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Specialist Language Courses

How much English do you need to Study Engineering at an English-Speaking University?

Studying Engineering at an English-speaking university or on an English-medium course is challenging when English is not your native language. It makes sense to prepare yourself linguistically by learning as much Engineering-focused language as possible before starting your degree course. Certainly, the better you can communicate and understand what your lecturers and fellow students say, the better your results will be.

Studying Engineering at an English-speaking university or on an English-medium course is challenging when English is not your native language. It makes sense to prepare yourself linguistically by learning as much Engineering-focused language as possible before starting your degree course. Certainly, the better you can communicate and understand what your lecturers and fellow students say, the better your results will be.

If you would like to study Engineering at an English-speaking university, you will not only need to score highly on a TOEFL or IELTS exam, but you will also need to learn the engineering-specific English used in real world working scenarios.

This represents a double challenge, as the TOEFL and IELTS exams are designed for anyone wanting to study at university and therefore are not subject-specific. They cover many academic disciplines, including sciences, social studies, psychology and the arts. This means that engineering students need to learn a lot of English that they probably won’t use when they reach university.

General Engineering English

In addition, the Engineering-specific English referred to above will help them follow lectures and participate in seminars and workshops. So, it is useful to have covered as much as possible before starting an engineering degree. There are many challenges here though, as engineering covers many areas, some of which are very different from each other.

There are quite a few general areas of Engineering English, of course, which would be useful to anyone wanting to study Engineering. These include the language of cause and effect, numbers, dimensions, pressures, temperatures, positions, directions, tolerance, resistance, drawings, charts, common equipment, technology and tools, health and safety, and materials, to name just a few.

Sector-Specific Engineering English

In the more specialised engineering fields, however, the English required may be quite different. Think of what language would be required when focusing on the architectural, aerospace, civil, electrical, mechanical, environmental, telecoms, nuclear, military or software engineering sectors, to take just a few examples.

Engineering English Corpuses

The challenges of teaching a broad range of engineering English has been increasingly recognised by the academic community delivering Engineering programmes to overseas students.

There are two good examples of this. One is the development of the Student Engineering English Corpus (SEEC) containing nearly 2 million of the most frequently used reduced to 1200 word families or 9000 word-types as found in core engineering textbooks, regardless of their fields of specialization. By highlighting the most common collocations that engineers use, English for Engineering teachers are able to target their courses more effectively.

The second development is the Engineering Lecture Corpus (ELC), a growing collection of transcripts of engineering lectures given in English. The ELC currently contains lectures from Coventry University in the UK, the University of Technology in Malaysia, Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and the Università degli Studi di Napoli (Federico II) in Italy. The project is designed to explore the role of English-led instruction in engineering courses from around the world.

What to do?

As an international student preparing to study engineering at an English-speaking university, it makes sense to prepare yourself by studying an English for Engineering course in order to familiarise yourself with the kind of English you will be using regularly in your studies. By doing this, you will be more prepared and can focus more on the content of your programme rather than on the language it is delivered in.

There are 3 main options here:

1. Attend a ‘pre-sessional’ summer course organised by the university – not all universities offer this, so you’ll need to see what’s possible.

2. Attend a specialist ‘English for Engineering’ language course at a English language school. You’ll find a good list on our website. These can be focused one-to-one or closed group courses, where the content is tailored to your specific needs. They can also be ‘combined’ courses, where you join a group studying Business or General English skills for some of the time, and then take engineering-specific classes for the rest.

Some schools offer online tuition, which can be convenient and save money.

3. Use online resources. There are growing resources out there aimed at engineering students. English 360 offer a course based on the popular Cambridge University Press course book, ‘Cambridge English for Engineering’. The British Council also has a good collection of resources.

There are also a number of course books with CD Roms which, although designed for class use, can be used for self-study.

Conclusion

To conclude, it is useful to prepare yourself before starting your course in engineering at an English-speaking university, by taking a course or using online and self-study resources. In this way, you will be prepared to take full advantage of your course. You will be better able to understand lectures and participate in seminars. You won’t have the distraction of trying to learn English as well as following what can be an intensive course. And the more you can communicate on an engineering course, the better you will do.