8 Ways International Students Can Muscle-Up Their Conversational Skills

By Rachelle Scott

Many international students are comfortable with reading or writing in a foreign language they have practiced in school for so long. This is mostly true for English, of course.  However, when it comes to conversational skills such as speaking and listening, they are slightly anxious about how to communicate what they are saying or understand someone with a native fluent accent.

This is especially true if you have a strong foreign accent which native speakers would have trouble comprehending. International students often quote times when they have to spell out what they are saying to get their point across. This becomes even more troublesome when they can’t communicate a question they are trying to ask a professor in class.

Worry not! There are ways you can alleviate the stress from these social encounters by improving you conversational skills. My advice to foreign students who haven’t moved to their international college yet is to give the ToefliBT test (or IELTS if you are moving to British-dominant nation) first! Even if your University doesn’t require this from you, your performance on the test will allow you judge where you stand with your English writing, speaking, reading, and listening skills. The material you use to practice will also allow you to improve on language skills and give you a flavor of what your college environment will be like.

If you still feel you need to improve, here are 8 easy ways you can hone your English conversational skills before and after you arrive.

Before You Arrive:

1)      Watch A LOT of T.V.: This is probably going to be your favorite method of studying a language! The best part about learning a language through T.V. shows and movies is that it never feels like “work” or “studying”. While watching movies and shows in the language you seek to improve, you need to closely listen to almost every dialogue an actor speaks. Listen carefully! If you feel there are words you misinterpret or have trouble understanding, write them down, and practice the correct pronunciation of those words. You can also turn on the subtitles in your language to aid understanding.

2)      Translate Music: Another effective method to learn a language, and the slang, colloquial, or idiomatic expressions used in it are by listening to popular music in that language and translating it. Again, don’t just listen to music and the beats of the song, find the lyrics and follow every word the singer speaks. Pay attention to slang terms and expressions you haven’t heard before. Write them down and find out their meaning and use. Try to create new sentences of your own using them.

3)      Practice, Practice, Practice:As theold adage goes, practice makes perfect, and this can’t be more accurate when it comes to learning a language. You can learn all you want, but it isn’t until you practice the language in real world situations that you actually improve on it. Find a friend who speaks English fluently and possibly better than you do. Ask them to help you out by speaking to you in English, listening to you, and telling you what you say wrong.

4)      Find Additional Toefl/ IELTS Material: The material used on these tests is well-suited to the situation of an international studentwho will face an English-speaking academic environment. There is an abundance of material you can use to practice for these tests over the internet. The only problem is that not all of these sources are reliable or have content that is almost identical to that on the actual tests. Nevertheless, Youtube has tons of useful examples, practice tests, and sample conversations that should help.


After You Arrive:

5)      Befriend Native Speakers: One of the best ways to improve on conversational language skills is to jump into the real situation and start conversing with native speakers! Don’t restrict yourself to friends with the same native language as yours. Immerse yourself in purely English-speaking social settings and learn as much as you can from them. Listen to them closely and politely ask them to elaborate something you haven’t properly understood. Also tell them that you are working on improving your English so if they catch anything you are saying or pronouncing wrong, it’s their job to correct you. Try not to get overwhelmed with the speed and quality of their speech. Trust that, in time, you will get the hang of it.

6)      Tutor Other Students: It’s strange to think of this tip which seems to be the other way around. The trick is to tutor native English speaking students what you are best at – possibly Maths, Science, or another subject—while improving on your English conversational skills at the same time. You can find many platforms to do that like online forums or sites like Dissertation Corp. Tuition classes are usually taught in regular sessions, and therefore, will not require an immense motivation toconduct. Also, both you and the student you are teaching are getting something out of the exchange. Many international students practice this technique and make the most of it!

7)      Take ESL / English Language Course: On the last resort, you can simply sign up for an English language course as soon as possible. If your University, after assessing your English, feels that you will need an ESL course for additional support, they will require you to take classes until you get better. You can take the initiative to sign up yourself for off-campus advanced English speaking courses yourself if that isn’t that case.

8)      Install Apps that Help: The App markets are full of applications that help improve English skills. The dictionary should help you understand words that were never on your vocabulary list. Also make sure you download an application that has the speaker icon which enables you to listen to the correct pronunciation of that word. Idioms and Phrases is another helpful app that where you can look up idiomatic expressions and how to use them in a sentence.

Rachelle Scott loves to research about new ways technology can be implemented in education and how the two can revolutionize the sector. She also loves to blog on the topics related to Education, College, and more.

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