Tag Archives: English

How to Write an Essay: Tips for ESL (English as a Second Language) Students

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Grace Carter:

Essay writing can be challenging for ESL students. Essays can be hard enough in your native language, but trying to organise and argue ideas in an unfamiliar tongue is even more difficult. Essay writing can be made more approachable if students follow a few simple tips.

Thesis statements

The basis of your essay will be your thesis statement – this is the point you will be arguing in your essay. Put some careful thought and planning into your thesis statement; it is the most important part of your essay. Try brainstorming some ideas, write down everything that comes to mind when you think about your topic. You can also try mind-mapping. A mind map is a diagram that starts out as one idea, then you branch out into words that come to mind when you look at your idea. Write out some arguments and connect them together, making sure they are directly related to your main idea.

Your introduction

Here is where you will introduce your topic and thesis. You will also want to get the reader interested in reading more and orientating them on your topic. You should also briefly outline the points you will be arguing in your explanatory paragraphs. Short quotes can be a good way to engage your reader, so as you do your research keep your eyes peeled for a quote you might be able to use for this purpose, and make sure that you take down details of your sources so that you can reference any quotes you use.

Explanatory paragraphs

A basic essay structure is the five-paragraph essay, which includes three explanatory body paragraphs. Each one of these should argue one of your three supporting points. State your point, explain it and expand on it, and then back it up with evidence and references. Prioritise clarity by breaking down complicated ideas into short, simple sentences. Supporting with evidence is important. Use different kinds of sources such as book references, statistics and quotes.

Concluding paragraph

Your conclusion should contain a summary of your main points and a repeat of your thesis statement. This is your final opportunity to make your case and drive your points home. Be careful not to add any new information in your conclusion; you should just be summarising and restating.

Try out some online writing resources for help

Writing an essay can be challenging enough when it is in your native tongue, but it can be especially tricky when you are writing in a new language. There are plenty of resources available that can help make the process more accessible. Here are some good sites to get started with:

  • ViaWriting, AcademAdvisor and StateOfWriting – Grammar is a common topic for ESL students to struggle with. English has many grammar rules, and they can be confusing. These grammar resources can help you to improve your knowledge of grammar, so you can use this knowledge to improve your writing.
  • WritingPopulist and LetsGoandLearn – These are blogs devoted to proofreading. Proofreading is a critical step in any essay writing process, but it is one that is often rushed. Read some blog posts and see what other writers have done to improve their proofreading process. You learn a lot from other writers’ successes and failures.

When you come to the UK to study, you will be expected to use UK English spellings so it is important that you are familiar with these.

Conclusion

Essays can be tricky, but hopefully these tips will make essay writing a bit simpler and more approachable. A good thesis, some well-argued main points, and a conclusion that summarises and restates the thesis make for a well-rounded essay.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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6 ways to improve your conversational English

Students practising spoken EnglishOur latest guest blog post describes several ways you can improve your conversational English, and is provided by Ruth Bushi from student money website Save the Student:

If the thought of talking to native UK speakers leaves you tongue-tied, don’t panic! Save the Student reveals the free resources that can boost your confidence as well as your ability.

1. Get involved

Taking part in local clubs and groups doesn’t just increase your language skills: it can also help you feel less isolated and more rooted in your new community. So, don’t just stick with what you know – get out there and mingle!

  • Volunteer for a local charity. It’s a great way to get cosy with your community, plus you’ll meet people who value your input. Visit charity shops to find vacancies, or take a look at do-it.org.uk for all kinds of other opportunities. Not sure what’s involved? This ultimate guide to volunteering explains it all!
  • Join a student society. It doesn’t matter if it’s about walking, reading, or playing a sport – just pick something you’re passionate about and you’ll already have something in common to talk about.

2. Swap your skills

A language swap – where you teach the language you know to someone who speaks the language you’re learning – is a neat way to practice English without the pressure. It can be as simple as having a conversation in each language for a few minutes, or taking turns to explain common vocabulary or trickier slang words.

Your university may be able to put you in contact with other students keen to swap, but you could also keep an eye on department noticeboards and course forums. If you’re not yet in the UK you can still take part in a language swap by email, or using free video messaging apps such as Facebook and Skype.

3. Don’t sweat over slang

Understanding slang (informal words and phrases) and accents can be the most challenging thing about learning a language. The good news is that, whether you want to learn Cockney or understand a Scottish accent, someone on YouTube can show you how!

Try searching for British slang, UK dialects or How to pronounce British words. You’ll also find tons of tutorials on how to master British accents: don’t be shy about repeating what you hear and having a go yourself (unless you’re out in public – that can get you some curious looks).

4. Catch-up with films and TV

Watching films in English is a great way to immerse yourself in the language (well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!)

Unfortunately, movies don’t really reflect real life or useful phrases: the Brits don’t spend that much time fighting aliens. We don’t all wear bonnets and live in mansions, either!

That said, some viewing can be a valuable for cultural insights, as well as for hearing real-life English. Try these on for size:

  • Anything by director Mike Leigh: not always the cheeriest of films, but great for hearing everyday speech and regional accents.
  • BBC Three or BBC II!, as it likes to call itself, is an online-only BBC TV channel with more diverse, regional content, plus a window into British humour. There’s also Channel 4, though note that access to programmes on either depends on where you are in the world.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: if someone’s talking to you about droids, it’s quite likely they’re referencing this film rather than a phone operating system!

5. Read regional news

You won’t run short of news on TV or online, although much of it can have you thinking nothing interesting happens outside London. Reading the regional news can give you some history and context about your new home, and means you’ll always have something to talk about with taxi drivers (note: they do most of the talking…)

  • Try www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk and follow the menu to navigate to your region in the UK.
  • You can find links to almost every regional and local UK newspaper on this Wikipedia page.
  • Don’t just read the news! If you want to see more fluid language in action, check out magazine content or look for student blogs: they’re perfect for picking up slang, jokes and hot topics.

6. Ask questions

If something has you stumped (i.e., utterly confused), don’t panic. Just make a note to ask about it later, whether it’s someone on your course, someone on Reddit or some guy in the supermarket. Most folk love explaining what makes their language, town or country quirky, brilliant or bizarre – so don’t hold back about asking for an explanation.

For language-specific queries, the forum over at Duolingo can be a mine of information (plus you can brush up your grammar skills in 20-odd languages while you’re there).

Getting by in a new language isn’t just about mastering grammar rules and perfect pronunciation. A lot of what you need to feel at home will happen naturally as you immerse yourself in local life. Be patient, stay curious, and it’ll happen!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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How do UK universities fare on the world stage?

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Adam Maidment, a writer for Pure Student Living, which provides luxurious student accommodation for students across London:

In May, the annual Times Higher Education (THE) University World Reputation Rankings list was revealed. It aims to highlight the world’s most prestigious universities and highlight those that are doing the best in terms of providing successful candidates ready for the workplace.

The UK was well-represented with ten placements in the hundred-long list. The UK was the second most-represented nation, after the US, which had forty-three placements. Two UK universities – the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford – appeared in fourth and fifth place respectively. With the UK taking up one tenth of the THE list, just how well do the UK’s universities compare to other countries?

Individual treatment

Comparing the top two nations on the list – the US and the UK – it seems that if you want a more individual and one-on-one learning experience, then the UK is the better option.

In most UK universities, students will be assigned into smaller class groups after regular lectures. These seminar classes enable students to discuss and debate ideas and key points from the lectures in depth with dedicated members of staff and other students in their class. The knowledge gained from these sessions is then useful throughout the rest of their studies.

It seems that such discussion groups or seminars do not really figure in most US universities until the very last year of the degree programme. This means that for most of the course, students studying in the US will have to depend on lectures as the main source for the majority of their knowledge. Nor will they have the same number of opportunities to have designated one-on-one discussions. In some cases, postgraduate students are assigned to run discussion groups but as they are not members of staff, their knowledge can be somewhat limited.

Specialist subjects

It’s not uncommon for students in Australia to take double or combined degrees, whilst many university students in the US will be asked to take on a broad range of subjects in their first year: these are one they wish to major in, and another, which can be totally unrelated, that they want to minor in. Some US universities won’t even require students to decide on their major subject until the second year.

If there is a particular subject that you know you really want to focus on, studying in the UK might be your best option as there is there is much more scope for specialisation. In most UK institutions, there is the option to take on such a degree.

If you’re still wanting to take on a combined honours course, these are also available in the UK, but they usually involve subjects that relate to each other in some way.

One of the best places to study

In December, the UK HE International Unit found that student satisfaction amongst international students in UK universities was at 91 percent, which was massively higher than any other major English-speaking destination.

With internationally recognised qualifications and ten places within the THE list, the UK really is one of the best places to study. UCAS reports that as many as 430,000 students from over 180 different countries choose to study in the UK.

As a multicultural country, studying in the UK opens up opportunities to experience new cultures and backgrounds. With English being one of the most-recognised languages around the world, being fully immersed in the language will only help international students develop their careers even further after their studies.

What you get out of your university experience depends on what you put into it. Wherever you choose to study, if you don’t work hard then you’re not going to reach your full potential. Choose a degree programme that suits your interests, career prospects, and optimises your own learning.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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MOOCs – free online courses for English language students

MOOCThis week’s blogpost is in reply to a student who has asked if there are any free online courses to help them improve their English.

Recently, one kind of online course that has generated quite a lot of interest is the MOOC. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs are free (open) for anyone to sign up to do and consequently, with the help of wide marketing, they are attracting many thousands of participants (massive) from all over the world. MOOCs are generally short, varying in length from between 4 weeks and 8 weeks. Typical course content includes videos featuring subject experts; links to articles; discussion forum-type activities; threads where you can add a written comment about a topic; test-yourself weekly quizzes. In some cases, if you complete the course you may be able to purchase a completion certificate as evidence of this. MOOCs have educators or online facilitators who guide participants through the course. In the USA, MOOCs are delivered by Coursera and Edx; in the UK the main provider is currently FutureLearn.

Some MOOCs offered on a regular basis through FutureLearn which may be of interest to English language learners are:
Exploring English Language and Culture, a MOOC offered by the British Council. Next course starts on 2nd February 2015.
A Beginner’s Guide to Writing in English for University Study, a MOOC offered by the University of Reading. Next course starts on 19th January 2015.
Study Skills for International Students, a MOOC offered by the University of East Anglia. Next course starts on 24th November 2014.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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