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University researches Covid-19 language barrier

University of Reading
Research has revealed that Chinese students have faced discrimination during the Covid-19 pandemic.

NEW RESEARCH funded by the British Academy revealed that Chinese students have been discriminated against during the pandemic.

Linguistics researchers at the University of Reading and University of Birmingham say that communication issues and stigma have caused problems for international students in the UK.

The team will study real testimonies from Chinese students, who make up the largest proportion of international students, to better understand how language barriers let them down.

With public messaging key to managing the spread of Covid-19, sociolinguistics expert Professor Rodney Jones wants to understand what has made it difficult for students to access much-needed information.

He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone, plunging us into lockdown and requiring us to take in endless guidelines and information about the virus and how we can stop it spreading. When language and cultural barriers, and the stress of being in an unfamiliar place, are added to this it becomes immensely tough.”

As co-leader of the project, he hopes to better understand the problems faced by people living in other cultures, and how they can be supported more effectively.

Dr Sylvia Jaworska, associate professor in language and professional communication, and co-leader of the project, said many Chinese students faced discrimination due to the virus originating in the Hubei province.

She said: “Many students found themselves effectively trapped in the UK this year, forcedto navigate a global crisis alone while essential information they needed to do so was difficult to obtain.

“The problem is clear, but how to solve it is less so. By hearing from those affected, we hope to provide some widely-applicable solutions to ensure no one is excluded from vital communications.”

Wang Yi, one of the University of Reading students involved in the research, said the project would offer an opportunity to study communication challenges.

The project was awarded £10,000 funding in the British Academy Special Research Grants: Covid-19.

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