An important part of being engaged in a university course is participating in class. Because most of VIU's classes have less than 30 students, this is relatively easy to do. It is certainly easier than in a class of 100 or 200 students. The main ways of participating are by
1. Answering questions
2. Asking questions
3. Speaking in whole class and group discussions.
Unfortunately, many international students hesitate to speak up, particularly in the larger class. There are different reasons for this.
- in your country, students are not supposed to speak up in class (especially not ask questions or give opinions)
- you are shy
- you feel your English is not good enough for others to understand you
- other students dominate -- they always speak up and ask questions before you get a chance to
- you cannot follow the conversation well enough to participate
- you cannot think and put the words together fast enough to ask or answer a question
All good reasons for not participating. However, just as for every problem there is a solution, for each of these obstacles to participating in class, there is a strategy to overcome it.
- Remember that you are studying at a university in Canada and in Canada active learning is valued. Teachers want students to ask questions, answer questions, make statements, and give opinions. This behavior is rewarded. It also makes the class more interesting by taking the focus away from the teacher and directing it towards the students, where it should be.
- Overcoming shyness is not easy, but it can be done. Most university classes are friendly and welcoming, especially small classes like at VIU. Overcoming shyness requires taking little steps and practicing. This blog post (http://www.universitysurvival.com/student-topics/overcoming-shyness/) gives some helpful suggestions. It is important to talk to your teacher and let them know that you feel shy. They will help you to participate more in class.
- When you are speaking one-on-one with other students, do they understand you? If they do, they students in class probably will. Your grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation don't need to be perfect. Even Canadian students make errors in speaking. Listen to what the other students say, and model your speaking after that. Your English will never be native-speaker perfect, but that should not stop you from speaking.
- Sometimes in class several students dominate the conversation. This is not good. If this is the case in one of your classes, tell your professor about it, saying that you would like to participate more. Ask your professor to call on you sometimes. It is the teachers job to "enable" learning.
- Poor listening skills is a serious problem if you want to participate in class. But preparation can help. Do the readings before class, so you are familiar with the ideas and vocabulary you need to listen to. Improve your listening skills -- this blog post gives some useful advice https://wordpress.viu.ca/languagecoaching/2015/10/01/improving-your-listening-skills/
- If you cannot think and put together the ideas, vocabulary and grammar fast enough, then a useful strategy is to plan ahead. If you know there will be a discussion about a certain topic in class, then prepare some notes for possible questions or statements you can give in class. And again, ask your teacher to help you. They can give you more time to think instead of asking you first. It is usually very helpful to observe what other students are saying before you speak up.
- Make a study group -- not all students who speak your first language - where you can practice speaking (asking and answering questions, giving your opinions).
- Make some goals such as speaking at least once every class.
- Ask for feedback from your classmates and teacher. Do they understand you? How could you improve your speaking. Your classmates and teacher will usually be happy to help you participate more in class.
- Study the grammar of asking questions.
- Sit at the front of the class, not at the back.