Tag Archives: speaking

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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What are Pre-sessional courses?

Pre-sessional PathwaysThis week’s guest blog post is by Linda Hurley, Assistant Director of Pre-sessional Programmes at the University of Southampton. In it, she addresses international students’ questions about university Pre-sessional courses:

Being an international student on a summer Pre-sessional course in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) is a positive introduction to the academic life and culture at a UK university, and many former Pre-sessional students say how valuable it has been when they move on to their future courses. Courses may vary in length – at the University of Southampton they range from 16 weeks to 6 weeks, depending on students’ entry point (usually reflected in their IELTS grade). There may even be a pre-arrival online component to a Pre-sessional course. Most of the students who participate in Pre-sessional courses are required to do so in order to improve their academic English skills; however, some participants, who have already met their university’s entrance requirements, may choose to do a Pre-sessional course to improve their readiness for their future studies. Each university will have a website outlining their Pre-sessional provision for their own international students.

Pre-sessional courses provide an opportunity for students to work intensively on all their linguistic skills within an academic framework and their university environment. While IELTS is generally the recognised exam taken by most students when applying for entrance to their chosen subject area, it does not prepare students for the demands of academic study. On a Pre-sessional course, students will practise researching, preparing and writing long essays, and using academic sources to support their arguments. They may be required to practise giving presentations based on aspects of their research too. Reading journal articles, attending lectures and participating in seminar discussions are also key components of most university courses so a Pre-sessional course is a very useful ‘dry run’ for the real thing! Students’ progress and achievements are made clear both during and at the end of a Pre-sessional course, and tutors will always want to ensure that students are moving on to their future courses with the skills they need to do well. This means that ‘yes, the learning curve is steep’ and a significant amount of student work is produced during the course, but by the end, students will feel that the rewards and sense of achievement are definitely worth it.

Pre-sessional courses are also a great way to meet and make new friends and are, hopefully, a time to experience some of the best British summer weather! It’s a busy time and an opportunity to really focus on getting ready for your future studies.

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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EAP online materials for independent learning

Pay, Access and LearnThis week’s blogpost is in reply to a student who has asked where to find online materials in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for self-study.

Some useful EAP learning materials that are available for learners to use independently have been mentioned in previous blogposts. Many of these are free. See:
Managing the reading on your course
Where can I find more activities to practise academic writing?
How to improve my vocabulary?

A new online resource that has recently become available for students is the PAL (Pay, Access and Learn) portal. This site allows individual learners to choose and then license sets of interactive online learning resources at low cost and for periods of either one month or three months. Each set of ten learning resources on a related topic provides at least six hours of activity-based online learning. Currently sets available include basic and more advanced skills in academic writing and vocabulary for study purposes. The website provides a complete list of available sets. Online renewal or licence extension is easy and can be done at any time from anywhere.

These will be of interest to learners already studying EAP (English for Academic Purposes) or preparing to apply for university courses in the UK.

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 can I improve my spoken English in the UK?

Students socialisingToday’s blog post is in reply to a question from a student on the Question Wall:
“I think my reading and writing can improve in the UK through studies but how can I improve my speaking?”

In most universities and colleges in the UK there will be opportunities to improve your academic skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening in an academic context, particularly through the work that you do in seminars, lectures and through reading for and writing course assignments. There may also be extra classes that you can attend, which focus on these skill areas. However, international students might need to make an extra effort to find opportunities to practise speaking English informally, especially to improve their fluency. The best way to do this is obviously to make new English speaking friends and take every opportunity to speak English with them. Making new friends can take a little time so you might want to consider joining a few of the many clubs and societies run by your Student Union to help you meet people when you arrive. You may find new friends who are from your own country but if you want to improve your spoken English, it’s important to socialise with people who don’t speak your language too.

When speaking English informally, don’t be shy or afraid about making mistakes when you speak. To improve your fluency in particular, it’s more important to communicate and practise than to speak without making mistakes. Communication involves listening as well as speaking and many international students find that the first skill they notice improvement in is listening.

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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I heard there are many accents in UK. How will I understand different English speakers?

Today’s blog post is in reply to a question from a student on the Question Wall:
“I heard there are many accents in UK. How will I understand different English speakers?”

This student is right in that it is normal to hear a range of accents on campus at your college or university as well as in everyday life when you come to study in the UK. On campus, in addition to different varieties of British English, you can expect to hear varieties of English from around the world spoken by international students and staff. Your ears will soon get used to this variety and you can expect your listening skills to be one of the first to improve as you learn to communicate with people from lots of different places!

For ‘a tour of the British Isles in accents’, listen to this short recording of a small number of them, made by dialect coach, Andrew Jack, on the BBC website: A tour of the British Isles in accents. Can you hear the differences as he changes accent?

To listen to more accents from around the UK, visit the BBC Voices website where you can click on a map and listen to some extended speech recorded from a speaker originating from that part of the country: BBC Voices. These voices show a range of accents, as well as a range of examples of formal to extremely informal styles of speaking.

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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