Studying in English when it’s not your first language
Finishing coursework and studying for exams can be stressful for anyone. But when courses and exams are written in a language you’re still learning, it can be overwhelming. These tips may make studying a little easier for English language learners.
Break study time into chunks
When we feel anxious, we often put things off until the last minute, which isn’t a good strategy. You’ll end up trying to learn a large amount of material right before exam time.
Schedule your study time throughout the week, so you’re working on a little bit of material at a time. This will give you the time you need to understand what you’re learning and to look up answers to questions on concepts you don’t understand.
If you plan your study time in advance, you can also make sure you don’t have to deal with any interruptions or distractions.
Use flash cards
Flashcards are a great way to quiz yourself throughout the day – and you can carry them almost anywhere. You can put a short, simple term or concept on one side of the card (for example, “Canada Pension Plan”), and the related explanation or definition on the other side.
You might choose to put both English and non-English terms on the front and/or back of the card if it helps you memorize the English version. But if you find that you’re skimming past the English terms and defaulting to your first language, stick with using English only.
Visuals are often a powerful learning aide, so make good use of diagrams, charts and pictures that will reinforce learning concepts.
Try language tricks
Two common tricks are acronyms and silly sayings. For example, a lot of Canadian school kids learn to memorize the Great Lakes using the acronym “HOMES” (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior). They also learn the directions on a compass with the silly saying “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” (North, East, South, West).
The great thing about language tricks is that you can create acronyms and sayings in your first language, which could make studying a little easier.
Another idea is to record yourself explaining definitions and concepts in both English and your first language to further deepen your knowledge. Fit in extra studying by playing back the recordings while you’re in the car, cooking dinner or commuting to and from work.
Ask for help
You don’t have to study by yourself. Find a study buddy or group that you can meet up with on a regular basis. A good tip is to have them quiz you on topics you think will be on the exam. Study partners can help you figure out what you know and what you still need to work on. If their English is strong, they can research and explain concepts that don’t translate very easily.
Know what resources are available to you as an English language learner. If you are enrolled with one of our many partner colleges and universities, check whether they have formal resources to help with translation and studying. Professional organizations are another good option, because they may have members who can explain difficult concepts or help you find more information.