If English is Your Second Language

In some respects science, technology, engineering and mathematics may seem to be extremely unfriendly fields to international students. No slack is cut for international students studying in these fields – students are expected to master both the science and the language at the same time and international students are held to the same high expectations in terms of speaking and writing as are native born students. Consequently, in this section we offer some suggestions for those international student scientists for whom English is a second or even third language.

  • Be patient with yourself. It takes time and effort to learn to do anything well and that includes learning to speak and write in a new language.
  • Practice your spoken and written English at every opportunity. It may be easier and less stressful to communicate with friends from home in your native language but it won’t help you improve your language skills. Whenever possible partner with American students and speak English. You will not only improve your language skills but you will also likely learn valuable information about American language and culture and make new friends.
  • Take all of your written notes in English.
  • Actively solicit feedback from your peers and advisors.
  • If you are giving an oral presentation, practice your talk in advance. Ask your advisor and several of your lab mates to listen to a practice talk. When preparing your presentation, don’t be afraid to write down exactly what you want to say on a set of note cards. However, don’t read these cards verbatim when you give the final presentation.
  • If you are writing, identify native English speaker/writers who can proof your written work for grammar, style and spelling.
  • When you receive feedback don’t just make the changes suggested, try to identify the underlying problems they represent and learn from them.