Hey everyone! Next week is midterms week at Berkeley College, since we’ll be right at the middle of the Fall quarter. This will be a very important week, since it’s the time when you can really understand how good (or bad!) you’re doing for each course. International students often have one more challenge to overcome: the language. I get asked about how difficult it is to study in the US when English is not your first language. Here are a few facts that might help you feel better about it.
1. Attending classes in English is easier than it may seem.
If you’re considering studying abroad, it is safe for me to assume that you already speak some English. Some students think that the class will be like a challenge where you will either understand everything or you will be completely lost. At the beginning it is completely normal to not understand 100% of what you hear in class, but it is not normal to get 100% lost. You will have supporting materials like textbooks and Powerpoint presentations, and you can always ask your professor to repeat anything that you didn’t get.
2. Professors are, from my experience, very understanding about it.
If you let a professor know that you’re still learning English and that you’re an international student, chances are they’ll give you some sort of support. Whether it is extra materials or office-hour time to help you follow the class, I’m sure any professor would try to help you.
3. You don’t need to speak English as if you were born in Texas.
Your English doesn’t need to be perfect. I have been 4 years studying abroad and my English is still far from perfect. However, it was never a problem! In fact, you will even have professors with thick accents who are still learning English. You don’t need to be able to write articles for the NY Times or read Shakespeare in order to be able to follow a class.
4. Schools have ESL programs that you can take advantage of.
If you still need some extra help with your English skills, schools usually have programs or partner language schools that can help you get to the right level. For example, many international friends at Berkeley took the English as Second Language course the first quarter they arrived, and they never told me that they had problems with their English at school after that.
5. It gets better very quick.
It might be overwhelming the first weeks, but it gets better incredibly quick. I know that to be true from all my international friends at Berkeley. We all started with the same fears about our English. Soon we weren’t even thinking about English anymore, we were just speaking it! Practice is key, and the more you talk and go to class, the better it gets.
6. Writing is easier than talking, and you can always get it checked.
You usually get your grades based on assignments, projects and exams. All those are mostly based on written parts. You can always (except on exams!) get your writing checked. For example, at Berkeley we have the Academic Support Center, where the writing tutors can help you correct your grammar in any written assignment. It is also true for oral presentations, where you can still prepare an outline and get it corrected, as well as your powerpoint presentation to support your speech.
7. Some professors allow you to use dictionaries, if that makes you feel more comfortable.
I’ve never had to ask permission to use one, and I think it would be very uncomfortable to use a dictionary while doing an exam, but I know many professors allow students to do so. I don’t have any friends who use them, but I can see how that can make some students more comfortable. In all honesty, I don’t think you will need it if you practice enough English and attend the class regularly.
I hope it helps you feel better if you’re considering studying abroad and are afraid of your English. Thanks for reading and see you soon!