Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Overcome the Challenges of Improving Your English Skills

By Pavitra K
Student Ambassador, 
Washington State University

Most of you reading this article probably aspire to set foot in the United States for higher education, or perhaps you've just landed, and you're ready to take on an experience that will forever change your life. If you're a non-native speaker, your journey from applying to enrolling and beyond will be that much more memorable.

The international cross-cultural exchanges that take place when you arrive in the United States are an integral part of the academic experience. As we soak in the culture we inhabit, establishing communication channels for professional and academic purposes, we tend to face issues with the fundamentals of conversational English skills.

Being fluent in English enables bonding among peers of different cultural backgrounds. Additionally, the education system in the U.S. is learner-based, meaning the examination process involves group activity, presentations, and constant oral communication. So, strengthening your conversational skills definitely goes a long way in the English-speaking process.

Here is a list of common obstacles you might face in the process of learning conversational English, and their remedies.

  • Interference with your native accent: As we speak in English, most of us can sense an accent indicative of our home country – the intermittent pronunciation and use of words from our native tongue. One easy way to resolve this issue is to listen to audio recordings of American speakers in the media, observe their pronunciation with care, and make conscious efforts to implement this learning into your daily conversations.
  • Translate in thoughts, then in words: As children, we are raised to think in our native language, and most of this happens subconsciously. So, when we immediately speak in a non-native language, there is a marked lack of fluency. A good way to improve this is to translate the idea in your mind into English and then speak it. Doing so may take longer, since old habits die hard, but nevertheless, it is a practice that will pay off.
  • Speak up: We must never be ashamed of our weaknesses, whatever they may be. If you wish to overcome your weaknesses, it's important to speak up and not be shy. The obvious solution is to speak in English as much as the circumstance will permit, both with native speakers (because when we make a mistake, they can correct it) and non-native speakers (because it’s a two-way learning process!).
  • Read and write: This may not be something that interests all of us, but making an effort to read and write in English on a consistent basis will help improve your daily conversations. You will notice your diction and vocabulary improve markedly.

There are many ways to strengthen your English skills, but these are some of the more basic ones to help you start to improve.

Pavitra K, of India, will matriculate at Washington State University in January 2016. There she will pursue a Ph.D. in food engineering. She is currently employed with Synthite Industries Ltd. in India.

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