Macquarie University
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Exploring the online and offline language uses among Chinese international students in multilingual cities

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posted on 2023-07-20, 04:23 authored by Yijun Yin

It has frequently been asserted that international education can offer countless benefits for students, including language improvement, cultural awareness, personal growth, career development, prospect for migration and even lifestyle changes. Two popular English-speaking study destinations - Australia and New Zealand, use such presumed benefits to attract students to pursue their dreams and aspirations. However, increasing attention is being drawn to international students’ academic performance, English language proficiency, and employment outcomes (Benzie, 2010; Gribble, 2014). A common expectation about international students is that they should use English as much as possible during their time abroad, because they live and study in ‘English-speaking’ countries. This interpretation of international students' language use may have been accurate 20 years ago, but it does not reflect the globalised and multilingual reality of today’s world, especially in the context of Australia and New Zealand. Students who study abroad encounter different kinds of language resources in their target language every day - online or offline, intentionally or incidentally, outside of formal institutional settings. Little is currently known about international students’ contemporary language use experiences in their academic, personal and professional life, when studying and living in a multilingual environment.

Through the lenses of investment in language learning (Darvin & Norton, 2015), translingualism (Li, 2011, Canagarajah, 2013); transnationalism (Roudometof, 2005) and imagined community (Kanno & Norton, 2003), this longitudinal study used digital diaries and semi-structured interviews to explore three groups of Chinese international students’ (undergraduates, postgraduates, graduates) online and offline language use in two multilingual cities, Sydney and Auckland. It aimed to challenge the presumed primacy of English language to international students studying and living in English-speaking countries. This thesis is by publication and analysis, and focuses on (1) international students’ translingual practices in both online and offline environments; (2) international students’ use of and engagement with technology while studying overseas that changes the nature of historical study abroad experiences; (3) and how international students’ imagined futures affect their identity and investments in English language learning.

The findings indicated that international students invest time and money to study in host countries with the expectation of gaining a wide range of social and linguistic resources. However, these hopes are not necessarily fulfilled by overseas study. With the ready availability of internet technology and large Chinese diaspora community in the host country, Chinese students could effectively maintain ‘dual existences’ in both host and home nations, and also function in the new country. Research into these language use experiences provides evidence of how contemporary international students are given options to ‘mix and match’ their linguistic and semiotic resources to accomplish academic or work-related tasks, to explore the wider community, or even to gain economic, cultural, or social capital. There are different domains and contexts in the host countries in which Chinese international students use different languages to achieve their personal goals.

The exploration of Chinese international students’ language use experiences, both online and offline in two different sociocultural contexts, advanced knowledge of the influence of globalisation and multilingualism on international students’ language practices in a digital age. Additionally, adding a third group of participants who had just graduated and were looking for employment in Australia and New Zealand, was beneficial for understanding how new migrants could be better accommodated and encouraged to participate in the wider community, especially during study to work transition. Furthermore, the study makes a significant contribution to academic, public and government awareness of a large and under-researched segment of the Australian and New Zealand population. This is important as greater understanding of Chinese international students’ experiences can help inform education providers’ decision making in designing more student-focused schemes and support structures to help improve Chinese students’ general wellbeing, improve academic outcomes and fulfill personal and professional aspirations. Doing this will better serve their changing and diverse needs during their overseas study experiences, and prepare them with the type of skills and competencies needed to thrive and make the most of their study-abroad opportunity. Eventually, we believe such understandings are beneficial for establishing high reputation for Australian and New Zealand international education industry to their major market.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature review -- Chapter 3. Methodology -- Chapter 4. Translingual practices among Chinese students in multilingual cities -- Chapter 5. Language learning aboard: language learning and technology -- Chapter 6. Everyday technology consumption patterns among Chinese international students -- Chapter 7. The imagined communities of Chinese international graduates -- Chapter 8. Conclusion -- References -- Appendices


Thesis by publication

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie School of Education

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Alice Chik

Additional Supervisor 1

Garry Falloon


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