What Language Problem?

Teaching International Financial Reporting Standards to International Students

Do you sense that your students don’t understand what you’re saying? Do you sometimes struggle to understand what your students are saying? If the answers to both these questions are yes, a language barrier may exist.

The language barrier may be due to both the technical vocabulary of your subject and the instruction language being different from the first language of your students. Either way, as educators we need to find a way to break that barrier. But where do we even begin?

We began by trying to understand the problem. We wanted to know whether there were particular tasks that our international students had difficulty with so that we could devise effective solutions.

Anecdotal evidence from teaching international students suggested that they had more difficulty with essay questions involving the use of critical thinking skills than application or numbers-based questions. Our study using a large sample of exam marks suggested that this was the case. It also suggested that domestic students or students with English as their first language also performed worse in the essay questions but to a lesser extent.

Our study applied Sweller’s cognitive load theory (2011) to explain the difference in performance. We found that assessment questions such as essays with heavy
language components demanded more working memory and an additional cognitive load for our accounting students (King et al., 2021).

For the full story, read our published article at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09639284.2021.1930562.

Next Steps

We need to design effective language support programs. Our research can help educators identify areas of support students may need.


Gablasova, D. (2014). Learning and retaining specialized vocabulary from textbook reading: Comparison of learning outcomes through L1 and L2. The Modern Language Journal, 98(4), 976–991. https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12150

King, R., Blayney, P., & Sweller, J. (2021). How language background impacts learners studying International Financial Reporting Standards: a cognitive load theory perspective. Accounting Education, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/09639284.2021.1930562

Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory. Springer

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