Teaching in the international classroom is more than just translating materials

Teacher in front of classroom

Internationalization of the curriculum involves more than just translating course materials into English, it also implies adapting our teaching and our curriculum. What does this entail, and where do you start? Gemma Corbalan and Hetty Grunefeld share didactical tips for teachers. These tips are key in good education as well, but some of them are specially important in a diverse classroom.

What do we mean by internationalization exactly? Leask (2015) gives us a definition we can work with: “Internationalization of the curriculum is the incorporation of international, intercultural and/or global dimensions into the content of the curriculum as well as the learning outcomes, assessment tasks, teaching methods and support services of a program of study”.

Challenges for international students

From the students’ perspective, international students encounter additional challenges as compared to their ‘domestic peers”. Challenges which make them “suffer more psychological and social distress than domestic students” (Ward, 2001; in Kos, 2020). Language issues, homesickness, culture shock, social isolation, immigration service issues or the lack of a social safety net often make these students’ lives more difficult (Kos, 2020).

Concerning languages issues, the fear of not being understood makes some students less willing to participate in class discussions. This is one of the reasons why smaller groups are considered less threatening and more inviting to participate (De Vita, 2000).

Furthermore, unfamiliar teaching methods might also make students more unsecure. Teaching staff need to create a safe learning environment to facilitate students move beyond their comfort zones. Students with different backgrounds will otherwise co-exist in one classroom, but there is no question of intercultural learning (Crose, 2011).

Didactical tips for teachers

Where could teachers pay attention to in an international and diverse classroom? With the following didactical tips you can already make a change.


Being more explicit and transparent about how the lecture is organized is (even more) important in a diverse international classroom. Repeat key ideas, emphasize the link to previous and next topics, use visuals. Limit the content by 10% (focus on the essential information), as listening to a lecture in a foreign language takes more cognitive processing time.

Getting the message across:

Use a slightly slower pace, plain English and use (more) pauses to give them time to think.

Facilitate group work:

Students may have problems working in diverse groups due to all the different (unspoken) expectations. Acknowledge the strengths and insights that each student brings to the group. Use active learning activities. Try to find a good balance, but activating students can help them learn better and as a teachers, you will receive very useful (indirect) feedback from the students about what they understand or find difficult.

Talk to your students:

for example, to gain more insight into their perspective, in particular in their educational and cultural background. During the course Teaching in the International Classroom, you will have the opportunity to get insights on their experiences.

More tips and support

Will you teach in an international classroom and do you feel you can use some more support? In the course Teaching in the International Classroom, you get concrete teaching tools that you can implement in your teaching practice and share experiences with colleagues. 

For teachers at universities of applied sciences, we also offer a didactic teaching qualification course with a focus on teaching in the international classroom.


Crose, B. (2011). Internationalization of the Higher Education Classroom: Strategies to Facilitate Intercultural Learning and Academic Success. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 23(3): 388-395.

De Vita, G. (2000). Inclusive approaches to effective communication and active participation in the multicultural classroom: An international business management context. Active Learning in Higher Education 1(2): 168-180.

Koos, H. (2020). Student perspectives on intercultural classrooms in higher education in the Netherlands. Unpublished research paper. 

Leask, B. (2015). Internationalizing the Curriculum. Abingdon: Routledge.