This week, David Larbalestier, Director of Studies of the English Language programme at Australian pathway provider, UTS:INSEARCH, discusses the benefits of developing language skills through immersion and social interaction.

“I commonly get asked: ‘What is the best way to master a second language?’ My response is always the same; immerse yourself in the culture of the language you are studying, talk with people whose first language is the one you are studying and start to experience how the language is used in different scenarios.

At UTS:INSEARCH, we invested more than AUS$2.5 million (US$2.3 million) in 2013 redeveloping our Academic English programme to ensure it remained relevant and engaging for our students. We did this to not only increase the English proficiency of our students but also to provide students with topics which they can discuss in work and social situations. Our curriculum allows them to have conversations about international topics as diverse as fashion, social media, the news and sports; areas which students find engaging and which helps to stimulate their active involvement in practicing their language skills. 

When we teach English to students, we provide them with the skills they need to express themselves in an academic environment, workplace and in social situations. As the premium pathway provider to the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), UTS:INSEARCH is well positioned to introduce the university lifestyle and Australian culture and environment to students.

It’s no secret that the best speakers of a second language have developed their skills through practice. Students may need a little encouragement to strike up a conversation with classmates after class or join one of the hundreds of university societies or activities clubs on campus. We offer all these opportunities and encourage active participation.

Before and after class, students have access to collaborative spaces where they can discuss classwork and current topics. Our campus is located next to Sydney’s vibrant Chinatown and in Sydney’s café scene, which means students can always find a place to sit down and start discussions using the topics that have been covered in our curriculum. 

Mastering English and being able to understand a range of accents – be they English, American or Australian – is an important challenge for non-native speakers. To address this, we use an innovative and integrated approach drawing on state-of-the-art technology and small class sizes. This attention to detail maximises the return on the time students invest in their language programme. Our programmes are intensive, and cover five levels of English, each spanning 10 weeks or 200 hours (over 1,000 hours), which is more language education than most high school students complete in six years of study.

Whether it is hearing words pronounced in different accents or understanding when words can have multiple meanings, you cannot master any language just by thinking about it. If you have the motivation, seek out an opportunity to immerse yourself in another country to learn the language and take a leap of faith to strike up conversations.

Students not yet immersed in an English speaking culture can start developing their language skills through social interactions and online as cultures become more global and interconnected. With Meetup Groups available in many large cities, and the ability to find people willing to chat online in different languages, it’s now a little easier to find ways to start to practice speaking in the language you are studying."

David Larbalestier has more than 30 years teaching experience gained in the UK, China and Australia. He is the co-author of several online publications and television programmes on teaching English and is the President of the University English Centres Australia (UECA).

UTS:INSEARCH offers Academic and General English programmes in Sydney, Australia, to prepare students for direct entry into the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) or entry through its Diploma pathways. Its English curriculum is now also delivered by partners in China, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam, preparing students for work and University-level study.

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