How can I improve my academic English skills?

As a Leeds Beckett student, you have access to the Epigeum English for Academic Studies module on MyBeckett. This module is intended to help students whose first language is not English to adapt to academic expectations. However, much of the module will be helpful to any student who needs to improve their academic English.

Below, you can find tips and links to additional resources for the following English skills: 

Writing

If you’re new to academic writing, it can take some time to familiarise yourself with academic writing conventions. 

  • The Skills for Learning website has guidance on how to plan and structure academic assignments such as essays and reports. There is also guidance on writing academically. Develop your writing by honing your proofreading skills and learning from feedback. 

    In addition, Skills for Learning offer workshops, webinars and 1-1 appointments for all students looking to develop their academic communication skills. You can book a 1-1 appointment through the Get Help page.  

For further help with grammar, there are many helpful resources available, particularly if you are a non-native speaker. For example: 

Murphy, R. (2017) Intermediate Grammar in Use. Cambridge University Press.  

Harrison, M., Jakeman, V. and Paterson, K. (2017) Improve your grammar. Palgrave. 

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank has lists of useful phrases sorted according to common types of academic writing. 

In addition, many other universities also have valuable guides and resources for developing your writing, such as this guide from Essex University. 

Speaking

 At UK universities, students are expected to participate in seminars and discuss ideas with their peers to improve comprehension of the course content. You may also need to deliver presentations and complete group work. Therefore, speaking skills are very important. 

  • You can find guidance on presentation skills and participating in group work on the Skills for Learning website. 

  • If you are a non-native speaker, try to engage with other students in English as much as possible (even if their first language is the same as yours!).  

  • Join or create a study group where you can meet with course mates (online or in person) to discuss your reading and ideas.  

Speaking in seminars can be daunting, but remember that there is usually no right or wrong thing to say. Seminars are an opportunity for you to ask questions, clarify your thoughts and suggest ideas based on your own understanding of the topic.

Reading

Many students find academic sources challenging to read. The authors on your reading list will be subject experts, whose writing is rich with complex ideas and technical vocabulary.  

  • If you are struggling with a difficult text such as a journal article, try reading more accessible sources, such as encyclopaedias, textbooks and documentaries on the topic, first. This will help you build up your knowledge up gradually, so you can tackle the journal article with a better understanding of the key themes.
  • Try the SQ3R strategy for active reading. This systematic approach to reading a new text can help improve comprehension.  

Vocabulary

A broad vocabulary is key to engaging fully with your subject content and expressing your ideas clearly in your writing.  

  • For non-native speakers, the New General Service Word List has a list of the most common words used in the English language. Take some time to work through the list. If you find words you’re not familiar with, keep a record of them in a vocabulary notebook.
  • In addition, we recommend keeping your own academic vocabulary lists.  
  • The first vocabulary list should contain words and phrases that appear frequently in academic writing. Write down new words that you come across in lectures and your reading. For non-native speakers, the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary has a useful list of words that you are likely to come across during your studies.  
  • The second vocabulary list should contain words and phrases that appear often in academic writing within your subject area. Add new technical terms, theories and models that you come across repeatedly to your subject vocabulary list.  
  • In your lists, you may find it useful to include columns for pronunciation, part of speech (e.g. verb, adjective, noun), the meaning, and an example of the word used in a sentence. 

Finally, one of the best ways to improve your writing, increase your vocabulary and enhance your comprehension skills is to read as widely as possible. For non-native speakers in particular, it’s beneficial to find time to read more accessible sources such as newspaper articles (e.g. BBC News Online), magazines and novels. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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