Improving English as an additional language
Improve your English language skills at university by taking control of your own learning. How? By trying a variety of language learning strategies and using the feedback you receive in your classes and assignments.
- Have a look at some of the strategies suggested by Deakin staff and students.
- Get further advice by attending an English for Uni seminar.
- Based on this advice, start planning your own strategies for improving your language and communication skills at University.
Building language learning strategies
Coming out of my comfort 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
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
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
Join a English for Uni seminar via Unistart to find out more about language learning strategies or watch a recording.
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
Use these sites to monitor your vocabulary-building progress:
- The Academic Phrasebank has a list of frequently used phrases in academic writing. You can also use the phrases as a way of guiding your reading and critical thinking strategies.
- Academic Word List (RMIT Learning Lab)
- Clarity English (Deakin login required).
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
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.
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
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
Making the most of your feedback
The vocabulary used is limited and not appropriate for the task. This impacts on your ability to communicate effectively.
Feedback from marker
The most common feedback from markers on the quality of writing in assignments usually includes one or more of the following comments.
- Limited vocabulary
- Switching verb tenses
- Connecting ideas between sentences
- Vague or unclear ideas
- Lack of critical analysis
- Writing does not flow
- Paraphrasing is too close to the original text
A good place to start planning your language and learning strategies is by reflecting on the feedback you were given on your previous assignments, and identifying the areas that need improvement.
So as you write your papers, use the feedback you receive to build a checklist of things to look out for. You can use the checklist to edit and proof read your next assignment.
If you’re not sure how to respond to feedback, you can ask Study Support for advice.
- Read the Study Support guide on Responding to feedback
- Use this guide to get the most out of feedback from your marker:
Making the most of marker feedback
Further activities and reading
Visit UniStart Orientation sessions to see session dates, register for an upcoming seminar, or to watch recordings of previous Study Support and library workshops.
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