Many universities now run language classes for students from a non-English speaking background (NESB). This is a clear indication that the universities believe that some of their students have difficulties with the English language. However, despite the existence of these courses and a steady enrolment in them, little is known about the extent of the problem or its nature. This paper examines the difficulties which university students from varous non-English speaking backgrounds may have with English. However, the lack of research data and the range of opinions on the topic hamper definitive analysis. The likely nature and cause of language problems are discussed with reference to some current programs and within the framework of current political debate on ethnic affairs and the Higher School Certificate English pre-requisite. It is apparent that current knowledge of language problems is inadequate and that further research is needed. The major concerns should be with the extent to which language problems are common to all groups of students and the degree to which difficulties in university study are related to conceptual capabilities independent of language background.