Culturally and linguistically diverse students

The process of globalisation has led to greater mobility of people for business, tourism, migration, and increasingly, education.
Deakin staff are involved in international collaboration, research and mobility and our students are encouraged to develop skills in ‘global citizenship’, which is one of Deakin’s eight key learning outcomes.

‘Globally, more people than ever before are choosing to undertake an international education. The large-scale movement of students between education systems means that academics need to consider the learning and teaching implications of the increased numbers of international students in university classes’.

(Arkoudis, n.d, p. 5)

Australia has been multicultural for over 60,000 years with a many languages and cultures. In contemporary Australia, Australian citizens and permanent residents represent a diverse group of people from different countries, cultures and religions. Nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or have one or more parents born overseas. More than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes [1].

In the higher education context, this diversity is reflected in the student and staff population.The Deakin student community includes people whose backgrounds are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD). While a portion of these students are residents of Australia, known as ‘domestic’ students, others are residents of countries other than Australia and come to Deakin as ‘international’ students.

See teaching Indigenous Australian students for specific information on Indigenous Australians.

In 2017, Deakin welcomed 11,878 international students from 130 distinct overseas countries – 26.2% of our total student population.Student diversity enriches the social and academic life and student experience here at Deakin. Yet in order to fully realise the personal, social and academic benefits of such cultural and linguistic diversity, inclusive practices are vital. In education terms, this can be termed culturally-inclusive pedagogy.

Cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD)

CALD describes the diversity of the Australian population in terms of language, ethnicity, nationality, tradition, dress, food, societal structure, art and religion. It is generally used to refer to people for whom English is not their principal language or who have a background that is not Anglo-Saxon. However we need to acknowledge that everyone has a culture, and recognise the dominant and privileged position of western culture in our society.

Pie chart of Top 5 source countries for international students studying at Deakin University in 2017

(Deakin University 2018)

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census media release

*Thank you to RMIT’s Guide to Inclusive Language for some of this information in relation to culture, ethnicity and religion.

Curriculum design

Providing an international curriculum promotes and develops the core values of global awareness, global citizenship and intercultural competence.  Internationalisation of curriculum involves embedding global, international and multicultural dimensions in curriculum design, learning activities, teaching practice, learning activities, assessment, and evaluation (Barker 2011).

Provide clear, accessible and broadened topic areas that integrate multiple societal perspectives.

For example:

  • Case studies (including both real-life and simulated), research studies, databases and other materials that reflect local, global, Indigenous and multicultural viewpoints and ethical issues.
  • Comparison of local and global studies, research and findings.
  • Recent publications of international and cross-cultural textbooks, journals, class materials and online resources.
  • Inclusive practices that benefit all students - not just those who may be unfamiliar with Australian culture and language. For example, provide:
    • digital literacy and critical analysis that draws on a variety of learning materials and content
    • learning resources in a range of multi-media methods (text, captioned audio, captioned video, slide presentations, Cloud concepts)
    • discipline-specific glossaries
    • reading guides and strategies
    • annotated examples and exemplars of assignment tasks such as essays, reports and reviews.

Learning activities

Support the development of graduate students as globally competent and inter-culturally aware citizens.

For example:

  • Incorporate local, global and multi-cultural perspectives in learning activities.
  • Encourage critical reflection on societal issues and problems from a variety of perspectives.
  • Examine cultural influences on knowledge construction and application of knowledge.
  • Explore the role and operation of multiculturalism in different nations.
  • Draw on the experiences and narratives of international/CALD students as a learning resource.
  • Set group or paired student activities that cultivate collaboration and dialogue between local and international students, such as writing tasks and allocation of roles.
  • Cultivate critical thinking by examining different points of view in class or small group activities and asking questions that prompt students to critically reflect on an issue or problem; be aware that students from some cultural backgrounds are not familiar with the notion of critical analysis and critical inquiry.
  • Invite guest lecturers with international experience and expertise.
  • Include practical seminar exercises that demonstrate application of ideas delivered in lecture classes.

Teaching practices

Cultivate culturally open, inclusive, sensitive and mutually respectful teacher-student engagement and a safe learning environment.

For example:

  • Acknowledge and value cultural and linguistic diversity of international and domestic students.
  • Pronunce students' names correctly.
  • Be approachable, welcoming, supportive and hospitable—and encourage all students to convey these qualities.
  • Avoid stereotypes or generalisations of cultural or ethnic groups.
  • Cultivate a climate of respect and equity for all forms of diversity.
  • Establish inclusive and respectful ground rules for group discussions.
  • Speak clearly and measuredly (consciously avoid speaking quickly as international students may have trouble with accents).
  • Respect and allow for silences: in many cultures, silence is a part of communication while for others, verbal expression is not encouraged in educational forums; silence and pauses also allow for ‘cognitive processing time’.
  • Cultivate international students’ confidence to ‘speak up’ gradually and by encouraging small group discussions.
  • Remember that some students may be code-switching between their own language and English in trying to understand content, therefore separate listening activities from reading activities.
  • Avoid jargon, colloquialisms and humour as this excludes those who are not familiar with Australian vernacular—explain any colloquial language, unfamiliar terms, analogies and metaphors that you or local students may use.
  • Give clear, plain language instructions—ensure that written instructions are clearly set out (heading and dot points rather than long paragraphs) and are not overlong and too complicated.
  • Be aware that writing conventions in other cultures are often markedly different from Australian universities and may have serious implications regarding plagiarism—clearly explain the Western convention of referencing others’ ideas and writing and what is meant by plagiarism.
  • Incorporate activities about digital literacy so that all students become skilled in critically evaluating multi-media sources.
  • Refer struggling students to appropriate study support or language support programs, such as English for Uni.

In this short video, Dr Jill Loughlin offers some simple yet powerful advice for teaching international and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students.

The Power of Conversation, Dr Jill Loughlin, Faculty of Arts and Education


A transcript may be downloaded here: Teaching international and CALD students (DOC 17KB)

Assessment tasks

Assessment tasks should assess global citizenship competencies, knowledge and skills.

Aim to:

  • Develop critical analysis of global and intercultural perspectives.
  • Include comparative exercises that involve comparing and critically reflecting upon similarities, differences and links between local and global issues, findings, practices and standards.
  • Draw connections between cultural contexts and disciplinary knowledge.
  • Encourage peer learning and engagement between local and international students through group work, including self and peer assessment (PDF 344KB).
  • Clearly explain the purpose, expectations and marking criteria of the assessment and subject content.
  • Use plain English and avoid jargon.
  • Cater to a variety of learning capacities, preferences, interests and skills through offering a range of assessment topics and formats.
  • Provide inclusive feedback. Academic and Peer Support have developed a series of teaching resources on how to give effective feedback to support the development of students’ academic literacies (e.g. critical analysis, paraphrasing, referencing) and English language proficiency (ELP). The resources provide clear strategies on giving language and literacy feedback, as well as examples that can be easily adapted for your purposes.

Developing group assignments
'Some assignment questions that we set advantage one group over the other, like getting students to critique something that is inherently Australian, that has cultural values that are Australian. What would students who have come from Malaysia be able to contribute to this assignment? Unless if somewhere in the assignment it says to take a different world perspective and ask whether from other countries look at it the some way. You then start to give other cultures that sort of chance at being valued members of the team. Unless you create that situation, why would you want to have someone who is a liability in your group for assignment work when they don’t have that background knowledge that you have?'
Academic (Arkoudis n.d, p. 15)

Using inclusive language

We need to be inclusive of Australia's diversity and use language accordingly. Unnecessary references to someone’s cultural or religious background can create the idea that the person referred to is different - and can reinforce a notion that they are a ‘special case’. For example, referring to someone as a ‘Chinese-Australian business leader’, ‘Sikh doctor’ or ‘Indian journalist’ can incorrectly suggest that these people are exceptions. It is not appropriate or necessary to make references to culture or religion if they are irrelevant to the context of the conversation. If cultural distinctions are important, try to use specific descriptors such as Australian-born Chinese or Arabic-speaking Australian, or phrases that refer to a person or group’s background or origin, for example, an Australian of Sri Lankan background.

If possible use the terminology the person prefers. For example, a Chinese person born in Malaysia and living in Australia may not appreciate being described as Asian because the term is so general and does not add any relevant information. They may also identify with another group, so avoid making assumptions of a person’s cultural background based on physical appearance or other such characteristics.

Where are you from?

The question 'Where are you from?' is often innocently asked to show interest in someone. However, if you ask it when first meeting someone based on your assumptions about their physical appearance, accent, or name can lead to that person feeling set apart from other Australians. There are Australian people who do not have a Caucasian appearance. They may be second or third generation Australian and shouldn't be made to feel they need to justify their background.

Asian or African

Use of the term ‘Asian’ overlooks many cultural distinctions within Asian nations and cultures. Similarly, calling a person ‘African’ is almost meaningless as it overlooks the differences between 54 different countries and their diverse languages and cultures. Therefore, avoid generic descriptions and ask people how they would like to be described before making an assumption on their behalf.

Cultural and linguistic diversity (CALD)

CALD describes the diversity of the Australian population in terms of language, ethnicity, nationality, tradition, dress, food, societal structure, art and religion. It is generally used to refer to people for whom English is not their principal language or who have a background that is not Anglo-Saxon. However we need to acknowledge that everyone has a culture, and recognise the dominant and privileged position of Western culture in our society. The term ‘Cultural and Religious Diversity’ is more commonly used internationally.

Migrant, immigrant, refugee

Avoid referring to someone in relation to their immigration status or history unless it is specifically relevant. Referring to someone as a ‘new arrival’, an ‘immigrant’ or ‘refugee’ is not inclusive and differentiates people outside of the broad Australian community.

Although it is becoming increasingly common to see the terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ used interchangeably in media and public discussions, there is a crucial legal difference between the two. Confusing them can lead to problems for refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as misunderstandings in the discussions of asylum-seeking and migration.

Amnesty International provides the following definitions: a refugee is a person ‘who has fled their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’ An asylum seeker is ‘an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which … [they have] … submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.’[3]


Multiculturalism is a term that can have slightly different meanings in different contexts. In Australia, it is generally about an acceptance of, and respect for, cultural diversity, community harmony and inclusion. Almost half of our current population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas.[4] Australia’s multicultural policy embraces our shared values and cultural traditions. It also allows those who choose to call Australia home the right to practise and share their cultural traditions and languages within the law and free from discrimination.

Avoid stereotypes

We are all prone at times to using stereotypes that oversimplify us as people. Cultural stereotyping is extremely common and can lead to inaccurate ideas. People from a particular culture or ethnicity can be stereotyped as having certain capabilities or skills which can, in turn, streamline them into certain positions or create expectations about their skills. This can be limiting as well as inaccurate. While someone may refer to their own culture in a stereotyped way it is not okay for someone else to do this. Thus, it is important to respect each person as an individual and a human being and avoid creating stereotypes for individuals or groups of individuals.

Plain English

Using plain, clear language and shorter sentences can make your message clearer not only for an audience for whom English is not a first language, but for everyone. Unless you can explain the context or meaning, do not use idiomatic language, slang, colloquial terms and local references. Use more inclusive language and be conscious of the terminologies you use, even in a jovial manner, and how they may hurt another individual.

Use of images

Be mindful when selecting images to be used for international audiences. Consider the appropriateness of clothing in images. For example, images should not include immodest clothing for people of any gender unless there is an educational reason for this. Be careful not to use an image with religious iconography displayed in a potentially disrespectful manner such as on a T-shirt. Try to use a variety of images to reflect the visible differences within Australia’s population but also do not use a selective set of images to reflect those in a particular profession or neighbourhood.


In some cultures, a person’s family name is written before their given name. If you are unfamiliar with a name, ask the person if your pronunciation is right. An unfamiliar name can be difficult to pronounce. Apologise if you get names wrong and ask for clarification. Taking the time to learn names demonstrates respect. Also, do not expect that everyone will be able to pronounce your name.

[1] Monash University inclusive language writing

[2] Refugees and Migrants definitions, accessed 1/7/18

[3] Amnesty International: What's the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker, accessed 1/7/18

[4] The Australian Collaboration: Multicultural Australia fact sheet (PDF 97.1KB) Jan 2013

[5] (PDF 2.2KB), accessed 10/9/19

Preferred language, words and phrases

  • given name, instead of Christian name or first name
  • family name, instead of last name
  • culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) (or cultural and religious diversity for an international audience), instead of;
    • Non-English Speaking Background (NESB)
    • English as an Additional Language (EAL)
    • Language other than English (LOTE)
  • name of the person, instead of colour of their of skin, physical appearance, ethnicity or visa status
  • [NAME] is great at their work, instead of [NAME], who is a refugee, is great at their work

References and adapted sources

Arkoudis, S, n.d. Teaching international students: strategies to enhance learning (PDF 308KB), Centre for Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne, retrieved 8 December 2018.

Barker, M 2011, The GIHE good practice guide to internationalising the curriculum (PDF 986KB), Griffith Institute for Higher Education, now Griffith University Learning Futures, Southport. Reproduced for Deakin staff with permission by Griffith University, 26 April 2018.

Deakin University 2018, Deakin Statistics Summary 2018 (PDF 1.43MB), Strategic Intelligence and Planning Unit, Geelong.

Ryan, J 2005, 'Improving teaching and learning practices for international students: implications for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment', in Teaching international students: improving learning for all, Jude Carroll and Janette Ryan (eds.), Routledge, London, pp. 92 – 100.

Federation University 2017, Guidelines for internationalising your curriculum, retrieved 8 December 2018.

Morgan, H & Houghton, A-M, 2011, Inclusive curriculum design in higher education: considerations for effective practice across and within subject areas, The Higher Education Academy, retrieved 8 December 2018.


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