Preparing to study abroad: There is more than just learning English

As parents, what we should take into consideration when deciding to let our child study abroad, especially if English is not her native language and she has not studied at an international school? Recently, there are many parents starting to prepare their children to learn English at the very young age and try to enhance their communication skills, are these children getting enough of English?

The recurring problem

A typical child profile

Having been a star student from primary school, Thao – an USA overseas student – had to face with many problems when she first approached her totally different international environment. In the first place, Thao and her family were ecstatic when she was accepted to study abroad.  But then, she realized that problems just began to start. She strained to catch up with native speakers or listen to her professors at school. She vigorously scrambled to write down notes, while trying to decrypt and understand her professors. Forget about putting her hand up to ask questions or participate in the class discussions! Two months into her first year studying in the US and she was overwhelmed and worried she was not going to be able to keep up. She had spent years studying English and preparing to gain entrance into the college of her dreams. However, her short-lived joy has now been replaced with apprehension and exhaustion.

Used to be an excellent student, Thao didn’t anticipate that there would be a day she struggled as much as she did. What went wrong? Why was she facing so many academic challenges?

It’s not all about English Certificates

In reality, there’s a big gap between studying English language or test prep and using English in international schools or academic settings.

Thus, many students are not prepared for an education abroad even if they speak English proficiently. Parents assume that certificates and high test score are enough, however this is untrue. Skills being practiced in general test preparation are still too basic and do not include essential academic preparation. When international students actually arrive on campus and sit in a classroom, they might find it very difficult to understand their teachers and classmates, present ideas with persuasion and confidence, or have the confidence to participate in class – which is the common teaching style in developed countries.

College-level English emphasizes critical thinking

In a college-level English learning environment, there is more of a focus on critical thinking, both in the way you read, annotate, and interpret texts, and in the way you write and discuss literature.

Both fluency and comprehension in reading are critical to understanding nearly everything that is taught. Students are expected to speak, write, and communicate what they have learned, which carries over into all content areas – they must be able to effectively use language arts skills to both absorb content from others subjects, and also express their knowledge of those other subjects.

So, what can be done?

Build academic English skills from the beginning

Expanding academic English proficiency before setting foot overseas will help students  join in an international classroom better on their first day. There are three big areas that any students are going to study abroad should be well prepared:
– Academic vocabulary: when students prepare for the English tests, they have typically successfully accumulated a certain amount of academic words. However, most of these words may not be used in everyday communication so students need a school context to practice.  The more expansive and comprehensive their vocabulary is, the more they are able to interact with their peers in class, and gain more knowledge to various cultures, social circles and professional groups.
– Academic listening and speaking: In order to be engaged in the classroom, it’s important for students be able to communicate effectively with faculty members and classmates. This often requires language skills beyond daily expressions, which are often the focus of texts used in general English language programs. Students need to be able to speak in difficult situations, or about subject-specific content.
– Lastly but most importantly, academic reading and writing skills: Everyone knows reading is crucial in college life. The amount of reading a student must do could range from tens to hundreds of pages per week, depending on the requirements of their courses. Students need to be confident in having analytical comprehension of academic texts, stories and literature. In addition, writing in international environments doesn’t require essays only. Depends on the subject, students are asked to write in different styles: from narrative, assignment, dissertations, researches, presentations…

As a matter of fact, most of English learning centers don’t explicitly sharpen academic English but focus on communication skills or specific test prep classes. Currently, there are only a few learning centers in Ho Chi Minh city having specific academic English courses students who aim to improve and practice advanced English reading and writing skills, Everest Education is one of the few can meet such needs. In addition, due to the increasing demand for studying abroad as well as the age to study abroad is getting smaller and smaller, parents are now preparing for their children to learn English at a very young age.

Basecamp program at Everest Education is a suitable transition to equip students with academic English foundation for their higher education. Basecamp classes are mainly for students who are serious learners, have the ability to communicate in English and want to improve their English for academic purposes. Basecamp focuses on reading and writing skills so that students can be completely confident on their journey to study abroad.

To sum up, when approaching an international education environment, all students must be effective communicators, possessing excellent reading, writing, speaking, and related skills, and be able to apply those skills to a variety of academic contexts, formats, and purposes.  Proficient or fluent English speakers’ academic skills benefit greatly by focusing on high levels of reading and writing skills, such as analytical writing, presenting persuasive arguments, deciphering the hidden meaning in texts, and being able to articulate exactly what they want to say eloquently. Those traits are not easy to gain and maintain within a short time. The best way is to get children involved to Academic styles from a young age and slowly build it into a learning habit and lifelong skills.


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