Build Academic English Skills Before Arriving at a U.S. College

July 24, 2014

It is not a new topic to discuss how to improve language skills before studying abroad in the U.S.Watching English-language TV episodes and movies, chatting with foreign friends and even spending some time in English-speaking countries such as the U.S., U.K. or Australia are all helpful ways for nonnative English speakers to improve their skills

However, when international students actually arrive on campus and sit in a classroom, they might find it still very difficult to communicate with professors and classmates. They might need extra effort to improve academic English. Here are some of the most important reasons to expand your English proficiency before ever setting foot in an American classroom – and ways to do so. 

1. To expand academic vocabulary: In addition to everyday vocabulary, when international students prepare for the TOEFL or GRE tests, they have typically successfully accumulated a certain amount of academic words. But these words may not be used on a daily basis.

What students need to survive the first semester is vocabulary of their academic specialty. Becoming familiar with a dictionary of your own discipline will be very helpful. You can also collect words and make our own glossary.

Go to the department’s website to study the course outlines and read the biographies and about the research interests of the faculty. That will probably also allow you to browse their publications. These all help expand necessary vocabulary for classroom usage.

2. To practice academic listening and speaking: In order to be engaged in the classroom, it's important students be able to communicate effectively with faculty members and classmates. This often requires language skills beyond daily expressions.

Thanks to modern technology, international students are exposed to all kinds of information and can take advantage of this to better prepare.

Podcasts such as those by NPR, TEDTalks and Radiolab all help to set up an academic context and familiarize listeners with specific vocabulary and topics. Personally, I find reading academic articles aloud is a useful way to better understand the argument and to enhance my speaking skills. It allows me to concentrate and get more comfortable saying the words and ideas in a second language.

3. To improve reading and writing skills: Everyone knows reading is crucial in U.S. college life. The amount of reading a student must do could range from tens to hundreds of pages per week, depending on the requirements of their courses.

Start practicing English by reading newspapers, magazines and online posts. Remember that reading a book is always a great way to learn new words and absorb ideas.

In addition to reading aloud, it is important to learn how to study and retain useful information in a short time. Students should train themselves to search for a thesis, topic sentences or significant arguments when reading an article as well as understand the words.

Learning how to take notes is also a significant skill. Speed is another factor of success, too. Do not dwell on one sentence too much, but try to capture overall comprehension as efficiently as you can.

On the other hand, writing skills take the most time to develop, so students should do their best to begin before boarding the airplane to the U.S. A first step is to start a journal in English, recording your thoughts and articulating them in the new language.

Pay particular attention to writing in a more formal way, practicing the new words and attempting to organize and structure your journal entries with things like topic sentences. Remember, persistence is the key to success. 

Tagged: studying, english, us, university, benefits

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