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Beyond the building blocks: English instruction for higher-level academic success

Beyond the building blocks: English instruction for higher-level academic success

To truly succeed as an international student studying abroad at an English-speaking school, there are a couple of things you need in your toolbox: confidence, the ability to take risks, an open mind, the willingness to learn and English skills that allow you to master the complex topics taught in your IGCSE, IB and A-Level classes.

It’s this high level of English proficiency that will have the largest impact on your in-class performance, and because of this, it’s apparent that basic conversational English is not enough to get by in classes such as literature, business, psychology, and even math and science.

“Our experience shows that the ability to read and write, listen and speak, with the vocabulary and thinking of a specific area of study, is the ability that best prepares students for success at university,” writes Dr. Sandra Comas, EF Academy New York’s Deputy Head of Academics. “A student can be outstanding in mathematics and face language barriers that hinder her progress. Another student could be exceptional in certain types of scientific reasoning but not have developed the specific knowledge of English that allows him to continue to develop his scientific capabilities.”

It is key to a student’s academic progress that they are capable of clearly expressing their thoughts, demonstrating their knowledge and explaining their work, and to do so they need English skills that go beyond the basics. Engaging in and carrying on a conversation is important, but in class it will take more than that to succeed.

Dr. Comas says that it is up to the schools, department heads and teachers to implement a school-wide system that helps students acquire subject-specific vocabulary. She writes that robust English instruction is “important to actively prepare students for engaging in English for academic purposes.”

She adds: “This is a school-wide effort that focuses on professional development for teachers to help them create exercises, introduce vocabularies of words and ideas for each area of study, to speak clearly, assess frequently and in a variety of ways, and to give extra opportunities for writing.”

How can teachers help students go beyond the building blocks of English and begin creating towers of knowledge in higher-level classes taught in English?

The answer lies in making tools and support readily available to students as they learn. This includes online vocabulary lists that they can use as they complete homework, as well as English prep classes that allow students to learn math and science subjects in English before they begin the IGCSE, IB or A-Level program, making it possible for them to develop the skills they need before they dive into the rigorous programs. Furthermore, offering English support classes gives students the chance to study for college entrance exams, which evaluate how well a student is prepared for university studies in English.

As Dr. Comas explains, “Students communicate with each other, with teachers, and with members of their communities. They also communicate within areas of study, with others from around the world and across time.”

The student who is able to enhance their English skills so that they can converse with peers and expand their knowledge in their subjects is the one who will not only experience academic success, but they will also hold the key that will open their world and unlock numerous opportunities in today’s globalized world.



EF Academy International Boarding Schools open a world of opportunities for high school students by providing them with a superior education abroad, thorough preparation for university and a future that knows no borders.