Home Tags ESL


4 Ways To Use Your Experience As An ESL Student In Your College Essays

Your college essay is the best way to stand out from all the other applicants out there. It’s a way to show that you’re unique and that you can bring something new to the college you’re hoping to attend. As an ESL student, you have a lot that makes you different. 

Your personal experience moving to a different country and learning the language as well as all the other subjects needed at school shows you’re an academic natural. Here’s how you can use that to secure that college place. 

1. Ensure Your Story Is Unique To You

The problem with many college admissions essays is that they are often generic.  That’s true, even of students who are ESL students. “While you may have come to a new country and learned a new language like other students, that doesn’t mean that your story is the same,” says Melissa Peterson, an academic writer with PhD Writing and Paper Fellows. “You need to find what makes your story unique, and start there.”

Think about the specific challenges that you faced. What did you have to overcome in order to succeed? Did you find a new passion when you came to your new school? How did you achieve academic success? The answer is different for everyone, so use your story to your advantage. 

2. Hone In On A Specific Topic

You only have so many words to work with, so you’re not going to be able to tell your life story. When you start writing, you’ll think that everything’s important, and so you’ll want to include everything. The trick is to find the most important part of the story and focus on that. 

For example, perhaps you want to write about winning an award at school, after starting to study there with little or no English skills yet. It’s tempting to want to write about your first day there, the struggles you faced, and how you overcame them. You just don’t have space for that, though. Instead, find the most important point where you were able to succeed. 

In this example, it could be the science class where you signed up to participate. After all your hard work, you were confident enough to sign up and it paid off in the form of the award. Find that topic and narrow it down, so you’re only focusing on the most important part of the story you’re telling. 

3. Understand Your Goals

The main goal of a college essay is to have the admissions team accept you. However, you also want to think about how you want the team to perceive you. What do you want them to see of you? 

Most college students will want to put across that they are hard-working and dependable. These are smart goals, but remember that your grades are already doing a lot of that work for you. Instead, you can focus on another part of your personality that will help you secure that place. 

“That’s where you can focus on your experience as an ESL student,” says educational blogger Charlie Morgan, from Essay Services and Boom Essays. “You can use these experiences to show how you deal with challenge and adversity.”

4. Proofread And Edit

It doesn’t matter how compelling your story is, if you don’t proofread and edit your essay it won’t be considered. You don’t want to accidentally leave spelling errors in there, or realise that there’s an important part missing once you send the essay off. 

Once you’ve written it, leave it for a couple of days. That way, you can come back to it with fresh eyes. Make sure that you’ve written the essay in your own tone, rather than a more formal, academic one. Also look to see if the essay flows and gets your point across clearly. 

You should have another person read over your essay too, as others can spot issues that you’ve missed. Ask a trusted teacher or counselor to take a look at it for you. As an ESL student, you’re in a unique position when it comes to college essays. Use your story in your writing, and show your college of choice that you’re just the kind of student that they’re looking for. 

Emily Henry is an education writer with Academized and Assignment Help, where she covers tips and advice for students. She’s also a tutor for Ox Essays. 

7 Great ESL Websites for English Learners

Learning a new language can be time consuming, made even longer by the hours spent searching for good online resources. Whether you’ve just started learning English, or you’re studying for your IELTS or TOEFL exams, we’ve done the surfing for you. Here are our top websites with useful resources to help you on your way.

1. BBC

The BBC has a wide range of resources for English language students, and their Learning English website is a great place to start. With online courses, classes, videos and quizzes for all levels of ability, you can learn new language skills and put them straight to the test. Get help with your grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, as well as understanding the words in the news. It’s a one-stop shop for every English student.

2. Business English Pod

If you’re learning English for the workplace, the Business English Pod YouTube channel is for you. Their videos focus on teaching Business English vocabulary and grammar, as well as core workplace skills such as answering the telephone, interview tips and talking in meetings. Their advanced level videos will get you up to speed in no time.

3. English Page

Listening is one of the best ways to enhance your language skills, and English Page has the resources to help. You can access talk shows, drama, news reports, sports, music and much more, so there’s something to interest everyone. With shows from the BBC and American National Public Radio, you can choose to listen to British English or American English programmes.

4. Dave’s ESL Café

Visit Dave’s ESL Café for help with phrasal verbs, idioms, slang and grammar tips. You can chat with other English language students in the online forums and practise your English by joining in on discussions. If you’re preparing for your TOEFL exams, there’s also a job board to help you find work once you qualify as a language teacher.

5. British Council

The LearnEnglish website from the British Council is another great site for English learners.  You can take their free English test to find your skill level, and improve with downloadable podcasts, games, academic writing help and an IELTS section. You can also download free speaking, listening and writing apps for your iPhone or iPad.

6. Flo Joe

If you’re studying for any of the Cambridge exams including FCE, Cambridge Advanced, and Proficiency, Flo-Joe is a great resource. They provide practice tests in all the papers from Listening to Reading. They also have a new resource for IELTS Speaking with free weekly vocab and practice tests on topics that are likely to come up in the exam.

7. IELTS Podcast

If you’re preparing for your IELTS exam, you must visit the IELTS Podcast website. It offers a full breakdown of each exam along with the marking criteria, writing tasks, sample essays and practice questions. And if you prefer to learn on the go, you can subscribe to their podcasts for free tips and tutorials on how best to prepare for your exam.

This means less time searching for these websites, and more time improving your English.

Good luck!

IELTS vs TOEFL: Which Is Better?

If you’re applying to university or college in an English-speaking country and English is not your first language, it’s likely that your institution will require you to take a standardised test to prove your English language proficiency. And this will bring up the big question:  IELTS vs TOEFL exam? Let’s find out the differences between the two.

IELTS & TOEFL: The Basics

IELTS and TOEFL are the most popular standardised English language tests taken worldwide.

Centres 1,100 test centres in over 140 countries. 4,500 test centres in over 165 countries.
Exam It lasts for about 2h 45 minutes. It lasts for about 4 hours.
Scoring Each section is marked with a band from 0-9 (from these section scores, an overall 0-9 band is awarded). 120 marks, with 30 marks available for each section.

Note: the desired score for IELTS is of around 6.5+ and for TOEFL – 80+.

We took a look at these two exams and compared them side-by-side, to see which one will give you the fastest kick-start before moving to an English-speaking country to begin your studies overseas.

How are they marked?

Although the IELTS and TOEFL exams are assessing the same thing, the marking of the exams works slightly differently for their 4 sections: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

In theory, it is possible to get an overall score of 0-4 for IELTS, but it is very unlikely to score this low since, with around 10% in the reading and listening and 30% in the speaking and writing sections, an overall score of around 4.5 should be easily obtained.

Each institution will set its own English language requirements for undergraduate and postgraduate (graduate) and should be available on their website.

If you cannot find this information, check with the institution so that you know what is required from your test results. Many institutions have minimum score requirements overall or for each section.

What do the tests consist of?

Both TOEFL and IELTS consist of 4 sections: Writing, Listening, Speaking and Reading.

TOEFL usually takes around 4 hours, whereas IELTS is usually shorter than that – at around 2 hours 45 minutes.

We will now look at each section below to discuss which test gives you better practical skills for living/working/studying in an English-speaking country.


  • TOEFL: multiple-choice-only reading section (academic tests available).
  • IELTS: range of 15 question types including short answer, true/false, summary and multiple choice.

With IELTS, you can select to take the Academic paper or the non-academic one. In real life, you are rarely asked multiple-choice questions (outside of exam situations), so the IELTS gives you a more realistic, practical experience.

The exam splits into 3×20 minute sections, gradually getting harder. This should build up your confidence slowly through easy questions progressing onto the more difficult ones.


  • TOEFL: always standard American English.

The TOEFL listening exam lasts between 40 and 60 minutes and is based on questions regarding university life situations.

  • IELTS: different English variations from Ireland, Wales, USA, Australia.

The IELTS listening section lasts 30 minutes, divided into 4 sections, and it can cover an informational lecture, a conversation in an academic context and an academic lecture. The IELTS listening test ticks off a variety of tasks from sentence completion to matching headings.


  • TOEFL: 20-minute conversation with a computer, recorded and assessed by an examiner at a later stage.

You are asked 6 university-related questions on various things such as hometown and family topics, and you will have to express your opinion on a chosen subject/given text.

  • IELTS: slightly shorter; 12-15 minutes long. Split into 3 sections and conducted with a real examiner.

With fewer examples when you will have to talk to a computer, IELTS is much better for practising with a live tester (section 1).

You can’t hide from speaking English when it is the native language of where you are living, so don’t shy away from a real conversation.

During the IELTS exam, you will talk about your home, jobs, studies and you’ll have to prepare a monologue of 2 minutes tops on a certain topic (section 2).

At the end (section 3), you will have to answer questions based on the topic you spoke about initially in section 2.


  • TOEFL: 2-question exam that lasts for 50 minutes and is typed on a computer.
First, you’ll have to read a text and listen to a lecture of about 2 minutes.
Based on this information, you’ll have to write a short answer to a specific question.
The next answer you’ll need to write down will require a longer reply (between 450 and 600 words).
  • IELTS: Academic and General Traning – 2 different writing tests.

The Academic test is more suitable for you and all students who apply to go to universities, and it features 2 tasks, lasting for about 1 hour.

These answers are handwritten.

The first question involves interpreting a graph, table or diagram, and the next one involves a short 250-word essay answer as an argument or a discussion.

These tasks are quite evenly matched, but depending on whether you will need to write out things by hand or you will be using a laptop, computer or tablet for writing at university.

Either way, it is a good idea to practise both forms of writing, regardless of which method of assessment you decide on.


OK, but which one is more widely accepted?

University Admissions

Before you decide on which course you will take for your English as a foreign language qualification, if you are applying to study in the UK or in an English-speaking country, you must check which qualifications they will accept, as some universities will only accept one or the other. If you are unsure, you can search for the admissions department within the university’s website and email them to find out. The information should be listed on the site as well under the course requirements so if you have an idea about which course you would like to take, search for this and it should tell you what you need to know.

Visa Application

If you require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK, it is recommended that you take IELTS or Pearson’s Test as TOEFL is no longer recognised by the UK Home Office as a Secure English Language Test.

In case you don’t require a visa for your studies, a TOEFL test will be enough for your application, as long as your scores meet the entry requirements, which are usually at fixed levels for the University, although some exceptions may apply.

If you’re still not sure which to choose, you can find out about Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), an alternative to TOEFL and IELTS, which is accepted by 99% of UK universities as a benchmark for the English Language.

The final verdict

Choose IELTS if you:

  • are comfortable being interviewed
  • have easy-to-read English handwriting
  • prefer multiple question test types (true/false; fill-in-the-blank etc)
  • understand various English dialects
  • like talking about non-academic topics.

Choose TOEFL if you:

  • are comfortable working with computers
  • feel confident speaking into a microphone
  • are good at answering multiple-choice questions
  • prefer standard American English
  • enjoy reading topics meant to inform
  • manage to take notes from audio recordings.

IELTS vs TOEFL: Online resources for you

IELTS Resources:

  1. General IELTS information
  2. Free IELTS practice tests
  3. IELTS test formats

TOEFL Resources:

  1. General TOEFL information
  2. TOEFL practice tests
  3. TOEFL test formats

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other English Language Learning subject guides.

How To Improve Your English Speaking Skills For University

International students come to study in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other English speaking countries with vastly different levels of English proficiency. Some speak English perfectly because they come from English speaking countries, have been educated in English in their home country, or attended an international school in a host country and may speak little to none of their own national languages. Other students have a fairly good mastery of English but need to or want to improve.

Some of you may be entering programs that require you to be fairly proficient in English before being accepted and others may have been accepted into programs where you still need help in the language and the school is prepared to give that extra help by way of offering English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or classes for English Language Learners (ELL), as they are called in the U.S.

Obviously the better you know the language the sooner you will get settled and connected, and the easier it will be to move along in your studies. Even if the main reason you are coming to an English-speaking country is to learn English, don’t wait until you get there to start learning and/or practising the language. Try to have some knowledge of the language and practice speaking it before leaving home.

One of the biggest reasons international students feel isolated at school is because they can’t communicate.

This can also make them feel like they made the wrong decision to study abroad, and can lead to feeling extremely homesick or even depressed. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable not to be understood and not to be able to let others know what you need. Knowing at least a few words and phrases in English will help you get around and feel more comfortable and self-assured.

Of course, most students start learning a new language quickly when they are immersed in it 24 hours a day every day as you will be, but it does take time. So it is a good idea to start working on it as soon as you can. Here are ten tips to help you get started:

1. Find English speakers to practice with.

2. Read in English.

Read the world news, which you may already understand in your own language, but also read the news of the country you will be studying in so you will be able to discuss current events with your peers and others.

3. Practice writing in English.

For example, write letters to friends, to your school, or to family members. You don’t have to actually send them unless you want to.

4. Watch movies with English subtitles.

5. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts in English.

6. Take a class in English.

It can be one that doesn’t count for credit but is fun, creative, or entertaining. It could even be a dance, art or sports class.

7. Study English with a tutor.

8. Read books in English that you are already familiar with and know the storyline.

9. Watch familiar childhood movies, such as Disney movies in English.

10. Regionalise your English.

If you are using an English language program, be sure it is ‘American’ English if you will be studying in the U.S. or Canada and ‘British’ English if you are studying in the U.K. or former English colony.

Look into learning slang and idioms of the English language in your country of study. There are many words and phrases in British English that have very different meanings in the U.S. and can be considered rude or inappropriate and vice versa. International students report that language misunderstandings are one of the most frequent causes of cultural surprises.

Keep practising even if you think your English speaking skills are fairly good. Practice with a native English speaker. As you go about your day, start going through in your head how you would say in English some of the things you are asking, answering, or debating in your own language. More than one international student has offered the suggestion that watching television programs in the country of study helps improve one’s accent – something that helps break down barriers when trying to make friends with your host country peers.

This article has been written by Tina L. Quick, Author of Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S.

You can order this amazing book here.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other English Language Learning subject guides.

Good Vocabulary Habits for Passing the IELTS Exam

The amount of vocabulary you need to take the IELTS exam can seem like an impossible mountain to climb, but if you follow these guidelines you’ll prepare yourself well and be sure to get the grades you need.

1. Become a word collector

All good English teachers will insist that you speak only English in classes and you should do your best to take this outside of the classroom. It’s always tempting to read and speak your native language but try and resist. 

It really doesn’t matter whether you read newspapers, magazines or books but it does matter that you read them in English. You may not understand every single word but see that as an opportunity to collect new words. The BBC have a great website for English learners which includes a ‘Word of the Day’ and a section on ‘Words in the News’ where you can listen to and read current news reports.

Do you always carry a notebook? If not why not start. You don’t have to stop reading to look up a word but you can quickly write it down and look it up later. Once you’ve got the definition look at it in context. Again try to use an English to English dictionary alongside your translation dictionary. Translations can sometimes be inaccurate. If you prefer to use technology use your mobile or tablet to record new words and study them when you get home.

2. Use a dictionary

There’s more than definitions in dictionaries. You can also see which word form the word fits into, its pronunciation and how to use it. The phonemic chart might look like an ancient language to you but using an interactive chart will help you with the sounds.

3. Organise your vocabulary

There are many ways you can organise your collection of new words for the IELTS exam, and most people have their own method of doing it. Many will just write down the word, the translation and the definition. Why not take it to another level and also:

  • Use the word in a sentence to put it into context
  • Write down the word form.  Is it a verb?  Is it a noun?  Is it both?
  • What are the antonyms?  What are the synonyms?  Why not buy a Thesaurus?
  • What are the collocations?
  • Is it a verb?  Are there any phrasal verbs using it?
  • Everybody has different ways of learning.  Visual learners will find Mind Maps or Vocab Trees helpful. Again the BBC can help you with some templates and ideas.

4. Divide your IELTS vocabulary into topics

The IELTS Speaking Test will ask you to speak about a topic for two minutes. The topics are varied and you won’t know which one you will be tested on. The best way to prepare for this is to PRACTISE, PRACTISE, and PRACTISE. This website focuses on the most likely topic range and gives you IELTS-style practice tests. Any new vocab you learn while practising will also help you in other parts of the exam.

Get into these habits and you will find that your collection of vocabulary will increase rapidly. Good luck!

Written by Gill Balfour, Editor and Counsellor Liaison. 

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other English Language Learning subject guides.

6 Tips to Help You Pass the IELTS Reading Paper with Flying Colours

It can be a daunting experience when you first look at an IELTS Reading Paper. There is so much text to read and at times the very technical vocabulary and jargon involved can be enough to throw off even the most confident of speakers.

At times it may feel like a mountain to climb to study and retain the amount of vocabulary you need for such an extensive range of topics, so we’ve put together some tried and tested methods to help you sleep a little easier at night and ace the IELTS Reading Paper first time.

1. How can I deal with so much text?

It’s a good question but what you need to do is focus on the questions and read to answer them. Practice makes perfect and you can train yourself to focus on the text you need to read to answer the questions. Don’t try and read the whole text straight away, look at the questions first.

2. Get help from the title

Before you do anything else read the title; it will immediately give you an idea of what the article is going to be about. If the title is a question the following article will answer it and that will be the main focus. If the title isn’t a question turn it into one. There could also be subheadings and they will give you further information. Doing this will give you an idea of what you’re going to read about before you read another word.

3. Think about the structure

The texts in the reading paper will be written with the same structure you would use when writing an essay. They will have an introduction and a conclusion with problems/solutions, advantages/disadvantages contained within the body of the text. Looking at the first paragraph and the last paragraph will help you understand the text.

4. Use the Key Words to help you

Identifying the key words in the question is essential. You should by now have an idea of the subject matter so your main focus now is on the type of information you need to answer the questions. For example if ‘not’ is in the statement they will be looking for a negative, quantity indicators such as ‘few’ or ‘all’ will be important in answering the question and time references such as ‘already’ will give you a clue as to whether the answer is going to be a future or past event. You might dismiss these words as unimportant but they will help you get the information you need to answer the questions.

5. Use synonyms

Locating parallel words in the text and the questions is really important. Make sure you build a great collection of synonyms during your studies. Finding the synonyms every time you learn a new word will grow your vocabulary and prepare you well for the reading paper.

6. True, False or Not Given?

The ‘Not Given’ option makes these questions difficult for most students. Turning the statement into a question will help you decide if the text answers the question, contradicts it or doesn’t actually give any information relating to the question. If the statement contains proper nouns, like the names of people or place names, this will help you pinpoint the relevant part of the text more easily.

Remember to use these tips and these practice papers to help you get the best possible marks for the IELTS Reading Paper. Good luck!

Written by Gill Balfour, Editor and Counsellor Liaison

Enjoyed this article? Read these next: