ABSTRACT Many students struggle with first year economics. Students with no previous experience of economics often find it overwhelming. Even those with previous experience often find the university focus on the mathematical expression difficult. They then interpret these difficulties as an inability to do economics and leave their first year programme with a negative perception of economics as a 'hard' subject.
This paper argues that often it is not that students find the economics difficult but have difficulty translating ideas when they are expressed in different languages - in economics these languages are English (words), pictures (graphs) and numbers (algebraic expression). Therefore their difficulty is one of translation, not of understanding. This paper explores this idea and uses two case studies to illustrate the positive changes that can be brought about through considering these problems as a language acquisition problem instead of an economics problem. For students who are unilingual in this context some strategies for improvement are then suggested. Finally it concludes by identifying further avenues for work in this area.