By Jennifer Casiano
Many of us are or know someone whose first language is not English. Some of us they are. As a non-native English speaker myself, my main piece of advice is to not underestimate yourself and be confident that with practice you will get better. When someone asks me why I volunteered for the iJOBS Blog, or for anything communication-related, I always say it is because I want to improve. I have put together several tips here that can help you improve your oral and written communication skills in ways that you may never have thought before!
Don’t be afraid
Talking in public and meeting new people can be intimidating at first. Be confident that you have the knowledge and the skills to do so and practice ways to improve your vocabulary and writing skills with friends and partners. Practice makes perfect, yet, without mistakes, there is no progress towards that perfection. You need to test your capabilities even if that means making mistakes in the beginning.
Read guidelines, journals or books
Not so long ago I bought the book Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English by Hilary Gasman-Deal. This book is helping me increase my vocabulary and have given me guidelines on how to write a scientific piece. In addition, you should read books, magazines, reports and anything that you feel will help you to expand your vocabulary.
Join a blog or a journal club
In a blog, you can share your thoughts, pieces, and opinions with peers that can give you feedback on the documents. You should even consider joining the iJOBs blog! In addition, joining a journal club will improve your scientific vocabulary and communication skills. Writing a piece daily or weekly will give you the practice you need!
Be open to feedback
Every time you have the chance to volunteer for a presentation- do it! Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity and ask your peers for feedback. You can always ask a native English speaker to review your work, listen or just practice with you. Maybe you can teach them your mother language too.
Find speakers or writers you like
Having someone to follow can be very inspirational. Recognizing how they pronounce the words, build their sentences or engage the public can help you a lot.
Don’t be embarrassed of your accent
Researchers from the University of Washington found out that accents are determined by those first few months in our lives and that babies failed to notice sounds that are not on their mother’s tongue and that is how an accent is created. Our first words alter our phonetic perception and our pronunciation (see article here).
An accent is part of us and it is not something to be ashamed of. Many professors at top universities have strong accents because the university cares more about their brilliance than about how they pronounce certain words. When meeting new people, you should be yourself and embrace your accent. Speaking slowly can also help others understand you. Sometimes we rush into an idea instead of speaking slowly. Slowing down can ultimately help with pronunciation and in realizing a mistake before you make it.
Remember that improving and optimizing your communication skills takes the guts to accept constructive criticism, the courage to rewrite a piece several times and the initiative to practice speaking with others. There is nothing to be afraid of, especially when you are doing it to get better. I am sure that you have the potential to achieve your goal of becoming an effective scientist and communicator!
English Learning Resources
Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English. by Hilary Glasman-Deal
Quizzes, Practice, and others
Pronunciation Podcasts like “Grammar Girl”.
Rutgers Writing Coaching
Communications and Marketing Department