The discursive (mis)representation of English language proficiency: international students in the Australian media

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International education constitutes a key industry in Australia and international students represent a third of university students at Australian universities. This paper examines the media representation of international students in terms of their English language proficiency. The study applies Critical Discourse Analysis to the multimodal data of an episode of a current affairs TV program, Four Corners, and social media comments made to the episode. Using Social Actor Analysis, the study finds that the responsibility for declining standards at universities is assigned to international students through representations of their language use as problematic. This is supported by the visual representation of international students as different. By systematically mapping out the English-as-a-problem discourse, the paper finds that the media representation of language proficiency and language learning is simplistic and naïve and the social media discussion reinforces this. This further contributes to the discursive exclusion of international students.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37–64
Number of pages28
JournalAustralian Review of Applied Linguistics
Issue number1
Early online date29 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • English-as-a-problem discourse
  • English language proficiency (ELP)
  • international students
  • Australian higher education
  • Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis


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