International students come to study in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other English speaking countries with vastly different levels of English proficiency. Some speak English perfectly because they come from English speaking countries, have been educated in English in their home country, or attended an international school in a host country and may speak little to none of their own national languages. Other students have a fairly good mastery of English but need to or want to improve.
Some of you may be entering programs which require you to be fairly proficient in English before being accepted and others may have been accepted into programs where you still need help in the language and the school is prepared to give that extra help by way of offering English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or classes for English Language Learners (ELL), as they are called in the U.S.
Obviously the better you know the language the sooner you will get settled and connected, and the easier it will be to move along in your studies. Even if the main reason you are coming to an English-speaking country is to learn English, don’t wait until you get there to start learning and/or practising the language. Try to have some knowledge of the language before leaving home.
One of the biggest reasons international students feel isolated at school is because they can’t communicate.
This can also make them feel like they made the wrong decision to study abroad, and can lead to feeling extremely homesick or even depressed. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable not to be understood and not to be able to let others know what you need. Knowing at least a few words and phrases in English will help you get around and feel more comfortable and self-assured.
Of course, most students start learning a new language quickly when they are immersed in it 24 hours a day every day as you will be, but it does take time. So it is a good idea to start working on it as soon as you can. Here are ten tips to help you get started:
1. Find English speakers to practice with.
2. Read in English.
Read the world news, which you may already understand in your own language, but also read the news of the country you will be studying in so you will be able to discuss current events with your peers and others.
3. Practice writing in English.
For example, write letters to friends, to your school, or to family members. You don’t have to actually send them unless you want to.
4. Watch movies with English subtitles.
5. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts in English.
6. Take a class in English.
It can be one that doesn’t count for credit but is fun, creative, or entertaining. It could even be a dance, art or sports class.
7. Study English with a tutor.
8. Read books in English that you are already familiar with and know the story-line.
9. Watch familiar childhood movies, such as Disney movies in English.
10. Regionalise your English.
If you are using an English language program, be sure it is ‘American’ English if you will be studying in the U.S. or Canada and ‘British’ English if you are studying in the U.K. or former English colony.
Look into learning slang and idioms of the English language in your country of study. There are many words and phrases in British English that have very different meanings in the U.S. and can be considered rude or inappropriate and vice versa. International students report that language misunderstandings are one of the most frequent causes of cultural surprises.
Keep practising even if you think your English skills are fairly good. Practice with a native English speaker. As you go about your day, start going through in your head how you would say in English some of the things you are asking, answering, or debating in your own language. More than one international student has offered the suggestion that watching television programs in the country of study helps improve one’s accent – something that helps break down barriers when trying to make friends with your host country peers.
This article has been written by Tina L. Quick, Author of Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. You can order this amazing book from here.