Be patient with yourself as you work to improve
your English language skills. At first you will
have trouble understanding and speaking English,
but the situation will improve the longer you
are here. People may ask you to repeat
something, but they are willing to try again to
Do not translate each word or you will lose
track of the general idea and you will never
finish your readings.
Instead, read in chunks, trying to get the
general idea of each paragraph. Do not stop if
you are confused by a word or even a sentence.
Many times, the meaning will become clearer as
you read on. If you are still confused at the
end of a paragraph, stop at that point and use
your dictionary for an important word or two.
Before reading a chapter, take a few minutes to
look at the chapter outline (if there is one)
and flip through the pages, trying to see the
organization and most important ideas of the
As you read, stop at the end of each section.
(In other words, read from one heading to the
next or one paragraph to the next). Ask yourself
the main idea of that section and then write a
brief note in the margin or underline a few
words of the text.
Pay attention to charts and diagrams and make
sure you understand them.
Review the main ideas of the chapter after you
Write vocabulary cards for only the most
important new English words (write the English
on one side and your native language on the
Lectures & Listening
If you miss something, skip a line or two. After
class, get the information from a classmate.
Go over your notes as soon as possible after
class, making sure everything is clear and
trying to understand the most important ideas.
If you have trouble with the professorís accent,
tape a short section of the lecture and listen
to it several times. You will get used to the
accent and will eventually learn to understand
Strive to overcome fears that others are judging
you or laughing at you. Accept that, for the
present, you will communicate in English in a
less sophisticated way than you do in your
Agree on at least a half an hour each day in
which you will speak English with your friends ó
maybe over lunch or after watching the news
Force yourself to chat with Americans. Find a
person who isnít very busy and talk - maybe with
a librarian, another person waiting for a bus
(ask directions), the owner of a small shop
(talk about the weather or an item in the shop),
etc. Listen in on the "small talk" of Americans
and try to imitate that style of conversation.
Make a list of words you have said that native
speakers of English have not understood. Ask a
native speaker to pronounce the words for you
(maybe into a tape recorder) and then practice
saying these words. Ask the native speaker to
correct you if necessary.
Studying for Exams
Do not simply memorize the information. American
education focuses more on understanding ideas
than memorizing lists of facts.
Stay after class to ask the professor questions
and listen in on the questions that other
Study with a small group of other students. You
should explain ideas to each other and discuss
what you think are the most important ideas that
might be on the exam.
If you will be taking an essay test, ask the
professor for a sample question, perhaps one
that was used on a past exam. You can also write
your own practice questions. Then practice
answering the questions. Before writing, outline
your answer into 3 to 6 points.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the quantity
of material to learn, you may be tempted to do
nothing but study. Resist that temptation.
Remember that your efficiency will drop if you
do not take regular study breaks, get enough
sleep, and enjoy some recreation.
By University of Illinois at Chicago