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English Proficiency

Introduction:

A primary challenge for international applicants seeking to work or study in the U.S. is the ability to speak English. You will need strong skills in writing, speaking and understanding English to not only be granted the F-1 visa, but also in order to be successful throughout your U.S. education and/or U.S. employment.

Many applicants learn to read and write English quite well, but their ability to speak English with the American accent is not at the same level because there are not as many opportunities in their home country to practice speaking with the American accent. To be able to speak a language, you must hear it. You must hear the sounds of the language to be able to learn how to reproduce those sounds. Students from some countries have little opportunity to hear English spoken by American speakers. If you learn English from a teacher who’s first language is not English, you will learn to make the sounds with the same accent the teacher has. You also will not learn the slang words and phrases that many Americans use. Do you know what, “Let sleeping dogs lie?” , or “She was having a cow?”, mean? This is an example of a slang phrase that will not be found in an English text book.

Internship English Requirements

In order for an employer to want to hire you for a position in the U.S. , he/she will need to be confident that you understand English well enough to be able to communicate with your co-workers. Most employers can not afford or do not want to bother with the extra time it takes to explain something to an employee whose English is not very good. If the employer has to decide between two employees with similar skills, but one’s English is very good and the other’s English is not yet proficient, the employer is most likely going to choose the applicant whose English is very good. So, the better your English abilities, the better chance of getting hired.

School English Requirements

Most colleges and universities in the US request evidence confirming an applicant’s English skills by requiring the current results of a TOEFL, TSE or IELTS exam. Most schools publish minimum score levels to meet admission standards. For example, the typical minimum requirements for the paper-based TOEFL exam, for undergraduate students is a score of 500 – 525, while the minimum score for graduate students ranges from 550 – 600, depending on the program. However, for getting a job, it doesn’t matter what your score is. What will matter is your accent and how well you can understand and respond to your employer.

English as a Second Language More and more schools are developing strong English as a Second Language (ESL) programs to support their increasing numbers of international students. Many of these schools will accept students with lower than the minimum scores “conditionally,” with the provision that the student take a sufficient number of hours in their ESL classes. Students are tested upon arrival and the required number of ESL courses is tailored to the students’ needs. Students that are accepted to a school, but do not meet the minimum English proficiency, will have this fact noted in Section 6 of their I-20.  Some schools require students lacking in English proficiency to complete their ESL coursework before allowing them to register for regular courses in their curriculum, while other schools will allow international students to begin their regular coursework at the same time that the students are taking the required ESL courses.

The Visa Interview

Most U.S. F-1 visa interviews are very short, perhaps three minutes or less, depending on the country or the student’s situation. Within that limited time, the visa officer must determine, among other things, whether or not the applicant’s English abilities are sufficient for the student to be successful in their studies in the U.S. They will ask standard questions, such as, “Why did you choose this school?” or “Are you married?” or “How will this degree serve your future career plans?” Many students anticipate such questions and prepare memorized answers ahead of time. This is good practice, to a point. However, visa officers may ask questions just to test your knowledge of the English language, such as, “What is the weather like in San Diego?” (or whatever state your school is located in). If the visa officer is not convinced that your English is good enough, you will not receive the visa. HTIR will help you prepare for the visa interview so you know how to respond to these questions. However, it will be very important for you to practice your spoken English, as well as get use to hearing the American accent, so you are understand what the visa officer is asking you and you can respond confidently.


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