the logo

Studying at an English-speaking university as a non-native speaker

Worried your language skills might hold you back at an English-speaking university? Here’s how one international student made the transition

    Victor Augusto De Oliveira 's avatar

    Victor Augusto De Oliveira

    Student at Middlesex University Mauritius
    August 9 2021
    learning English as a second language


    The main barrier I found when applying to an international university was not the application itself or obtaining a study permit, but the worry over how I would go from using my native language, Portuguese, to being taught in my second language, English.

    I knew English from high school, but I questioned whether it would be sufficient at university.

    BMI CTA Wide
    THE Student
    Step into your future: attend our events

    I came across Middlesex University’s campus in Mauritius, moving there from Brazil with my family.

    All the teaching at Middlesex University is in English. I did not feel comfortable enough with my English proficiency to jump directly into a degree, so I chose to join the university’s International Foundation Programme (IFP) for a year first. The IFP helped strengthen my personal and academic skills before starting my undergraduate degree.

    Arriving at the university for the foundation year, I found myself overwhelmed with the number of things I would have to learn and adapt to, but the positive side was that I wasn’t the only student feeling this way. Hundreds of others had made the same choice. 

    Improving in any new language requires practice, so I tried to chat to anyone I could to improve my English – even pronouncing words incorrectly seemed like practice. 

    During the International Foundation Programme we received lots of feedback, particularly with regards to academic writing, presentations, research and structuring assignments.

    By focusing on these basics, I found my English improving in a way that would later flow directly into my degree.

    TOEFL iBT English test: what it is and how to prepare for it

    Initially, my listening skills were not excellent, so sometimes I wouldn’t take notes in lectures because I needed to focus completely on the lecturer to understand what was being said.

    I also tried to mimic certain aspects of the lecturer’s explanation to help myself and other students. Through the weekly classes, my English began to really improve. By the end of the foundation year, I had improved my ability to read, write, listen and speak English by starting conversations, observing teachers’ explanations and trying to communicate in English as much as I could.

    When it came to starting my undergraduate degree after the foundation year, I had a slight advantage over the non-native speakers who joined directly.

    Non-native speakers who came directly to the course sometimes struggled with vocabulary and structuring assignments, particularly the ability to write solid academic arguments. I had already gone through much of this in the foundation year.

    Observing other students’ difficulties motivated me to become a student voice leader, where peers come together and help strengthen each other’s language skills.

    Explaining specific content from classes to another student requires skill and patience, but I found it useful to find common ground between the class content and some aspect of the student’s life, then identifying a possible metaphor to facilitate the explanation to the student.

    The second step was to challenge the student to give me an example using the metaphor. Having them explain it through a metaphor they understood helped reassure the student that what they had understood in the class was correct.

    I have since joined the Learning Enhancing Team (LET) at Middlesex Mauritius to further aid students struggling with the same things I did in the past.

    I’m now in my final year, and the ability to help other students has provided a great opportunity to make friends, learn about other countries, new perspectives, and most importantly new languages. My French is coming along well!

    You may also like

    Oops sign

    Common grammatical errors to avoid in your university application

    These are the most common grammatical errors made by international students with advice from admissions tutors on what impact they could have on your application

    Carly Minsky

    January 13 2020
    sticky sign up

    Register free and enjoy extra benefits