Soon you’ll be studying in the UK, but English isn’t your native language. If it’s something you’re worried about, this article is for you.
First of all, if you’re able to read this text without major problems (and dictionaries), you should be fine. To study maths or engineering you don’t need tricky sentence constructions or sophisticated vocabulary. Communication is the key! As long as you can read a textbook and take notes during your lecture (not necessarily understand it, because the content might be the obstacle, not the language itself!), you shouldn’t struggle too much. It doesn’t mean you’re not encouraged to improve your language skills!
Just living in a foreign country will help a lot – it’s not a myth! English is my second language and even though I was quite fluent when I arrived to the UK, I’ve improved a lot since then. At some point you’ll even start thinking in English, how awesome is that! In my opinion there’s no better way to enhance one’s language skills than a full immersion.
Imperial College will provide you with resources to improve your English even further. Centre for Academic English offers a wide range of courses for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, focusing on different aspects of the language: writing, speaking, listening, etc. PhD candidates can benefit from research specific classes, such as academic writing or technical speaking. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but they sound really interesting (and free of charge). You can even ask for a 1:1 consultation, twice a term, if there’s something particular you struggle with.
Actually, you can start your university preparations even before the official academic year begins. Imperial College offers pre-sessional courses for applicants: 6-12-week-long for those who didn’t meet language requirements and 3-week long for those who just wish to improve their skills. It might be an option for you, of course if you can afford it.
Once you’re here, you can sign up for the Language Pairs scheme. You simply need to state what your native language is and you’ll be paired up with a native speaker of English (or another language you’d like to learn), who wants to brush up her or his knowledge of your language. You’ll commit to meeting with this person weekly for at least one hour, during half of which you should speak English, half – your native language. That way you can just chat with your peer about topics interesting for you both – and learn a language meanwhile. I haven’t used the Imperial’s scheme, but I’ve done some similar exchange in the past with a Spanish native speaker, and I must say that it helped me a lot (not to mention that I made a good friend).
Also, don’t forget to read English books and magazines, watch movies and TV show (it’s my favourite excuse: “it’s for educational purposes”) and speak English with friends. Last but not least: accept mistakes you make. When you read my texts, you can definitely spot some language mistakes I still make. But it doesn’t matter, really! As long as I can communicate what I want, I’m happy – and every mistake teaches me something new.