Improving Your English for Success at a U.S. University

Improving Your English for Success at a U.S. University

In our effort to bring good content to as many people as possible the text in this blog post has been machine translated so please excuse any mistakes. Thank you!


Brimming with textbooks, yesterday’s lecture notes and homework, over 740,000 foreign students sling their backpacks over their shoulders and join the crowds of students on American university and college campuses. While these international students have all gained acceptance at both undergraduate and graduate programs around the United States, they do not all arrive equally prepared to fully participate and gain from their courses.

Most foreign students have not studied in an American-style classroom, where the expectations for performance and even daily behavior may differ significantly from classes in their home countries. For example, in most universities it is very common to call the professor by his or her first name and sit in a semi-circle or roundtable to promote spontaneous discussion. Students are expected to speak, respond to other students, ask questions and explain their opinions in an informal fashion—in English.

Without this exposure, many foreign students find it hard to adjust to the expectations of an American academic setting. They may not actively participate as prescribed, making it difficult for their professors to appropriately assess their knowledge versus that of their U.S. born peers.

Intensive English Programs (IEPs) significantly improve a non-English speaking student’s chances of academic success. This is why many foreign students who have already gained admissions to the university of their choice spend a few months at a language program prior to beginning classes full-time. One student who chose to complete an English program in preparation for graduate study said, “In my particular case, one of the reasons why I selected NESE [The New England School of English] among other institutions [is] that it prepares students for university.”

This student and many others know that the valuable speaking experience and a cultural knowledge of the U.S. will make them better poised to take full advantage of their academic programs at the university or college level. Their transition to a degree program is far smoother than those who haven’t had this preparation.

Intensive English Language Programs

Intensive English Program classes tend to be smaller, with most programs offering classes with fewer than 15 students. This makes a critical difference in learning. You will feel more comfortable, which ultimately makes it easier for you to practice speaking English. Smaller classes also give teachers the opportunity and time to help you and other students speak more fluently and more accurately.

In these immersion programs, you will speak and listen in English even when learning a grammar structure. This gives instructors numerous opportunities to provide accent training and help you polish your pronunciation. This is extremely important in order to be understood by future classmates and professors.

When speaking, you will be encouraged to do so in ways that come naturally to your U.S. peers such as being able to express original thoughts during a class discussion. This helps you identify the particular distinctions between formal written English and spoken English.

Obviously, having academic success is very important, after all, that is why you want to study in the USA. But, you will also be living in the USA. There are countless opportunities for friendships, new experiences and life lessons. English language schools also provide the preparation that, for many, can mean the difference between becoming fully immersed in one’s university setting, or simply remaining with other students of the same nationality.

By focusing on the speaking and listening skills necessary for negotiating the various aspects of daily life in the USA, you become less afraid of making mistakes and more willing to speak with people outside the language school. As the English language becomes more familiar, you will become more confident that you can be effective in English in a variety of settings: the language classroom, restaurants, doctor’s offices, and on public transportation.

Intensive English Programs provide a welcome bridge and serve to make the transition into a university easier and more pleasant. When you enter your degree-awarding program, you will feel more at ease in the first days and weeks when you will also be adjusting to a new program, new academic demands and new friends. Former New England School of English (NESE) student and current PhD candidate at the University of Michigan:

“Classes are fun because they are adapted to students’ needs. We debated a lot, laughed a lot and learned a lot.”

With a solid foundation in English you will enjoy your university classes more, improve your chances of academic success and have a greater ease in making friends.

How is Your English? Simple Questions to Ask Yourself …

  • Can you understand English when watching TV, movies or listening to songs but have problems trying to understand native speakers, even in basic interactions?
  • Do you have trouble understanding and using phrasal verbs and idioms naturally?
  • Does your pronunciation and accent make you feel nervous about speaking English in groups?
  • Do you feel your vocabulary is too basic to allow you to express all the ideas you want to present or discuss?
  • Have you prepared your TOEFL score but need experience expressing yourself in a US-style classroom setting?
  • Can you read sophisticated articles and texts but still write in a basic way?

The New England School of English

The New England School of English (NESE) is located in Harvard Square, adjacent to Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At NESE, students from over 50 countries learn English and are exposed to American language and culture. With intensive English language training and complete cultural immersion, students maximize language learning.

The intensive curriculum is also specially designed to help students achieve their academic goals. In addition, a TOEFL ® Preparation course, the Institutional TOEFL® exam each month, and a University Preparation course are offered.

Also available are extensive educational counseling and a university placement service, a university resource library to help students plan future studies in the United States, and admission into a wide range of universities without taking TOEFL®.

In their spare time, students enjoy the rich culture that Harvard Square offers as one of the most interesting and dynamic student centers in the United States. “The Square” is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, bookshops, and boutiques. University lectures are a few steps away, films are just across the street, theaters and concerts are just around the corner, and music is in the parks.

In the winter, students go skiing, to Montreal and skating in Boston. In spring and summer, seasonal activities are arranged and include, trips to New York, Washington DC, and Cape Cod. Whale watching and visits to local beaches are among the most popular. In the autumn, NESE takes students to Salem, Massachusetts for Halloween and apple picking. Students also often visit Niagara Falls.

Many students who have successfully completed the program have gone on to pursue degrees in Engineering, Business and International Relations. Students have been accepted at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, Harvard University, Tufts, Boston University, Michigan State, Columbia and many of the State University of New York and University of California campuses.

Article by Martha Hall Ed.M., Director of the The New England School of English (NESE) located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Find an English Language Program (ESL)