Tips For Non-Native Students in an English-Speaking College
by Puja Sarkar, Press & Written Media Team
Communicating in a second language might be challenging, especially when none of it is scripted and depends on unpredictable situations. Some challenges international students might face in an English-speaking college include being able to effectively communicate, structure academic papers and socialize. Although most colleges in the United States require an English proficiency test like the TOEFL or IELTS, real life situations are quite different from what one experiences during a test.
Here are some ways non-native students might better their communication inside and outside the classroom:
Don’t strive for perfection
In the podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart, produced by Stanford Graduate School of Business, host Matt Abrahams spoke with Kenneth Romero, associate director of the Stanford Language Center regarding the struggles often faced by non-native students. In this podcast, Romero argued that letting go of perfection is key to speaking with confidence.
The most common concern among non-native English speakers tends to be their grammar: is this the correct tense? Is this the correct word for this context? Is this how the word is pronounced? They tend to be concerned with grammar and overlook how they can and if they have conveyed what they were trying to say initially. This concern might stem from an unfamiliarity with the colloquial way of speaking, cultural metaphor and idioms and such. Instead of being concerned with perfect grammar and trying to mimic a native English speaker, what’s more important is clarity. To the audience, you as a non-native speaker don’t need to worry about lightening your accent or using faultless grammar. Instead, concentrate on the delivery and clarity of your message.
Learn from real-life scenarios, not textbooks
Non-native speakers often learn English through textbooks in school. However, what these textbooks don’t teach you are colloquial terms and phrases, tonal changes, accurate pronunciations and how to engage in real life interactions. So, what do you do?
It’s important to find authentic material that interests you and keeps you motivated to master the language. Some might argue that reading story books might help, but this lacks the audio aspect necessary to understand speech tones and pronunciation. Finding authentic material with both audio and textual guidance is crucial. For example, there are podcasts aimed to help non-native students communicate more clearly like Podcasts in English, The English We Speak, ESL Pod, Better at English, Voice of America Learning English etc. Additionally, TV shows, movies and YouTube videos are also good resources.
Non-native speakers often struggle with translating their thoughts from their native tongue to English in a short timeframe. This proficiency in translating can be achieved through practice. It’s a good idea to slow down when you’re struggling to find the right words. If necessary, try breaking down what you’re trying to communicate.
When people in general are nervous about speaking in front of a group, they prefer to speak quickly to get through the speech as quickly as possible. This can lead to difficult-to-understand speech and a one-note tempo, which can come off distorted. So, try slowing down. This does not imply slowly enunciating every word, but rather emphasizing particular words and keeping your voice clear.
In the case of academic presentations, it’s always a good rule of thumb to have your speech outlined. For public speaking, having key points outlined are more effective than preparing a speech word-to-word. Since you’re usually given some time beforehand to prepare, there is room for practice. In this regard, you can record yourself and listen to yourself over and over again until you’re satisfied and confident with your delivery. Moreover, having someone more fluent to help assess where you might need improvement is always a bonus.
Writing essays is an intrinsic part of college, be it during admissions or during the semester. Sometimes, non-native speakers aren’t always able to grasp the fluency in words or use certain metaphors correctly. In such cases (and others), having someone revise your work for feedback is insightful. Not only does this improve your write-up, but also adds to your own understanding.
For anyone in a foreign environment, communicating is hard. Effective communication and language skills come with practice and developing habits which not only help you momentarily but also have long-term effects. Paying close attention to how you speak now and effectively trying to better it will eventually make your altered speech a natural part of yourself.
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