Written by Amanda Wang, Innovation and Management M.S.I.M. student
I still remember my first day as a Graduate student at Tufts: doing self-introductions with my 33 classmates in M.S. Innovation and Management, which to me was something way outside of my comfort zone. Despite almost 20 years training in English and a decent TOEFL score, I could not even do a self-intro with confidence and fluency.
One year later after the orientation, I no longer have to organize sentences in my mind several times before I start speaking. Looking back, I wish I could have known some of the ways to improve my oral English before I came to the States. This is how I got the idea for this blog: to help my peers consider multiple ways to improve their English speaking. I picked four of the most important rules that I found essential. You do not have to follow what I suggest here, as they can be very personal experiences that may not apply to everyone. However, hopefully you can still find something that ‘clicks’ for you, and figure out your own magical way!
Rule #1. Mistakes ≠ Failures
Yeah, I still make mistakes sometimes, but after all, I am not a native speaker, so it is totally fine. Being afraid of making mistakes is due to our high self-consciousness: ‘I MUST sound like a dumb person.’ Let’s take a step back from this scenario – have you ever talked to a non-native speaker of your mother tongue? Did you think in the same way about them as you imagined people would think about you before talking in English? No, because we tend to overthink that we are ‘being judged.’ Therefore, keep in mind that making mistakes is very natural. Plus, do not feel embarrassed if someone kindly points out your mistakes – that actually helps you improve way faster!
Rule #2. Talk, talk, talk
This sounds like a nonsense: how can I keep talking when I am not THAT good at talking? Or after all, I am an introvert. I don’t even enjoy talking to people endlessly using my native language. Why do I have to do that?
The best way to learn a language is to live in an environment where you have to use that language to live. Now you are a student in a university in the United States, which means you have the perfect opportunity to practice. Try to speak up in the class, talk to your professors and peers, or greet the barista you meet every morning. It is not difficult at all if you follow Rule #1. Being an introvert, I finally realized that ‘introvert’ means that you spend energy when you gather with a group of people, like at a party, but you can still want to do small talks. Lower your ego, don’t be too self-conscious, and start the chat. The merit of talking is that you also gain input from other people, so your brain will pick up some colloquial expressions and turn them into your output in no time. Talk is a great and easy way to learn new terms, as you do not have to memorize a vocab list.
Rule #3. Build a real network
Sometimes, becoming an international student also means you left most of your old friends at home. Do not let loneliness in a new place overwhelm you. Instead, build a real network here so that you really feel like part of the community. How is this related to language skills? First, you have more chance to talk, as said in Rule #2. Second, you can talk about the things that you have a real interest in, make new good friends, and enrich your life experiences.
At the same time, as you naturally catch up with people in your network, you will feel that your feet are more to the ground, and more confident because you are more an insider of life here. I tried to catch up with my professors, mentors, and friends this summer, and I can feel that I am improving again. More specific to English skills, I also get to know people’s interests and passions, and opportunities keep popping up during conversations. If you’re not sure how to start the networking, check graduate school calendar and go to events to add people to your network!
Rule #4. Reading and writing as a daily routine
You are being educated, and you want to speak intelligently. Sometimes, small talk seems to be fine, but what if you have a presentation or interview coming up? My suggestion is to benefit from reading and writing, and make it a habit. In the Tisch Library Tower Café, you can find all kinds of magazines and newspapers to keep yourself updated. Or simply download some news apps (FYI: all Tufts students have access to the New York Times through the Tisch Library). Do you have some novels written by American authors that you liked when you were a child? Find the English version and re-read it in English, you will remember better as you have the scenes in memory. The ability to generate pictures while using a language helps internalize the language and apply it quickly when you speak.
Like listening and speaking, reading and writing are great companions. I have honed my English skills by being a blogger at Tufts Graduate Blog. Writing as a practice gives me the time to organize my thoughts in a logical way, and thinking in English while writing is a ‘double language drill’ for both speaking and writing. I am always talking to myself in English while writing, and so both things become natural gradually.
To sum up, make the most out of your graduate journey at Tufts, and always be confident as you are already a bilingual person (yay!). As you practice, you will see a door to a broader world opening in front you.