English language

Many students, both international and home students, would like to improve their English. Learning English is an ongoing process that never stops, and even experienced lecturers want to improve their writing. If English isn’t your first language, you may need to plan additional time in your schedule for looking up and learning vocabulary when reading, and for checking and correcting your writing. 

Scroll down for our recommended strategies and resources.  

Take an Academic English course

The Centre for Academic Development runs modules and workshops that can help you explore the requirements of different types of writing in a UK university. As well as developing your vocabulary, these classes can also help develop your critical 'voice' and confidence. Final year undergraduates and postgraduates can also benefit from academic language consultations.

Language learner dictionaries

These are a type of dictionary especially designed for the needs of language learners. You can find many language learner dictionaries in the Library, such as The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary - try searching for ‘advanced learner’s English dictionary’ in Brookes' Library catalogue.

Work on your weaknesses

Finishing a class isn’t the end of the process; you will need to keep practising on your own. Keep a list of the main areas you find difficult (tenses, agreement of verbs, articles such as ‘the’ / ‘a’) and use resources such as this website to help you continue to develop:

Use it - read, speak, listen

A good way to develop your English is to use it as much as possible. Read fiction for pleasure, listen to podcasts, or read a newspaper regularly. This website has resources to help you practice:

Academic Literacy

Being able to use the language and styles of writing expected in academic work is important. The resource below has self-guided exercises focussing on the English language conventions and vocabulary needed in different areas of academic writing. Click on the headings to find language-based resources on areas such as paraphrasing, building an argument, and criticality:

Learn common collocations

Collocations are words that frequently appear together in English and sound right when used together. Readers tend not to notice expected word combinations like ‘greatly improve’, but unexpected combinations like ‘highly improve’ sound slightly wrong and make the text seem less fluent. Unfortunately, collocations do not follow set rules, so they have to be learned. When you encounter a new vocabulary word, write down the whole sentence, not just the individual word. Then see if you can find two or three other sentences in which the word appears; notice if there are any words that often appear alongside it, as these are likely to be collocations. Recording vocabulary as part of a sentence, rather than as isolated words, builds up a context that makes it easier to remember the words and to see which other words go alongside them. You can also search for appropriate collocations by using the Academic Collocation List or the Flax corpus tool below.     

What’s a comma splice? How do I use a semi colon?

If you are a native English speaker, you may still be unsure about correct grammar and punctuation rules, especially if you just use them intuitively. This site goes through all the main grammar issues and has short tests so you can check your understanding: