Academic Success, Learning Styles

The Impact of Language on Learning at U of T

By: Sandrine Uwimana

Without an understanding of the unique meanings existing for the individual, the problems of helping him/her effectively are almost insurmountable.”  — Arthur Combs

U of T is one of the most multicultural schools in the world. It has a lot of students from different backgrounds with different levels of English ability and yet English is the only language of instruction at U of T. The students and the faculty have the common goal of acquiring and fostering academic success. There is a need to establish a language policy such as different languages so that this goal can be achieved. Language is not only a code but also a means of social culture. There is a vital relationship between language, language as culture and the academic success.

Understanding  a language is not only a step close to understand other people ‘cultures but also a means to promote participation of students.  It is believed that language is an expression of culture and this relationship between language and culture have to be observed if were to ensure the academic success.

A student’s ability to learn is affected by his/her culture, family background, language and other social-economic factors. Although, most educators acknowledge that individuals differ in their learning, little attention has been paid to how English language ability affect most students at U of T. The University uses the same books, lectures and the same information to students who have different levels of English ability.

Language, Culture and Learning

Culture is a constructed phenomenon and so far there is no universality in culture. Culture differs and is interpreted differently among individuals.   What might be right in Canada, for example, might be wrong in Rwanda. Across the universe, people have established norms on what is right and what is wrong according to their particular society.  People have different interpretations and expectations of body language and eye contact, for example, between generations.

It is a essential to understand that different body languages affect how one asks and answers questions at school. Let’s take an example of the eye contact issue. It is assumed that for somebody to know that you are telling them the truth there is a need to make eye contact with them.  Thus, you are expected to ask your Prof a question by looking at him/her in the eye and vice versa. On the other hand, looking in the eyes of your Prof is seen as a sign of rudeness in some cultures.  So how can you progress as a student when your culture is in conflict with the culture of U of T?  If the Profs don’t take their time to learn about you and your body language, you might not get the help that you need. It’s everybody’s responsibility to understand and accommodate each  other when it comes to the learning process. For instance, U of T should put more resources in providing public speaking help.  Just as the way, we have writing centres, we should also have interaction centers as a means of improving communication since the inadequate communication in English can also contribute to poor academic performance.

Although we may not know and interpret all the cultural differences especially the language component of culture between students, U of T provide services and supports to assist students. Here are a few:

·U of T has tried to address the language barrier for students by establishing a number of programs. These help you to improve your
writing and speaking skills.
Follow this link for more info:
· The English Language Learning
Program supports students whose first language is other than English. Students can earn a credit that will count towards your degree upon completion of this program. Other services include communication cafés, writing support, and mentor support:
· The English Communication
program at the Centre for International Experience offers language instruction and cultural dialogue. Though this is non-credit program it offers you the
opportunity to improve  your communication in English:

· The iConnect Mentorship Program
provides mentor support for new international students to help with their transition. Through conversation with your mentor, you can also improve your

· In addition, different clubs at U of T offer the academic support you might need in your own language eg:

·For further writing support please take advantage of the U of T Writing Centres:
and the Academic Success Centre: