Improving English as your second language

4 December 2020

Speaking English can be a daunting experience. Read this article for tips on how to improve if English is not your first language.

Two women having a conversation over a table

If your main language is not English, you may want to spend time practising your speaking, reading, and writing skills at UCL in order to get the best out of your academic work. Even if you're unable to come onto campus in September and are starting your study remotely, optimising your English language skills ahead of your arrival here is only going to help you in the longterm. Don't worry if you don't feel confident at this stage, even native English speakers are shy about speaking out in groups and sharing their written work sometimes, so to improve your confidence, here are some tips:

Visit the Academic Communication Centre

The UCL Academic Communication Centre offers a wide range of support to enhance your English language skills and overall confidence, including workshops, tutorials, courses and online resources.
Find out more about what's on offer to help you throughout your studies.

Slow down

Try to over-enunciate your words. Initially, you may feel shy communicating like this; but by taking the time to over-enunciate, you will find that you are more easily understood.

Read aloud

Read aloud for 20-30 minutes a day. Pay close attention to how your mouth and tongue are working while they are pronouncing the words.

Listen carefully

If you want to reduce your accent, listen to as many things as you can in English – English radio for example, or by watching the news every day, or listening to conversations around you.

Pronounce whole words

The ends of English words sometimes get cut off in casual conversations. It is important to pronounce the ends of the words you are saying. In particular, pay careful attention to the –ed’s and the –s’s that end many English words as these letters are commonly dropped in spoken English.

Get a mentor at UCL

Want to set yourself up for success before you arrive? TopTalk is an online platform that connects incoming students to UCL student mentors. Prior to arrival, you will work with your native English-speaking mentors to improve your spoken English. Students learn with proprietary teaching content (tasks which international students encounter when living in the UK), developed in partnership with UCL’s Institute of Education. Visit toptalk.com or contact them via email.

If you slow down your speech, listen, and pay careful attention to clearly enunciate your words, you will be able to communicate well in English. Remember there is always support for you here at UCL so if you don't know where to start when it comes to language skills, start here and get to know all that UCL has available.

*Please note that UCL cannot endorse external companies offering language learning services.

Last revised: 8 September 2021.

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