English Language Resources

English Opportunities in Urbana-Champaign
IHC English Class Schedule
Practice English on Your Own
Tips for Improving Listening Skills
Do's and Don't for Improving Lecture Comprehension

English Opportunities in Urbana-Champaign

Division of English as an International Language (DEIL) offers English and Service courses to currently-enrolled graduate and undergraduate international students who need additional help with their English language skills in order to succeed academically.  Course placement is determined by means of the English Placement Test.  The DEIL program also offers a special English class for non-students by placement for a moderate semester fee.  There are many other English-language learning resources available through DEIL.  You may obtain a list of English tutors in Room 3070 of the Foreign Languages Building (FLB).  The English Learning Lab in the basement of FLB provides an Audio Lab (Room G52) which can be used by students and non-students alike.  Call DEIL at 333-1506 for more information.

Urbana Adult Education offers beginning, intermediate, and advanced English Classes which cover both conversational and grammar skills.  Classes are avaliable at beginner, intermediate and advance level and all classes are free.  Call 384-3530 to make an appointment for a placement test or for further information.

International Hospitality Committee (IHC) organizes several informal weekly conversation classes led by volunteers from the community.  Classes are free and can be joined at any time.  Contact Vivienne Mackie at 328-1569 for more information.

Parkland College offers English classes for academic preparation following Parkland College's academic calendar. However, these ESL classes are designated "late start" classes, so they begin the third week of classes to accommodate students new to the community. Courses are available from beginning through advanced levels in grammar/reading/writing and listening/speaking/pronunciation. Tuition is charged; however, employees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and their spouses are eligible for resident status. Further information can be found here.

The Intensive English Institute offers intensive instruction in English as a second language for international students whose academic or professional objectives require proficiency in English.   The Intensive English Institute also has some spaces in its program for student dependents and faculty members who would like to improve their English.  Call 333-6598 for further information.

International Coffee Hours are held on a weekly basis by The Cosmopolitan Club and the Wesley Foundation.  Anyone is welcome.  For dates and times call the Cosmopolitan Club at 367-3079 or the Wesley Foundation at 344-1120.

Communiversity: YMCA offers beginning and intermediate English classes each semester, including summer.  Call 337-1500 for registration and fee information.

Champaign-Urbana Area Churches sometimes offer social programs specifically for international students.  Contact the churches directly for more information.

Practice English on Your Own

Would you like to improve your English?  You can create plenty of opportunities to improve your English skills on your own.  Here are some ideas to get you started.

Anonymous conversations  A good way to practice your conversational skills is to begin a conversation with a stranger in public places, like:
Grocery store lines
The waiting room at McKinley Health Center
A sports event
Classroom
The bank

You can start the conversation with the common experience you are sharing at the time.  For example:
"This line is so long.  I think we picked the wrong day to go shopping!"
"I had a horrible time parking around here.  Do you know a good place?"
"Football is a fun game to watch.  People don't play it in my home country."
"That's a nice sweater.  Where did you get it?"

Starting a conversation  There are a number of ways to start a conversation.  Choose the one that is most appropriate to the situation and comfortable for you.  Here are some proven conversation starters:
Introduce yourself
Give a compliment
Request help
Try an often-used opener, for example "how do you like this weather?", or "What do you think about this class?"

Keep the conversation going  Once you've started a conversation, you can use several techniques to keep it flowing.

Ask a question that is either factual: "how did the Illini do yesterday?" or personal: "what do you think about the Chief issue?"
Offer a personal story or opinion.
Get the other person to talk about himself or herself
Express an interest in the other person's expertise
Most important, share your reactions to what is taking place at that moment while you are interacting

Active listening  Become an active listener by paying attention to what people are saying around you.  You can pick up a lot of information about Americans and clues to personality by listening carefully to conversations or discussions.

Saying goodbye  How you take leave of another person and the manner in which you bring a conversation to an end can either facilitate your next encounter or undo all of the effort you put into the current one.  When it is time to end the conversation, make certain to let the other person know that you have enjoyed talking to them, and hope to do so again in the future.

Practice socializing  It is not always easy to talk to strangers.  You might feel uncomfortable.  Here are some exercises that may help you to get started.  Choose the one that is easiest for you, and move on until you accomplish the most difficult one. 
Introduce yourself to someone in your class
Sit next to someone who looks interesting and start a conversation
Ask someone for directions, and converse for a moment or two on general topics
The next time you have a problem, find someone in your residence hall, class, lab or office who is not close to you and ask his or her advice
Invite someone to go for a coffee with you
Notice someone who needs help, and offer your assistance

Remember  Americans may not always take the time to talk to you.  It is up to you to take the initiative to meet Americans and practice your English.  With time and practice, you will feel much more comfortable and confident of your English skills.

Tips for Improving Listening Skills

It is normal to feel overwhelmed when you first begin your studies at the University of Illinois.  Even native English speakers do.  The academic environment is stressful and competitive.  In addition, you have to deal with a new culture.  It takes time to adapt.

Use a small tape recorder in class.  This will allow you to hear the professor's lecture more than once.  Some of the small tape recorders are made especially for picking up a voice that is far away.  You can buy one at one of the local electronics stores, such as Circuit City or Best Buy.

Be patient.  It takes time to get used to some professors' accents.  After you listen for a few weeks, your listening comprehension of that person should improve.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of the professor.  Use the professor's or the teaching assistant's office hours.  Write out your questions ahead of time and then go and ask.  It is part of their job to answer your questions and help you.  Try to remember that the attitude towards teachers may be different here than in your country.

Does the professor have the lecture notes to hand out, or are they posted on the web?  If so, ask how you might obtain them.

Try to make friends with a native speaker of English in the class or another international student.  Ask if you can have a copy of the notes they take.  That may help you to fill in any gaps you may have in your notes.  Or, listen and work together as a pair with another international student, then there will be less worry about what you miss in the listening.

Form a study group with some other members of the class.  Meet on a regular basis to discuss the content and help one another.

Anticipate what the lectures will be about by looking at the syllabus that was given to you on the first day.  Try to do the assigned reading before the lecture so that you have some background knowledge of the topic before you go to listen to the lecture. 

Try to ask yourself what you are listening for.  What do you know, and what do you need to do afterwards?  What kinds of questions do you have to answer?

Remember that it is quite okay to ask for clarification or repetition.

Remember that you don't have to understand ever word that the professor says.  Try to just get the main idea.

Take opportunities to listen to TV and radio.  Interact with native speakers of English as often as possible.  This will help to improve your listening comprehension and understanding of American culture.  You might also try listening to recorded telephone messages.

Take English as a Second Language classes if you feel that your language is not high enough to handle academic work.

Take some time each day, or on the weekend, to relax a bit.  If you mind doesn't get any time to quiet down, it will become overloaded.  That has a negative effect on comprehension.

Try to sleep enough hours, do some exercise, and eat well.  You need to keep your body healthy in order for your mind to function well.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, seek advice and assistance from ISSS or the Counseling Center.  These services are free and confidential.

Do's and Dont's for Improving Lecture Comprehension

Don't try to note every word the instructor says.  Do note key words.

Don't write everything out.  Do use abbreviations and symbols.

Don't note indiscriminately.  Do evaluate as you listen.  Decide what is important and relevant, and what is irrelevant.

Don't take notes as if you were writing a composition.  Do use the space on your paper to organize information and visually represent the relationship between ideas.

Don't be a passive listener.  Do be an active listener.  Predict lecture content and organization.

Don't give up if you miss information.  Do make guesses if you miss information.  Remember that lecturers usually repeat and paraphrase information.

Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees.  (Don't listen for details before getting the big picture.)  Do listen for the lecturer's main points and for the general organizational framework.

Don't forget about your notes when you leave the lecture.  Do rewrite and/or add to your notes as soon as possible after listening to the lecture.  When you rewrite you notes, ideas that you did not have time to note will still be fresh in your mind.  Also, when you rewrite your notes, you can reorganize information so that the ideas are more clearly and accurately represented.

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