We have already written about the IELTS test which students are required to pass at a certain level when they apply to a course taught in the English language. However, some cannot wait however long it takes to learn a new language, and then move abroad. Similarly, those who are accepted on courses abroad worry that their language skills will hold them back when they begin studying.
If that sounds like you, there are other options available when mastering a new language. These can include summer programmes to sharpen language skills which are provided by universities themselves, or full programmes like the ‘Tutorium in Intensive English’, at the University of Illinois at Chicago; a programme which provides high quality English as a Second Language instruction for non-native speakers, so they can meet their academic, professional, social and personal goals.
We spoke to Debbie Standstrom and Dave Onufrock, two senior lecturers and curriculum coordinators, who gave us something to think about when we approach learning a language.
Motivation to learn
Debbie and Dave note that students on their course ‘should think about the attitude they want to have when they encounter new ideas’. For anyone, learning a new language can be difficult, and requires motivation to keep at it and improve. This can be difficult when we can already communicate with those around us in our own language – there’s sometimes nothing pushing us to learn. Have a clear goal or objective in mind, whether you want to study or work in another country in the future.
How you learn
Learning a language while you live in a new country is sometimes considered the best method. While there can be instances of miscommunication, you learn quickly as you’re forced to communicate and improve with every interaction. For example, Tutorium students and teachers speak only in English. Because you are constantly learning, it never feels like work, which you have to set aside time to complete. Similarly, you learn as you would interact in a real environment. We don’t just read, or just write when we do something; often, we multi-task without realizing it. Dave and Debbie note that in their class, ‘students are required to use more than one skill at a time, just as native speakers do, combining reading and speaking, listening and writing, or all four skills together’.
As we have stated above, having long-term goals can push you in a positive way. You may also come across opportunities which you wouldn't if you learned a new language elsewhere. For example, Tutorium students have the option of applying to universities in Chicago and other cities in the United States following their English studies. Many students attend community and four-year colleges in Illinois or other states, while others go on to earn a Masters or PhD degree. By learning a language in a new country, those around you can advise about moving in a certain direction, as they get to know you and your aspirations (staff at UIC will often help students on the Tutorium with advice on academic and immigration issues). It can be a lot harder to learn a language, and then move to a new country unless you already have a place on a course or a job waiting for you.
Living in a new environment while you learn gives you further opportunities to practice your skills. These may not feel as serious or intense as being in a classroom, and can be as simple as having a coffee with a friend which is a lot more fun. These scenarios can feel more authentic too, and you'll learn more about colloquial language or phrases. Debbie and Dave recommend to future Tutorium students to do a little research about the Chicago area, where their programme is based. Doing so can give anyone learning a new language something tangible which they can apply their skills to and talk about, as well as places to socialise outside of class.
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