Students From India

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How can you best prepare for cohorts of students from India? This Teaching Tip aims to help you find out.

Acknowledge Diversity

  • Do not assume homogeneity within the group. The students may quickly look like they know each other as they bond but most just met each other on arrival! They may have very different religious, cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds.
  • Get to know each student individually and be sure to use name tents so you and other students can see their names on both sides.

Appreciate the Challenges in their Journey

  • Expect your students to be jet-lagged. Many need to wait till their student visa is ready, and want to save money, so arrive just days before class start.
  • Most will never have been abroad before so they will be excited about coming to a new place. They will hope to meet local people and see new sites and stores. They will not know where to buy supplies or groceries.
  • They will need some trusted leaders who can advise and guide them. Offer to lend an ear to questions about settling in. If they live in a homestay, there can quickly be cultural confusions there so they may need help navigating.
  • Most international students from India want to work the legal 20 hours per week as this can help finance their living expenses, each the burden on their family, and help them learn about Canada. Many of them get jobs late at night in retail or food stores. Help them see the long-term goal if they start to get too tired to attend class in the morning.

Listen and Speak With Global English in Mind

  • English is the most widely used language in the world today and it is spoken very differently in different areas.
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t understand what a student says. It will take a while for you to learn a new pronunciation. Just say, “Sorry. I didn’t catch that. Can you repeat the key words?” if you still have no luck say, “Can anyone else help me?” or “Can you write that down?”
  • Clear enunciation, silence in the classroom, and good volume supported with a written cue help a lot as students acclimatize to a new variety of English and catch what you are sharing. Don’t be afraid to say, “Listen to how I pronounce this word in Canadian English.”
  • Sometimes, the students will need to change from an Indian English pronunciation to a Canadian English pronunciation to ensure effective communication. This does not mean removing an accent, which is an identity marker, but rather adding a new pronunciation for a new audience.
  • Expect the writing style to be different. “Indian English” is a full variety of English with its own characteristics. Most Indian students have been using English at least since primary school. Be careful not to say, “This is wrong in English.” Instead frame this in terms of global English use and say, “In Canadian English, people expect/usually do X.”

Help them Prepare for Success in the Semester

  • Don’t expect students to have a certain level of knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSA) even coming into a post-graduate program. Many degrees in India are not outcomes-based so students may graduate with field-specific theory and knowledge but very little practical application. Do a needs assessment in the first class.
  • Students may not want to buy the texts as exchanging money from India into Canadian dollars is prohibitive and things seem very expensive. If you have a 10% open book quiz and tell them about it at start and specify only legally purchased textbooks can be used as a resource, they may be more likely to buy.
  • Be very explicit with assignment expectations and how students can get and lose marks.
  • Have an early written assignment for 5-10% that requires some resource use and research so you can see the writing level and also catch and remediate any plagiarism on a low risk assignment.
  • Don’t expect students may be familiar with a learning management system (LMS). They may expect to depend on you as the teacher. You must show them where you house items, and that you can track if they use it, and that they are expected to use the resources there. Even with this, it is crucial to go through all due dates, assignment descriptions and rubrics orally in class as well.
  • Don’t expect they may have experience using a computer. Most may have had a fairly old-school experience in university. Many have handed in hand-written assignments! Be prepared to offer advice about fonts, spacing, etc.
  • They may hear advice about academic honesty, expectations, etc. during orientation but may likely still be acclimatizing to the time and the Canadian accent so may not absorb much. Plus – the concept is very knew for many. Academic dishonesty may not resonate much as online materials are “open source” back home and students are not expected to be as original in their work. The education system depends more on experts being experts as opposed to constructivism or active learning.

Consider that Teaching Approaches are Cultural

  • Students won’t know what you expect in terms of answering questions. When you ask a question, they may give choral responses (more than one answering at once) as that is a common, effective, and ancient teaching and learning technique. Use this technique for simple recall questions and make a protocol for how you want other questions to be answered.
  • Use the board to write down key terms that come up. Hearing and seeing helps scaffold learning.
  • They won’t know what you want when you give them tasks in class. They may expect you to be the expert and give them information. Guide them through the wonders of applying the learning and constructing knowledge.
  • Read more about Culture Specific Learning and Cultures of Education. India is a collectivist country, so students may collaborate even when asked not to. Sometimes they may risk their own success so as not to abandon a colleague. Try to provide some time in the middle of a class period where students can work on assignments while you circulate, coach and see what they are getting accomplished.
  • Emphasize your expectations on submission dates, and that deductions for late work may not be recoverable.

Students may be expecting large final exams that can rescue their mark if needed. Walk them through how marks are allotted in the course. Go as far as to write them out on the board explaining each item and adding up to 100.

Prepare to Need to Communicate Differently

  • Expect students to come to see you in groups. This is considered efficient and supportive in India. If you don’t want to be slowed down after class or at break, share that. In India that is a common time to approach the teacher for help.
  • Students may have used cell phones for a lot of communication. They may still expect to call people rather than email or text.
  • Students may have different negotiating styles including seeming to beg for rescue when things go wrong. Don’t take this personally. Cultures vary widely in how one can deal with a difficult situation.
  • There may be many cultural surprises for these new students and for you. Share this journey. Learn about each other. Be curious but respectful. Ask questions. If you see students arriving late, ask them why: “Is it the bus, the walk, the homesickness, discouragement, were you up all night skyping home or working?”

Enjoy this new journey. Learn new skills for teaching within diversity.

Connect with Supports

Be sure to reach out to Teaching and Learning for help with teaching interculturally.

Offer In Class Workshops

Many of the following workshops are eligible for the Co-Curricular Record (CCR)which can help students build skills and their resume. Learn more about services workshops available.


Writing Details

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  • Published: July 15, 2019
  • Word Count: 1591
  • Reading time: ~ 5 minutes
  • Rights: Creative Commons CC-BY Attribution License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY Attribution 4.0 International License.
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