Tuesday, October 13, 2015

International Student Guide: Master English for Higher Education

By Mona Mady
World Education Services

Whether you’re an international student in the U.S. or a high school student considering study abroad as an option, it’s important to develop English language skills for academic purposes. Preparing for the TOEFL is important, but it’s merely one step in the long process of ensuring you have the language skills for maximum success in your studies. The following tips are meant to help you focus your language improvement efforts on methods that actually work.

Visit Your School’s Writing Center 
For whatever reason, native speakers and ESL (English as a second language) students alike underutilize this major resource. Maybe they think the services are too remedial, or maybe they’re just scared to try it for the first time. However, if you’re serious about success, set those excuses aside and take advantage of the highly personalized advising that writing center tutors can offer you. It doesn’t matter if you have a full draft or just a few ideas scratched out on paper, you’ll get guidance on how to move forward regardless of what stage you’re at with an assignment. It’s also a great place to practice academic speaking skills! Make an appointment to chat about your coursework, a particular assignment, or your specific research interests. You’ll get feedback from someone trained to assess what particular skills you need to develop, all in a non-judgmental and supportive environment.

Give Credit Where It’s Due 
One of the most widespread problems faced by all ESL students – even those with near-native fluency – is plagiarism. Most of it is unintentional and based on a lack of familiarity with prevailing citation styles, or is connected to lower language skills and the inability to effectively paraphrase. There are also cultural differences regarding citing other people’s work and ideas, and depending on where you were educated it might be normal to reference other people’s work without explicitly citing it. However, plagiarism – intentional or not – is a major offense at all institutions, and can result in the failure of a course or even permanent expulsion. Professors usually specify which citation style you should use in their courses, but if you need further guidance, visit the school library and ask what workshops they offer on citation. They’ll provide you with an in-depth look at the rules and plenty of opportunities to practice and get feedback.

Chat It Up 
Learning a language is immersive, and the best way to learn is to surround yourself with opportunities to practice! Go to social events sponsored by your school, join a conversation group, get an internship, and make friends with native speakers or other ESL  students from different backgrounds. While developing your reading and writing skills is important, classroom participation will often account for a significant portion of your grade. Being able to talk about the ideas you encounter in readings, lectures, research, and writing is an essential component of higher education in the U.S. If participating in class is intimidating, prepare a short list of talking points or questions about the reading to bring up in class. If you don’t have the opportunity to practice speaking, then listening to radio stories on NPR.org and reading along with the provided transcripts is a great way to familiarize yourself with the sort of conversation skills you’ll need for your education.

Just as important as following these specific tips is approaching your education in an empowering way. Try not to stress out about the specific hoops you need to jump through in order to get your degree. Instead, think of your undergraduate and graduate studies as one part of the process of expanding your knowledge and experience; as long as you make an earnest effort and reach out for help when you need it, you’ll find yourself well on the way to a successful academic and professional career.

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