Whenever the advantages of learning an advanced degree in an English-speaking country are stated, "improving my English skills" and "practicing my English" always rank high among them. But, as the experience of many a foreign student has shown, practicing – let alone improving – your English is, as the English saying goes, "easier said than done."
Understandably, many students studying abroad gravitate toward students from their own country or region, both for greater ease of conversation as well as to be with others who understand their cultural perspective. Valuable as such friends are, they often get in the way of using English and refining the skills, speaking and listening in particular.
Furthermore, a lack of confidence inhibits many foreign students from putting them forward in English. Even when they have the confidence and willingness, students from other countries often do not know how – and where – to create situations outside the classroom in which they're likely to learn English by using it. The following suggestions, some of them familiar and obvious, others more novel, come from clever students who have found ways to make the most of their time in the English-speaking world.
All of them agree that making as many native English-speaking friends as possible is the most helpful thing of all. That does not necessarily mean living with native speakers, but if you can – in a dormitory or shared house, apartment or flat situation – you're sure to get your English up to comfortable speaking, listening and general comprehension standards at the fastest rate , having the most fun in the process.
English-speaking students are as interested in making friends with people from other countries as you are in getting to know them. Many of them have not traveled extensively outside their home countries or continents – and are as aware as you are of the value of getting experience experience of the ways people from other cultures think and interact.
A good thing to avoid in making native-speaker friends is not to suggest spending time together so that you can practice your English. Even though it is part of what you want from the interaction, it is only part, and it sounds less appealing to native speakers than simply asking to go out for coffee or some other appropriate means of getting to know someone. It sounds like there is work or effort involved on the part of the native speaker.
In fact, the people you approach with the idea of "practicing your English" are less like to decline your invitation because they are unwilling to be helpful than they are to feel that they are not "qualified" to teach and may have a negative late than a positive influence on your English. The reality is that no matter how they speak English, they have something to teach you, since, as native speakers, they are examples of the kinds of English speakers you can expect to encounter in your later, professional or personal life.