Lost in Translation: Navigating the Language Barriers Faced by Foreign Students in Ghanaian Universities

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By Sarah Brou

Foreign students pursuing education in Ghana often face significant challenges stemming from language barriers, both in academic settings and daily life. Ghana, with English as the official language and medium of instruction, welcomes students from diverse backgrounds, including those from neighboring countries such as Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Nigeria, Guinea, and la Côte d’Ivoire. However, the language barrier poses considerable difficulties for these students, impacting their academic performance and social integration.

The results of a recent study indicate that Ghana is an emerging destination for foreign education particularly among African countries. A total of 38 different nationalities are pursuing university education in Ghana. The current study shows that feedback from lecturers, quality of teaching access to lecturers and professionalism of support staffs are perceived to be the most important variables influencing foreign students’ satisfaction and that the overall perception and attitude that a foreign student develops towards a host country is a function of the student’s institutional experience and country experience.

Overall the students were generally satisfied with the experience in Ghana and in Ghanaian tertiary institutions

In 2020, a total of 5,304 out of 5,718 foreign students in Ghana were from other parts of Africa, which was the highest number compared to other regions of the world. In 2015, the number peaked at approximately 17.5 thousand students, after which it steadily decreased.

Ivorienne Business student Marlene Dahoué

Communication hurdles in classrooms can impede comprehension of lessons and coursework, leading to academic underperformance. Similarly, in informal interactions, difficulties in engaging in conversations and building relationships often leave them feeling excluded and isolated.

Several foreign students, including Dahoué Marlene from Côte d’Ivoire, shared their struggles, highlighting the daunting task of learning English and adapting to the Ghanaian educational system.

Ivorienne Business student Marlene Dahoué ‘s experience at the Institute of Languages (GIL) illustrates the lengths to which foreign students must go to bridge the language gap and integrate into the Ghanaian academic environment.

“I came to Ghana after getting my high school degree…in 2019 …August…for vacation, but because of [the] Corona Virus, I wasn’t able to return. For this reason, I decided to take advantage [and learn] the language, knowing the importance of English in the world”, explained Marlene.

She said it was initially very difficult for her to string sentences together, and so she enrolled in the Ghana Institute of Languages to learn English.

“The drama continued in class with my lectures at university. It was difficult for me to introduce myself, answer questions, or ask for explanation.  I nearly gave up, because I was learning twice, thinking twice both in English and French”.

Similarly, Bernis, a French student, encountered challenges in expressing himself and finding suitable accommodation upon arrival. His difficulties in navigating the language barrier during crucial interactions point to the need for improved support systems for foreign students.


Camara Mamadou Bella, a student from Guinea, faced financial exploitation due to his limited English proficiency, underscoring the vulnerabilities foreign students may encounter without adequate language support.

“My first time in Ghana was not easy at all. I couldn’t express myself in English. At the airport, I was frustrated with an officer who was asking me some questions I couldn’t answer. Fortunately someone helped me to communicate with him”, begins Camara.

“Another difficulty was getting accommodation: I paid 6,000 GHC for six months’ rent only to find out that it was actually for three months. I was a victim because of the language”.

The language barrier seriously impacts academic performance, as highlighted by Celestine Cheba from Equatorial Guinea. As a Spanish speaker, her struggles in comprehending lectures and completing assignments reflect the adverse effects of language barriers on educational outcomes.

The collective experiences of these students illustrate the profound impact of language challenges on various aspects of their lives in Ghana, urging the need for comprehensive support mechanisms within the educational institutions.

Recognizing the significance of this issue, the African University College of Communications (AUCC) has taken proactive measures to create an inclusive environment for foreign students. By establishing an International Students Association  as a support organizations, AUCC aims to provide a conducive space for linguistic and social integration, ensuring that foreign students receive the necessary assistance and guidance during their educational journey in Ghana.


Through these initiatives, the university seeks to alleviate the struggles faced by foreign students and foster a more inclusive educational environment that facilitates their academic and social well-being.

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