Language learning tips for international students

Pearson Languages
A woman smiling with a backpack stood outside in a cobbled square with many people in the background

Reading time: 4 minutes

Are you studying abroad (or soon to be), learning a new language and need some inspiration on ways to practice your language skills in the real world? Don't worry. It can be daunting to know how to begin, especially in an unfamiliar place, However, with a little bit of effort and following these useful tips, you will be able to improve your language skills and make the most of your study abroad experience.

Language learning tips for international students
Play
Privacy and cookies

By watching, you agree Pearson can share your viewership data for marketing and analytics for one year, revocable by deleting your cookies.

1. Join university groups or societies

Becoming an active member of clubs and societies that align with your interests.

Participate actively: Attend the regular meetings and events that are organized by the groups you join. By actively participating in these activities, you'll have the opportunity to engage with peers who share similar interests and engage in diverse conversations. In fact, you may even want to consider taking on a leadership role by joining a group committee. This will allow you to gain even more language experience and contribute to the success of the group.

Collaborate on projects: Initiate or participate in collaborative projects within the group. Discussing and planning projects in the target language not only hones your language skills but also fosters teamwork and creativity.

2. Strike up conversations during errands

Elevate mundane errands into language learning opportunities by striking up conversations during your daily routine. Whether that’s talking to the cashier or to someone on the bus. They don't have to be long, even brief encounters can help you practice. 

Expand vocabulary: When engaging in conversations during errands, pay attention to the specific vocabulary related to daily tasks. Practice expressing yourself using phrases commonly used in these situations, such as asking for directions or inquiring about products.

Local slang and expressions: Informal settings often expose you to local slang and expressions. Take note of these and incorporate them into your conversations to sound more natural and connected to the local culture. It is also a great way to become familiar with some of the local community.

3. Attend university and cultural events

Experience the local culture by actively participating in events and festivals; this could be either via uni-organized events or local ones.

Engage with locals: Don't limit yourself to observing; actively engage with locals during cultural events. Express your curiosity, share your experiences, and inquire about the significance of different cultural elements. This interaction enhances both language and cultural comprehension.

Document and reflect: Start a cultural journal or scrapbook to record experiences and reflections after attending events; it reinforces language learning and provides a personal record of cultural exploration.  It’s also a nice way to remember fun events when looking back in the future.

4. Volunteer and work opportunities

Explore volunteer/work opportunities within your university's student union or within the local community.

Event planning and coordination: If possible, get involved in planning and coordinating events. This involvement exposes you to a variety of tasks and communication scenarios, from drafting emails to coordinating logistics and broadening your language proficiency. Additionally, it can be a valuable addition to your resume, especially when you're a recent graduate looking for a job.

Networking opportunities: Volunteer opportunities may extend beyond traditional roles and offer you networking opportunities. Some universities may advertise casual paid positions for jobs like guiding prospective students and their families around on open days or assisting with campus tours. You might be able to offer a unique perspective as an international student.

Consider applying for these paid positions to not only utilize your language skills but also earn some extra income (if your visa permits). Engaging with prospective students and their families offers a unique chance to practice your language abilities in a professional context.

5. Participate in study groups

Supplement your academic pursuits and language skills by participating in study groups with your classmates. This might even lead to making some new friends.

Debate and discuss: Encourage open debates and discussions within your study group. Expressing and defending your ideas in the target language challenges you to think critically and articulate your thoughts more effectively.

Peer feedback: Seek and provide feedback within the group. Constructive criticism and language corrections from peers contribute to a supportive learning environment and help identify areas for improvement.

6. Join university groups on social media

Connect with other students at your university through social media groups dedicated to making friends. If you’re yet to start at the university, there are still often groups available for people looking for others starting soon.

Meet-ups: Utilize social media to arrange or take part in in-person meet-ups with fellow students. These informal gatherings provide a relaxed environment for language practice and allow you to learn from each other's unique language backgrounds. It’s also a great excuse to visit new places in the local area.

Online discussions: Engage in online discussions within these groups. Share interesting articles, ask questions, and participate in conversations to enhance both written and conversational language skills. These groups are often also useful for gaining local knowledge or lesser-known tips about life at the university.

As an international student, you’re likely to be far away from friends and what's familiar, but practicing your language skills shouldn't be hard if you can push yourself to get out there.  Maybe start by following just a couple of these tips, and rest assured you’ll be developing your language skills in no time and even making new friends and memories along the way.

Practice your language skills with our language learning app Mondly by Pearson.

Looking at studying abroad in the UK? Make sure to check out our posts International students: Which UK university is best for you?

More blogs from Pearson

  • A business woman sat at a table in a office writing notes

    Hard skills vs. soft skills: The impact of language learning

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 6 minutes

    Hard skills and soft skills play a crucial role in defining career success and progression. The difference between hard skills and soft skills is that hard skills are teachable, technical, measurable abilities specific to particular jobs, while soft skills are more interpersonal, universal and related to personality traits. While hard skills refer to the technical knowledge and specific abilities required to perform a job, soft skills are more intangible. They encompass the interpersonal attributes and personality traits that enable individuals to communicate effectively, work collaboratively and adapt to changes in the workplace environment.

    In this blog post, we will explore how learning a new language can significantly enhance both hard and soft skills, making you a more versatile and effective professional in today’s multifaceted work environment.

    Understanding the balance of hard and soft skills

    Hard skills might get your foot in the door, showcasing your qualifications for a position. Developing hard skills to stand out from other job seekers is crucial; take advantage of classes, webinars and workshops offered by your current employer to develop hard skills and learn new technical skills. Examples include proficiency in a particular software, certification in a specific field, or mastery of a technical domain. However, it’s the soft skills, such as effective communication, collaboration, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, that propel you through the door and into the realms of career advancement. Recent research underscores the growing importance of English proficiency as a pivotal element in this dynamic, equally vital for enhancing both sets of skills.

    What are examples of soft skills?

    Soft skills encompass a wide range of attributes that can significantly impact workplace efficiency and harmony. Examples of essential soft skills include:

    Communication: The ability to convey information clearly and effectively is paramount. This includes both verbal and written communication, as well as active listening skills.

    Teamwork: Collaborating well with others, often with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, to achieve common goals.

    Problem-solving: The capability to analyze situations, identify problems and devise effective solutions.

    Adaptability: The readiness to adjust to new conditions, workflows, or technologies, demonstrating flexibility in the face of change.

    Critical thinking: The process of objectively analyzing information to make informed decisions.

    Emotional intelligence: The ability to understand, manage and utilize one's emotions constructively while also recognizing and influencing the emotions of others.

    What are examples of hard skills?

    Hard skills are quantifiable, teachable abilities specific to a job or industry. These skills are typically acquired through formal education, training programs and practical experience. Some examples of essential hard skills include:

    Computer programming: Proficiency in coding and programming languages, such as Python, Java, C++, or HTML/CSS is crucial for software development and web design roles.

    Data analysis: The ability to interpret complex data sets using tools like Excel, SQL, or R, providing valuable insights and informing decision-making processes.

    Graphic design: Mastery of design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, enabling the creation of visual content for various media.

    Foreign language proficiency: Fluency in a second language can be an asset in international business, for example, in translation services or customer support roles.

    Project management: Knowledge of project management methodologies (e.g., Agile, Scrum) and tools (e.g., Microsoft Project, Jira) to plan, execute and oversee projects effectively.

    Technical writing: The skill of crafting clear, precise documentation and instructional materials, essential in industries such as engineering, IT and pharmaceuticals.

  • Business people sat and waiting in a row

    Boost the quality of your hires with English proficiency testing

    By Samantha Yates
    Reading time: 6.5 minutes

    Hire quality is top of the agenda for recruiters and talent acquisition leaders. Discover the impact of English skill testing on hiring fit-for-role employees.

    The results are in… thousands of recruiting professionals and top talent acquisition leaders say that sourcing high-quality candidates is their number one objective in 2024 and beyond.

    54% of recruiters are now prioritizing quality of hire above all else, according to LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions report The Future of Recruiting 2024. The report also highlights that 73% are using a skills-based approach to find top-quality hires, faster, with skills that fit the business both now and in future.

    Getting recruitment right can drastically impact productivity. In the UK alone, effective recruitment boosts productivity by £7.7bn each year, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). Conversely, the direct and indirect costs of mistake hires are a constant concern to organizations, not just in the UK but around the world. According to a survey of 400 hiring decision-makers by CareerBuilder, 75% have hired the wrong person and say that one bad hire costs them nearly $17,000 on average. It’s no surprise then that skills-based quality hiring is such a top priority for recruiters.

    It’s harder than it might seem to systematically increase the quality of your hires, especially when you’re recruiting at scale. But the rewards are high when you get it right and a skills-first approach increases your chances of success – particularly when you focus on core skills like English proficiency that underpin communication. As an added bonus, skills-based testing can speed up the recruitment process significantly.

  • A woman teaching adults stood in front of a interactive board pointing at it

    A decade with the GSE: Reflections and insights

    By Belgin Elmas
    Reading time: 3 minutes

    Prof. Dr. Belgin Elmas is the Head of the Department of Foreign Languages at TED University Faculty of Education and Pearson GSE Ambassador for Turkey. In this post, Belgin discusses her teaching journey with the GSE over the last ten years, including the key lessons and experiences from this remarkable journey.

    In 2014, our rector presented me with the opportunity to be the director of the School of Foreign Languages at Anadolu University. Overwhelmed by the prospect of managing a thriving school with 3,500 students, 220 teachers and 220 staff members, I was hesitant. Despite the challenges I would face from training pre-service teachers at the Education Faculty, I was persuaded to take on the position.

    The Global Scale of English: A framework for success

    I remember my first day as the director, feeling overwhelmed by the workload and unsure how to manage it. While I won't delve into the details or the emotional roller coaster in this blog, I will share how the Global Scale of English (GSE) became my lifesaver. Faced with the challenge of creating a robust system to teach English to new university students who struggled in their initial year, I discovered the GSE. This detailed system guides learners throughout their language learning journey and I immediately knew, “YES, this is exactly what we need.”

    The GSE came to my rescue as I grappled with the task of establishing a robust system to teach English to university students. The GSE's detailed framework was exactly the tool we needed. Our team deliberated on how to integrate this system seamlessly into our curriculum. From deciding on the specific learning outcomes our students required, to choosing methods of teaching, creating materials and assessing outcomes, each decision was carefully considered. This process fostered growth, collaboration and enriched our teaching experiences as a team.

    A key resource

    The GSE played a crucial role in shaping curriculum development. The collaborative preparation with the GSE was invaluable for everyone, especially for me as a new director. We spent long hours enthusiastically shaping our new curriculum.

    Determining the entire curriculum, including materials and formative and summative assessment components, became more straightforward and with a clear understanding of what to teach and assess. Explaining the lessons to teachers and students became straightforward, thanks to the solid foundation provided by the GSE. This framework made curriculum development and implementation much smoother.

    Adapting to feedback and continuous improvement

    When we introduced the new curriculum in the 2014-2015 academic year, we received extensive feedback from both students and teachers on nearly every aspect – materials, midterms, quizzes, pace and more.  During my five-year tenure as director, we continually refined our curriculum and targeted specific facets of the curriculum each year for enhancement. For instance, one year we focused on assessment methods, while another year was devoted to teacher professional development. We applied a similar strategy to our German, French and Russian language programs, ensuring they understood our rationale and adopted comparable approaches in their curriculum development.

    Sharing our experiences of using the GSE in our curriculum developed a lot of interest, as everyone was searching for a more effective way to teach English. Whether at academic conferences or informal meetings, our team eagerly shared their knowledge and insights.

    The GSE today and beyond

    Today, at TED University, I serve as the head of the English Language Teaching Department. A key part of my mission is equipping future language teachers with the latest advancements and GSE forms a crucial part of this preparation. By incorporating the GSE into our pre-service teacher training program, we are ensuring that all teaching materials, lesson plans and assessment products include specific learning outcomes. This serves to build our teachers' confidence in their practice.

    Personal growth with GSE

    My 10-year journey with the GSE has profoundly influenced both my professional and personal life. The principles of the scale serve as a guide in every aspect of my daily life. For instance, during conversations, I often engage in an internal dialogue: "Belgin, what you're trying to explain is at a level 70, but the person you're speaking with is not there yet, so adjust your expectations." Or I might tell myself, "Belgin, you need to read more on this topic because you're still at level 55 and need to learn more to fully grasp what's happening here." As you can see, the GSE functions as a compass guiding every area of my life.

    If I were the Minister of National Education, I would unquestionably integrate the GSE into our national language education system. I would explain the rationale behind the scale and strive to implement a similarly detailed educational framework. This system would guide learners and teachers by indicating their current level, where they need to go and the steps required for each lesson in the curriculum. I hope that in the next 10 years, the GSE will serve as a guide for even more people around the world.

    Here's to the GSE – I am grateful for its existence; it’s made a huge impact on my life. Happy birthday!