How to improve academic English skills for university study
3 tips on improving English for university
Going to university will likely be the most challenging test of your academic English skills. You will probably need to pass an English language exam such as Academic IELTS or another English exam. However, even after obtaining the required certificate you may still want to build up your English speaking confidence and continue improving your English. Whether you have started or are soon to start your degree, the following tips will help you make the most of your time at university.
Try to meet English speakers who are doing your degree. If you are passionate about your subject, this could be one of the most effective ways of honing your academic English skills. It has the potential to be a crash course in subject-specific vocabulary as well as a way of improving your speaking and listening skills. If you want to make friends in the UK, you may be more motivated to learn this way than with self-study.
Luckily, there is an easy way to do this in the UK. Many of our universities have student societies – groups of students who organise talks, meetings and other events relating to a shared interest. Most student societies are for sports and other hobbies, but societies for academic interests are also common – especially at larger universities. For example, University College London currently has student societies for people interested in life sciences, data science, law, engineering, economics and finance, education, various aspects of business and politics, and more. These groups usually allow non-students to attend events for a small fee, although safety concerns sometimes mean that this is not possible, particularly if an event or speaker is controversial. If there isn’t a student society for your subject, there may still be departmental events that you can attend. Try emailing the relevant department of a local university for information, or simply checking its website.
Read in English
Read journal articles, books or other material related to your subject, and keep a record of subject-specific words and expressions. Nowadays open access journals are increasingly common, meaning that you don’t necessarily need a subscription to download articles. JSTOR has one of the largest collections of digitalised journals. Independent researchers can create an account on this site and read a few articles for free every month. If academic papers are too difficult for you to read at your current level of English, get an introductory book. Oxford University Press has a series of very short introductions on a vast range of topics.
If you aren’t sure what to read, you could find out what the required reading is on your university course, and take the opportunity to read ahead. This is not only a way to prepare for your degree, but also to widen your vocabulary and get used to the academic writing style of papers in your field.
Listen and watch lectures online
Your research need not be limited to reading. It’s often possible to find subject-specific university lectures online. See, for example, the Harvard University YouTube channel and related channels, which have many full length lectures as well as shorter videos.
A key skill for university is being able to argue a point, explaining and substantiating it with examples and evidence. To get the most out of your research, decide what your own view of the topic is before you start. Try to think of criticisms and questions about what you read, and don’t limit your criticism to the arguments of the author; their research methodology and interpretations of results could also be open to question.
Write in English
Another key skill for university is the ability to summarise the main points of a text. As well as keeping a record of useful vocabulary, try writing summaries of the books or articles that you read. Practise writing essays about your subject. This will likely be slow and difficult at first, but as with any skill, it gets easier the more you do it. There is a plethora of websites providing tips for essay writing technique. If possible, ask an English speaker to read and comment on your essay, and rewrite it in accordance with their feedback.
Article by: Liberty Fitz-Claridge
These are just some of the ways of learning academic English skills for university. Have you tried other ways of English language improvement? Please share your ideas in the comments below!