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Tips for developing your English

Tips for developing your English

Immersing yourself in Australian culture and the English language is one of the great advantages of studying in Australia. It is natural to want to spend time with others who speak your native language, but for rapid improvement try to use English as much as you can. 

Read our tips for developing your English in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, writing and building vocabulary.


Be an active listener and concentrate

  • If you are in a lecture theatre, sit near the front to avoid other distractions. If you are listening online, switch off any devices that may distract you.
  • In the first few minutes of a lecture listen carefully for key points to be covered, as knowing what you are about to hear in advance will help with comprehension.
  • Take notes as you listen to help you understand and retain information.

Listen for stressed words

  • Listen for words that are spoken slower and louder. English speakers put more stress (emphasis) on the words that carry important information. 

Listen for the whole

  • Don’t try to understand everything. Aim to get a sense of the overall meaning that the speaker is communicating.
  • Ask your lecturer or other students to clarify if you are unsure about something.

Listen for fun

  • Listen to songs or watch movies in English
  • Listen to the daily news or some podcasts in English


The more you speak in English, the more confident you will become.

Look at our resources for participating in classroom discussions and giving presentations.

Improve your fluency

  • Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to speak. Take every opportunity to practice.
  • Participate fully in class group discussions and ask lots of questions of your peers and teachers. 
  • Meet new people and practice your English in an informal setting through a La Trobe Student Club.

Improve your pronunciation

  • Find out how a word is pronounced using an online dictionary, Read Aloud on Word or the Read Aloud feature of your internet browser.
  • Take note of the correct pronunciation of a word, as well as which syllable is stressed.
  • Say new words aloud many times over. 
  • Check your pronunciation by using voice-to-text software or Dictate on Word.
  • Use a free pronunciation app. 


Read widely

Reading a wide range of materials (not just your study materials) is one of the best things you can do to improve your English. Try:

  • Read an English language newspaper each day 
  • Subscribe to a blog written in English that interests you 
  • Look at our tips for reading for university.

Avoid using translators

Try not to use translation dictionaries or tools like Google Translate too much. Translators don't always translate words correctly and also limit your opportunities to develop your reading skills in English, learn and remember new vocabulary and write with your own effort.

If you decide to use a translator:

  • Avoid translating whole texts.
  • Translate only words that seem important. These words are repeated often in different situations.


Academic writing

Writing at university can be difficult for all students, not only those who speak English as an additional language. Fortunately, there are a lot of supports to help you, including:


You should usually use Australian English spelling for your university assignments. Check your spelling with: 

Building vocabulary

The wider your vocabulary becomes, the more proficient you will be in English.

Predict the meaning of words

  • When you encounter a new word, read the words around it try to guess its meaning from the context first, before checking it in a dictionary. 
  • Learn common root words (basic words), prefixes (added it to the beginning of a word to make a new word), and suffixes (added to the end of a word make a new word).
The root word lingual with the prefix bi- makes the word bilingual.
'Bi' means two and 'lingual' means relates to language. Someone who is bilingual is fluent in two languages.

The root word worth with the suffix -less makes the word worthless.
'Worth' relates to value and 'less' means without. Something that is worthless has no value or use.
  • Learn the different forms of a word: noun, verb (in different tenses), adjective and adverb. Make a grid to help you identify patterns.
Noun Verb Adjective Adverb

develop, developed, has/have developed

developed, developing, developmental


analysis, analyst

analyse, analysed, has/have analysed

analytical analytically

Use a dictionary or thesaurus

  • Find a good quality English/English dictionary (not a translation dictionary) online or through the La Trobe Library. The Macquarie Dictionary Online is most up-to-date database of Australian English.
  • Look at example sentences in dictionaries, especially when learning tricky words and phrases, such as phrasal verbs.
  • Use a thesaurus with caution. A thesaurus can help you find synonyms, but similar words can have slightly different meanings or may be used in different ways. Always check a dictionary as well to ensure you use a word correctly.
  • Learn how words are used together (e.g. "highly successful" or "solve a problem") with the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary or Pearson's Academic Collocation List.

Revise vocabulary

  • Create word lists for new items of vocabulary. Categorise these according to your subjects or other topics of interest.
  • Use index cards to list new words and their different forms and stick these around your study area so that you can review them regularly.
  • Use flashcard apps to practice new vocabulary when out walking or on public transport.

Pathfinder link

Still have questions? Do you want to talk to an expert? Peer Learning Advisors or Academic Skills and Language Advisors are available.