Improving your English

Join our English language development program and take control of your own learning.

Find out more about strategies you can use to develop your academic English while studying your degree. The free 4-week program includes:

  • online resources and activities
  • weekly zoom seminar sessions
  • an opportunity to get feedback on your writing
  • individualised support with a Language and Learning Adviser after the program has been completed.
  • We run programs regularly throughout the year. Select the links for undergraduate or postgraduate students to register for the next program

In the meantime, here are some English language development strategies to get you started.

Building strategies

Motivation and learning strategies

...even the hardest task can become easier once you are motivated. And to me, having a dream, goal or purpose gives me energy to accomplish it. Just ask yourself why you need it? What is your personal motivation at this point in time which would inspire you to improve your English and get to a new level?

Alexandra, Undergraduate student

By re-creating the moment and imagining myself back there communicating what I’d wanted to say, I turned those ‘failures’ into positive learning experiences.

Wes Howard, Language and Learning Adviser

Coming out of my confort zone was at times uncomfortable and challenging, but overall I was enjoying learning by being involved in various activities.

Dr Nara Tsedendamba, Language and Learning Adviser

Language learning strategies

When working out strategies to improve your English language communication, it is important to get into the habit of being conscious of how you are using the strategies. You can do this by planning, monitoring and evaluating your reactions to what you see and hear around you.

Reflecting on the moments when you found it easy or difficult to communicate can help you build on your language strengths. You can then use these strengths to compensate for the times when communicating might be difficult.

After reflecting, it’s a good idea to create a checklist of activities to help you focus on whether the strategies are helping you to achieve your language goals.


Use the Language learning reflections document as a guide or use it to create your own checklist.


Language learning reflections



Increasing vocabulary

It is important to have knowledge of the vocabulary used in a specialist area. The research supports the notion that once a person has these “words” they will better understand what is being discussed or written about.

(Muller 2011, p. A17)

Research into how second language learners can be successful when studying in a language other than their own, shows that increasing vocabulary size can improve understanding of what is being written and discussed in classes. Research also shows that being exposed to words repeatedly helps language become automatic, which means that the flow of your language improves.

When learning vocabulary it is important to:

  • learn how the meaning of the word changes in different situations or contexts
  • listen to how the the word is spoken/pronounced in different contexts and in different varieties of English
  • repeatedly use the word in both written and spoken contexts as often as possible.


In the document Vocabulary learning strategies, explore suggestions for learning vocabulary from your discipline. Use your weekly unit readings to search for frequently used words and then practise using the words and phrases in different contexts. Finally, use these common words and phrases in your assessments.

Vocabulary learning strategies


Further reading

Use these sites to monitor your vocabulary-building progress:


Müller, A 2011, ‘Addressing the English language needs of international nursing students’, Journal of Academic Language & Learning, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. A14-A22.

Listening & speaking

Listening strategies

Successful language learners appeared to pay attention to chunks of texts rather than individual words, using selective attention, elaboration, inferencing and self-monitoring strategies while listening.

(O’Malley, Chamor & Kupper (1989))

Research shows that listening skills are improved, when you get into the habit of paying attention to what you’re hearing. Paying attention means being active in noticing how language is used in different situations.

Some ways of being active include noticing:

  • how lecturers introduce important points
  • changes in tones of speech across different contexts
  • phrases and words that are frequently used to open and close discussions or lectures
  • how voices change when asking questions
  • how other students greet each other, talk about their studies or discuss their social lives.

Speaking strategies

Over time, a strategy that involves a combination of targeted listening and noticing of how people use language when interacting in a variety of contexts, will give you an idea of how language works in everyday interactions. So practising what you have learnt in your own everyday situations at university (classes, seminars, student presentations, placements) at work and at home will help you become a better speaker.


There are many ways to work on improving listening and speaking at Uni. In this document Listening and speaking strategies you will find some communication development strategies that have worked well for other learners. Try using these strategies yourself or use them as a template to create new strategies of your own.

Listening and speaking strategies


Further reading

Speaking in classes takes some time to get used to, so here are some ideas for how you can prepare yourself:


O'Malley, JM, Chamot, AU & Kupper, L 1989, 'Listening comprehension strategies in second language acquisition', Applied Linguistics, vol.10, no. 4, pp. 418-437.

Reading & writing

Reading and writing strategies

Developing writing is directly linked to reading so as you read, start noticing how other writers shape their ideas through text organisation, visual images, words and sentences.

Dr Nara Tsedendamba, Language and Learning Adviser

Reading is fundamental to achieving academic success, so developing an effective reading strategy is an essential part of being a university student. This is important because research shows that students who develop well organised note-taking behaviours perform better at writing.

So in order to develop English language at the same time as developing your disciplinary knowledge, it is a good idea to try a note-taking system that incorporates practice in understanding the meaning of the text, as well as explaining those meanings in your own words (paraphrasing).

If you are able to get into the habit of paraphrasing as you read, you will begin to notice the language used in various texts and then use this language knowledge to construct your own texts. In doing this, you begin to be exposed to words repeatedly which helps language become automatic. When language becomes automatic, the writing process becomes easier.


Try using these reading and writing strategies with your current unit readings.

Reading and writing strategies


Further reading


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