The Illinois campus provides a variety of resources to support graduate students as they develop their English language and teaching skills. Visit the following websites to learn more.
“Becoming a Teaching Assistant at Illinois: A Guide for New International Graduate Students”
is free and available through the WebStore with an activated NetID. The resource’s purpose is to help newly admitted and current Illinois students understand the university’s oral English proficiency requirements for teaching, so they can better plan when and how to become eligible for TA appointment
ESL courses for ITAs: http://catalog.illinois.edu/courses-of-instruction/esl/
List of approved EPI tutors: https://linguistics.illinois.edu/languages/english-second-language/international-teaching-assistant-focus/epi-tutors
Workshops for preparing to take the EPI: During the first 4 to 6 weeks of the Fall and Spring semesters, CITL and the ESL/ITA Program in Linguistics offer a series of workshops to help graduate students learn about and prepare for the EPI. Check with your department or refer to the CITL calendar to see when the next round of workshops will be offered. Videos of the most recent workshop can be found here. Slides and handouts from the most recent workshop can be found here.
Help with test anxiety: The University's Counseling Center provides useful strategies for reducing nervousness when taking exams such as the EPI. See this link.
ESL Grammar Workshop: Offered in Fall and Spring by the UIUC Linguistics Department. Click here for information.
Campus and community English language opportunities: http://www.linguistics.illinois.edu/students/esl/ESLopportunities.html
Free high-quality online resources for studying and practicing English: http://www.englishcentral.com, https://listenwise.com/, and https://www.duolingo.com/. If you have a library card with the Urbana or Champaign Public Libraries, you have free access to Mango Languages at http://mangolanguages.com/libraries/find-mango/#/search/61820. These sites can be used any time you want to study or practice on your own PC or favorite mobile device.
CITL teaching resources: Each semester CITL offers workshops on teaching effectiveness for all TAs and faculty. Additionally, the CITL Teaching Certificate Program is designed to meet the professional development needs and interests of teachers on campus. Visit the Teaching Certificates page to learn more.
Ways to Develop Oral English Proficiency on Your Own
Second language acquisition research offers strong support for the following strategies for building oral English skills.
Use English (a lot!) every day. Graduate students have many demands on their time, but attention to English language development should remain a priority during the graduate years for those who plan to teach now and to participate over the long term in the larger international academic community. Ways to build in daily English use include forming a practice or study group, finding a conversation partner, taking an ESL class, volunteering in the community, talking daily to colleagues and others, and making small talk at the coffee shop or in the office or lab. Learn to assess your language skills by making a video or audio recording of yourself giving a short lesson or presentation. Review the recording yourself and with a native speaker to obtain feedback. Watching English-language videos, reading, and using online resources to study are other excellent strategies.
Take calculated English language risks. People who take good risks are more successful language learners. Good risks include asking questions when you don’t understand, and talking to others in English even if you’re nervous. Be curious about the surrounding language and culture: Be a keen observer of how native speakers of English communicate effectively, pronounce academic and field-specific terminology, and organize and express their ideas.
Make mistakes—and learn from them. Making mistakes is OK when using English. And in fact, mistakes are an important part of the language learning process. For everyday communication in English, focus on clearly expressing meaning (and a bit less on accuracy). To improve accuracy, build in daily practice time to focus on pronunciation, increase vocabulary and fluency, and learn to express ideas clearly. Over time and with constant and targeted effort, everyday English proficiency will improve.
Work to understand others. During conversations, presentations, or when teaching, people who try to understand others are more successful communicators and language learners. Asking the other person to slow down, repeat something, clarify what they said, or give an example are all good ways to facilitate communication as well as advance language proficiency.
Build listening skills. Being able to easily understand everything when interacting in English is just as important as strong oral proficiency. Strong listening comprehension also is critical in the classroom, for understanding and accurately responding to student questions. How to improve listening comprehension? Ask someone to repeat what they just said, to make sure you understand. Paraphrase what someone just said and ask if your understanding is correct. Listen to English-language videos without and then with captions to test listening comprehension. Make notes about aspects of English that are hard to understand and practice those sounds, words, phrases, or grammar forms.