieve fluency in English with the help of this course.

Many students preferred taking Basic Course as the CGPA in the first-semester influences branch change. Consequently, students chose what they felt was a relatively easy course. The Advanced English course was perceived to be too complex.

However, per the feedback, the Basic course focuses more on improving one’s grammar, vocabulary, and basic understanding rather than practical application and interaction. Students were more adversely affected during the online semester as the tutorials could not be adequately conducted, and proper interaction between students did not occur.

The students who took the Advanced course expected to acquire better fluency, expression, and communication. However, they found that the course often strays from the communication aspect and dwells more on culture studies (Feminist Theory and Diaspora studies) and literature.

The bifurcation of the Comm. Course has now been discontinued. The single HSN001 course touches upon more technical and spoken English with more practical improvement.

2. Technical Communication

A similar technical communication course is offered in the third year. This course aims to equip students with the potential skills needed in a work environment. From formal report writing to GDs, this course was found to be beneficial to the students. The problem here lies with this course being in the 5th semester when the internship interviews are generally underway or already done.


To better simulate formal and professional settings, students feel that spoken English and other communication skills could be more focussed on rather than language semantics and grammar. As most students have issues speaking and understanding English, not reading and writing, this barrier cannot be addressed by focusing on grammar rules or theory alone.

As for technical communication courses, a solution is to provide regular and consistent course material that can be taught every semester. Increasing interactions, especially among peers facing similar issues, could be a great way of gaining confidence and command over the language. Some suggested the creation of focus groups, where they could hold activities and comfortably help each other improve their English speaking skills.

3. LEAP by Student Mentorship Programme (SMP)

The LEAP (Linguistic Enhancement and Assistance Program) program by SMP started in January 2020 for students who were very weak in English. Such students comprised about 10% of the total UG strength. The program aimed to train the first-year students of IIT Roorkee to increase their fluency and confidence in spoken English. LEAP was an adaptive program that segregated students based on their proficiency and catered to their individual needs.

Under this program, the team collaborated with a Switzerland-based public speaking and language training institute, Inlingua. The Inlingua tutors conducted offline weekend lectures for the students.

The program was supposed to continue for two months but stopped after a month due to covid.

The SMP team is actively working on reviving the program for the current students.

Efforts were made to make the program or even a crash course available for the current second year, but it could not be implemented due to various time constraints.

As of now, the primary concern of the team is to start the program as soon as possible. It will be available for the current first-year students by the next semester (tentatively in January).

How do the students cope?
The most popular method to address the barrier amongst the respondents (38%) was consuming media (watching English TV shows, movies, etc.) Students have talked about the issue with their friends or practiced talking with them in English. 10% of the respondents have contacted their seniors for advice. Some have also taken English courses or English vocabulary software. A few tried to incorporate English into their daily activities- conversations or reading newspapers in English.

What is the way forward in removing language barriers?

1. On an institute level

  • Various language support systems can be implemented for students if they wish to improve their verbal and writing skills.
  • A faculty-level distribution can be done to connect M.Tech/Ph.D. students with UG students who speak the same vernacular languages to help streamline their academics.
  • The institute should organize sensitizing sessions to acknowledge the language barrier as a grave problem and the various issues that stem from it.
  • A more visual-based learning approach can be adopted to make the study material. This will make the courses easier to understand and garner students’ interest.
  • There should be online courses in vernacular languages for necessary concept-building courses like thermodynamics, mechanics, etc.

2. On a personal level

  • Acknowledgment and awareness on an individual level are of utmost importance, followed by affirmative actions suggested by those who face problems due to language barriers.
  • It is imperative that students be cognizant of their peers’ feelings. A safe space where people can express themselves free of judgment is a necessity.
  • Encourage healthy and inclusive conversations on different cultures while keeping an open mind to different ideas and opinions.


Systemic and personal actions combined with a proactive approach will bolster students’ confidence and bridge the gap between their language skills and the demanded proficiency. Language Barrier at Higher Education Institutions is a popular discourse; you can refer to the available online literature to delve deeper into this. We request you to write to us and tell us your stories of personal struggle due to the language barrier and suggest any helpful ideas.