My time as an English Language Assistant

By Kathryn Tomlinson (MA History) Four students in a discussion group

I come from 30 minutes down the road. I could get the bus from the underpass and be home in about an hour. I didn’t have to worry about living in a different country, getting to grips with a different culture, or speaking a different language. But, of course, that’s not the case for hundreds of students at Lancaster. The discussion groups offered by the Learning Development Team in the Library help bridge this gap and are a great thing to get involved in. For an hour once or twice a week, we all come together and discuss a predetermined topic like travel, music, the local area, or – everyone’s favourite – food! (Although showing pictures of everyone’s favourite foods from their country was a bit of a struggle at lunchtime!) The discussion groups are casual and relaxed, there’s no academic knowledge required before coming and no exam at the end of the term. As one of a handful of English Language Assistants, my job was to be a peer facilitator, helping with any questions about vocabulary, idioms or British culture and slang. We were not teachers there to test and correct but fellow students there to help and encourage.


I particularly enjoyed thinking of British idioms and hearing the equivalent in different languages. And it’s always fun explaining about different accents and weird celebrations we have, like egg rolling at Easter! Getting to know both my fellow assistants and the students who came regularly was a pleasure. It was also a joy to see the students’ already great standard of English get better and better each week. I loved being able to talk to everyone, hear their opinions and just have a good social time after the isolation of the pandemic. For those who perhaps weren’t as confident, part of my job was also to try and encourage them to contribute, however much or little, and make sure everyone felt included without feeling singled out. Learning how to do so was a delicate balance but one which you learn to tread more easily as the sessions go by. After a few discussion groups I actually learnt I was more extroverted than I thought – I loved talking to other students and really looked forward to each session.


Having taken some extracurricular German classes too, I was really struck by what a skill it is to speak another language. The students would come to sessions where they didn’t know the topic, the questions, or where exactly the discussion was naturally going to flow, but still understood and contributed. Something I don’t think I could ever do! Learning about other people’s cultures too helped make me a more well-rounded person. Being an English Language Assistant is not only a great opportunity for paid work, it also greatly adds to your student experience. It’s a job I would recommend to anyone and one I’m definitely going to miss.

Never say never

By Li Xinying (Student Blogger: MSc Project Management)

It took a lot of courage to return to school after a few years of work. I used to worry that my work experience would make me feel unfamiliar with the learning methodology on campus. In the workplace, I made decisions based on experience and solved problems in accordance with procedure. In contrast, full-time learning focuses on theoretical knowledge. But, after four weeks of adaptation, I found that the support from the school covers all aspects. For example, in addition to professional studies, I can also participate in academic writing courses, academic reading courses, German learning courses, and career development guidance. Coming to Lancaster University for postgraduate study will be my most precious life experience.

It is also challenging to break away from the familiar pace of work and enter a state of high-intensity learning. Before coming to Lancaster, I worked in the business department of an auto parts company. My daily work was full of intensive business trips, meetings and project management. But, even after adapting to high-intensity work, I still feel uncomfortable with the same high-intensity learning pace. For example, I often feel anxious because of the large amount of reading material and my low efficiency in comparison. I still need to improve my language understanding and expression skills. It is also urgent to master the correct reading and writing methods. However, plenty of reading and analysis tasks have allowed me to think more deeply, and the combination of theory and practice has made me more focused. Stressful academic pressure also brings motivation for progress.

At the same time, I also feel that my choice is not restricted by age, nationality and profession. It’s never too late to start.

The school’s open teaching environment and high-level teaching facilities give me the greatest support.

But to be honest, there are still many difficulties in studying in a foreign country.

The first is the adaptation of food culture, such as changes in diet structure. So I choose to cook by myself when time permits. I usually buy raw materials from local supermarkets or Chinese supermarkets. It can both save money and improve my cooking skills.

The second is the language barrier. For example, I sometimes find it difficult to fully understand the content of the lecture. So I have adopted a combination of preview and review to improve the interaction with the professors in class. I usually preview in advance and mark out the parts that I am confused about. In class, I listen to the lecture carefully with all the questions I have prepared before, and treat the professor’s explanation as a defence. The preparation work enabled me not only to grasp the key points of the class as soon as possible, but also to make myself more calm in the field of unfamiliar knowledge.

At the same time, I have participated in the language improvement discussion organized by the learning development team to enrich my vocabulary and improve my listening and comprehension skills.

I am fully aware that there will be greater challenges in the future, but I believe that things are man-made. I hope we can exchange more experience and grow together in the future.

The challenges of being an international student

by Carlos (Student Blogger: PhD in Management Science) 

I remember the day I came to the UK and started my studies at Lancaster University and how long it was since I last had some English lessons. I was worried about how difficult it was going to be for me to speak and listen with and to native speakers. However, everything changed as soon as I met my flatmates. We were able to speak about different and mostly non-academic topics and after several weeks of coexistence with them and listening to different styles, pronunciation and ideas, it helped me to feel relaxed about communicating in English.

Coming from Peru which has a very different education system to the UK I’ve found that it is essential to learn how every course is assessed at the end. Self-discipline to organise your learning progress and proper time management will be necessary to avoid stress and last minute rush and stress by the end of each term. You’ll find that some coursework is individual but you can share and reinforce your knowledge by working together with your classmates and sometimes you may find out that what you believe about the task is not the same as others understand it, including your tutor so this can be very beneficial to avoid any misinterpretation of your assignment task.
After submitting my first written assignments, I realised that my writing wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. This has been a real challenge for me and as the years have passed, I am still trying to be more clear with my writing and I can often identify that there’s something missing or unclear or that certain words can be misunderstood if I don’t explain what I am talking about clearly. I am sure that as my studies progress I will be able to improve on this even more.

I also have to mention reading at university which I have also found challenging. It was supposed that my best score in IELTS was obtained thanks to my advanced reading comprehension. Unfortunately, for me, academic reading can be exhausting sometimes and summarising or finding the gap in the literature and then criticising what the author has said, is an almost impossible task for a newcomer. Therefore, in this respect, something I would advise investing time into is developing a good relationship and maintaining good communication with tutors teaching the course or for me with my supervisor. I’ve realised that if I have a question about the reading or a particular part of my research and I cannot solve it on my own then the tutor or my supervisor is the best person to speak to about it.

As you can see, I’ve had a few challenges when it comes to studying in the UK but with hard work and determination I am positive that I will be able to overcome these challenges and succeed to the best of my ability.