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English Language

The Champaign-Urbana community is home to several organizations and conversation groups that provide individuals with the opportunity to practice their English language skills. There are also several techniques you can utilize in your day-to-day interactions that will improve your English comprehension.

Getting started

It is normal to feel overwhelmed when you first begin your studies at the university. This is also true for native English speakers. It is important to be patient with yourself. Here are a few important notes for everyone to remember:

  • Ask for clarification or repetition. This is always acceptable in any setting.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure to sleep enough hours, exercise, eat well, and take time to relax. When you are stressed out or too tired, this can have a negative effect on comprehension.
  • Utilize the resources around you. Consider taking an English as a Second Language class, joining a conversation group or visit your professor during their office hours.
  • Ask for help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, seek advice and assistance from ISSS or the Counseling Center. These services are free and confidential.

Local Organizations & Conversation Groups

The Illinois English as a Second Language Program offers courses to multilingual graduate and undergraduate students, visiting scholars and international teaching assistants to increase proficiency in academic composition, pronunciation, dissertation and research article writing, and presentation skills. The ESL Program hosts a Tutors List for those looking for general English language tutors. For more information on course offerings, visit the Illinois ESL Program page. Note that placement testing is necessary to take some ESL writing or pronunciation courses. For more information on placement testing, visit English Placement Test (EPT) or Oral English Assessment Interview (OEAI).

The Intensive English Institute offers intensive instruction in English as a second language for international students whose academic or professional objectives require proficiency in English. The Intensive English Institute also has some spaces in its program for student dependents and faculty members who would like to improve their English. Call 217-333-6598 for further information.

Urbana Adult Education offers beginning, intermediate, and advanced English Classes which cover both conversational and grammar skills. Classes are available at beginner, intermediate, and advance level and all classes are free. Call 217-384-3530 to make an appointment for a placement test or for further information.

International Hospitality Committee (IHC) organizes several informal weekly conversation classes led by volunteers from the community. Classes are free and can be joined at any time. Learn more about IHC's English classes.

Parkland College offers English classes or academic preparation following Parkland College's academic calendar. Courses are available from beginning through advanced levels in grammar/reading/writing and listening/speaking/pronunciation. Tuition is charged at the college's current international tuition rate.

English Café will be held at Webber Street Christian Church, 107 S. Webber Street in Urbana, from 6:30-8:30pm on the following Fridays this spring: January 24th, February 7th and 21st, March 6th, April 3rd and April 17th, and May 1st. Attendance is free. For more information email

English Conversation Circles
Join an online group led by native English speakers for English language practice in a relaxed setting. Groups are free, meet weekly at times that account for all timezones. Visit for more information about this Intervarsity program.

Communiversity: YMCA offers beginning and intermediate English classes each semester, including summer. Call 217-337-1500 for registration and fee information.

Champaign-Urbana Area Churches sometimes offer social programs specifically for international students. Contact the churches directly for more information.

Practicing on Your Own

In addition to courses and conversation groups, there are plenty of ways to improve your English skills on your own. It is not always easy to talk to new people and you might feel uncomfortable at times. By simply striking up a conversation with someone in your classes, you can start to build your skills. Here are some techniques you can utilize in your day-to-day interactions.

How to start a conversation

There are a number of ways to start a conversation. You could find a classmate or neighbor in your residence hall and strike up a conversation! Choose a method below (or create one of your own) that is appropriate to the situation and comfortable for you. Here are some proven conversation starters:

  • Introduce yourself (name, major, etc.)
  • Give a compliment ("I like your shoes.")
  • Request help ("Could you help me find the Illini Union?")
  • Ask a general question ("how do you like this weather?" or "what do you think about this class?")

Keep the conversation going

Once you've started a conversation, you can use several techniques to keep it going:

  • Ask a question that is either factual ("how did the Illini do in basketball yesterday?") or personal ("what do you like to do in your free time?")
  • Offer a personal story or opinion
  • Express an interest in the other person's expertise
  • Share your reactions to what is taking place at that moment while you are interacting

Saying goodbye

How you bring a conversation to an end can either facilitate your next encounter or undo all of the effort you put into the current one. When it is time to end the conversation, you can:

  • Politely indicate that you are ending the conversation ("I have to go to class now" or "I must leave for an appointment")
  • Thank them (if they helped you) or let them know that you enjoyed the conversation
  • Express your hope to continue the conversation at another time
  • Exchange contact information, if appropriate

Remember not everyone may not always take the time to talk to you and it is important to respect those boundaries. It is up to you to take the initiative and practice your English. With time and practice, you will feel much more comfortable and confident of your English skills.

Lecture's are a common component of the American higher education experience and can be a challenging but useful setting for practicing your English. To make the most out of your classroom lecutres, take note of the following best practices and practices to avoid.


  • Take notes
  • Note any key or repeated words
  • Use abbreviations and symbols
  • Consider using a small tape recorder to capture lectures
  • Evaluate as you listen; decide what is important and relevant
  • Use the space on your paper to organize information and visually represent the relationship between ideas
  • Use your active listening skills
  • Prepare ahead of time and predict potential topics based on readings or previous discussions
  • If you miss information, use deduction to draw conclusion (lecturers often repeat and paraphrase information)
  • Ask for clarification
  • After the lecture, rewrite and/or add to your notes as soon as possible; with the ideas fresh in your mind, you can reorganize the information to more clearly reprsent the larger themes or make note of ideas that you may have missed

Do not

  • Try to note every word the instructor says or write everything out
  • Note indiscriminately
  • Take notes as if you were writing a composition
  • Be a passive listener
  • Use technology that is distracting
  • Give up if you miss information
  • Listen for details before getting the big picture
  • Forget about your notes when you leave the lecture