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:

Using reporting verbs

The language you use when introducing the ideas of other people indicates what you think about that idea. Selecting an appropriate reporting verb can help you focus on your own voice and your stance towards the source which can, in turn, give you the confidence to write the ideas in your own words. For example, the verb ‘speculates’ in the phrase, ‘Ahmed (2021) speculates that wearing green shoes is illegal’ suggests you think their evidence for this claim is weak and possibly based on guesswork. Compare this with the effect of using the verb ‘demonstrates’. See this list of more reporting verbs and the stances they signal:

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 find collocations quizzes on the EnglishClub website 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: