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7 studying tips for non-native English speakers

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Emma Warren-Jones
7 min read

For international students, the opportunity to study abroad in an English-speaking country is laden with advantages. Not only does it give students a chance to immerse themselves in another culture, but it gives them the opportunity to improve their confidence with the English language.It’s an option that appeals to many: in 2019-20 there were over 500,000 international students studying at UK universities alone – that’s over 20% of the total student population in the UK. (1)While the opportunity can be fantastic, there are certain complexities that can prove challenging for international students. For instance, studying a topic at a high level requires students to have a solid grasp of the English language, especially when it comes to reading and understanding complex research papers.It’s not just an issue for those students studying abroad either. Research papers are often written in English, no matter which country they come from, so that they can reach as wide an audience as possible. This often means English-language research articles outnumber those written in a country’s native language. For instance, in the Netherlands, for every academic paper written in Dutch, a surprising 40 are published in English. (2)So, how can non-native English speakers make the studying experience more manageable? We suggest a few handy tips for studying in English.

1. Practice freewriting

If you’re expected to write your essays and papers in English, you might find freewriting a useful way to build up your confidence in the language. Freewriting is the art of writing continuously for a set amount of time about a particular topic: it could be the subject you’re studying, or it could be something completely unrelated. The technique allows a person to write without having to worry about structures, spelling, grammar or other language conventions.The content you produce from freewriting is often not usable, but that’s completely OK. Try writing continuously, in English, for at least 5 minutes each day. If you need to write a word in your native language, that’s fine – just make sure to keep the pen moving and the ideas flowing. This helps to break down any initial worries about the writing process and build your confidence in speaking and writing in another language.

2. Use Scholarcy to make complex research papers easier to understand

Students are expected to do several hours of independent reading every week. Depending on the subject you’re studying, you might find yourself reading complex research papers, book chapters and articles – or maybe a combination of all of these!Non-native English speakers often find breaking down learning materials into bite-sized chunks can help with their learning. Consider using an AI-driven tool such as Scholarcy, which can help boost your understanding of a topic and make your reading more efficient. The tool takes complex articles and chapters, and turns them into a bite-sized summary that contains all of the most important information. For revision purposes, you can also turn them into interactive summary flashcards to help you absorb the facts faster.

3. Focus on the content in your first draft

It can be easy to get caught up in the small things such as grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure. However, when putting together your first draft, treat it as a work in progress: focus on getting your ideas onto paper and thinking about how your ideas will be structured. Once you’re happy with your argument, you can return to your draft to make your grammar edits.

4. Read text out loud when proofreading

This is a proven technique to get a feel for the structure of sentences – even for those who have English as a first language! When you’re reading your article aloud, pay attention to where you naturally pause. This is often where you should place some sort of punctuation. Reading what you’ve written out loud will also help you notice if your sentences are structured incorrectly, or if your prepositions or verbs are in the wrong place.

5. Take a free English course from British Study Centres London (BSC)

If you’re studying with English as a second language, chances are your English is already really good! However, you might find it useful to have a safe space to practice your English, ask any questions, and meet new friends. British Study Centres run free English courses across the UK and Ireland, and also online. All of the lessons are run by trainee teachers and supervised by an experienced teacher trainer. After you complete a short English language assessment, the team will sort you into a class of students at a similar level to you. That way, you can build your confidence with speaking English and also challenge your vocabulary.

6. Watch TV, listen to podcasts and read books

The English language is full of nuances which can be hard to wrap your head around. To fully immerse yourself in the language in an enjoyable way, try dipping your toes into the extensive range of available media. On Spotify there are a range of free English-language podcasts, while on streaming sites you can watch vlogs, TV shows, and films. Reading English content can also help, from books to magazines and daily newspapers.

7. Recognise all of your strengths, both linguistically and educationally

Finally, it’s important to remember everything you’re capable of. It’s natural to doubt your academic ability when studying in a different language, but just remember what you’ve already achieved throughout your education.

Final thoughts

Studying in a second language might sound daunting, but with the rise of technology and increased remote learning opportunities, there’s more support than ever before. Remember to take advantage of all the help that’s available, both within your academic institution and outside it. Lastly, don’t forget all the incredible skills you’re gaining as a result of the experience – linguistically, academically and culturally!


[1] UK Parliament, 2021. International and EU students in higher education in the UK FAQs [online] Available at: <> [Accessed: 11 April 2022][2] The Atlantic, 2015. The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 2 April 2022]