Tips for International Students

By Jihyun Yun

As a non-native speaker of English, you might assume that excellent English writing is forever impossible. You might have even spent numerous days and nights wrestling with words, only to receive your professor’s comments and might now feel that it is too late to learn to write like a native speaker of English.

As an international student myself, I do not intend to suggest a more or less naïve statement that time and effort will pay off in the end. Instead I want to encourage you to use your time and effort effectively.

Theories on foreign language acquisition point to many different strategies, and I’m sure you have been practicing these strategies in your own way. But here is one very simple strategy you may want to consider trying.

Prepare a laptop and a piece of writing, any material will be fine as long as it is written in English. Open any page of the material and type every sentence on the page in your Microsoft Word document. In other words, just COPY everything word by word. Don’t feel overwhelmed about making your own sentences because all you have to do is to literally copy what is printed on the page. (How easy is that?) Do this practice for 10 minutes. Yes, just 10 minutes a day of copying and you’re done for that day. You do not need to memorize or analyze what you have typed (unless you strongly feel that you want to do so). Do the copying again for another 10 minutes the next day. And again for 10 minutes the day after that. Repeat this process for weeks, months, and/or years.

What is the point of this activity? The point is to help you grasp the style of English writing by making yourself emerged into the actual writing system of English. In order for you to create good English sentences by yourself, start from copying the good sentences written by practiced writers. You have probably learned the rules of English, but there are so many components of language that cannot be fully explained by the rules. One of the best ways to get a sense of what it is like to write in English is to copy someone else’s writing without necessarily thinking about the rules.

Do not assume that just reading a lot of English writing will suffice; make sure that your hands are busy copying and typing every word—if you prefer handwriting to typing, that’s fine. Try not to skip the daily session. You can spare 10 minutes a day no matter how busy you are. Start today.