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5 Tips For Non-Native English Researchers

English is the most spoken language in the world. Its prevalence can especially be seen in business and academia, with over 75% of journals published in English and many international businesses using it as their main language. Despite its widespread use, the bulk of its speakers have learnt it as a second language.

This obviously leads to some disparities between native and non-native English speakers, as discussed in a recent MDPI blog post. Brushing up on your English from time to time can be a good way to ensure that your research gets the recognition it deserves.

Here, we provide 5 tips to help you improve your English communication as a researcher. Applying these will help build up your foundational English skills, improving your writing and helping you to develop your voice.

Learn your grammar

Grammar is something that many people struggle with—even native English speakers. The English language is officially classed as Germanic. This is an Indo-European branch of languages that includes German, Dutch, Frisian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. English, however, also contains many elements of Latin, Greek, and French. In being so widely influenced, its grammatical structure and rules are considered rather complex.

Like anything, it is best to start with the basics and build from there. Word classes, sentence structure, and tense are the most fundamental components of English grammar.

Word class

The four major word classes of the English language are

  • Nouns: Used to refer to people, places, things, and ideas (India, chair, politics)
  • Verbs: Used to express an action, state, or occurrence (ate, slept, happen)
  • Adjectives: Used to refer to the qualities of things, people, etc. (blue, slow, bitter)
  • Adverbs: Used to modify verbs and adjectives (quite, very, quickly)

Each class can be broken down further and serve slightly different functions, but these are the essential building blocks.

Sentence structure

Most sentences in English contain a subject, object, and verb. For example:

The train approached the platform

The subject is generally a noun (e.g., “The train”) or noun phrase (multiple words that function as one noun, e.g., “The group of students”) and tends to come at the beginning of the sentence, before the verb.

The verb describes what the subject is doing (“approached” in the above example). As mentioned, adverbs can be added for more detail:

The train [slowly] approached the platform

And finally, the object is usually a noun or noun phrase that is different to the subject (“the platform”) and follows the verb.

Sometimes, an object is not required; the simplest sentences are just made up of a subject and verb. For example:

The man walked

It should be noted that the subject and verb must agree in number. The verb changes form depending on whether the subject is singular or plural. For example:

The car [races] down the street

The cars [race] down the street

In past tense, the verb is always the same, regardless of number:

The car/cars [raced] down the street


Making sure your tense is correct and consistent is also very important when writing. If you don’t correctly indicate the time the action took place, your meaning could be completely misinterpreted.

The three main tenses are past, present, and future, which affect the expression of the verb in the sentence. For example:

Past: The employee [submitted] their report

Present: The employee [is submitting] their report

Future: The employee [will submit] their report

Mastering these three components of grammar—word class, sentence structure, and tense—will serve as the foundation for expressing your research clearly and effectively, as well as developing your own unique voice as a writer.

Expand your vocabulary

The enormity of the English dictionary can be very daunting as a learner, containing over 170,000 words. Most proficient speakers have a vocabulary around a quarter of this size, so it is inevitable that you will come across thousands of unfamiliar words in books and conversation.

Approach this task slowly and consciously. Write down words you don’t know and start your own vocab book; try and find one new word a day to slip into conversation; play word games, such as Scrabble. Make sure to use the words you learn to help them stick with you and test whether they work.

Use as many methods as you can think of to keep the process of learning fun and novel, and soon it will become second nature.

Immerse yourself in English

Learning grammar and new words will not make you an effective communicator by themselves; reading and listening to how others use language will give you a much better feel for English.

Listen to podcasts and songs, read books, watch TV or films—make sure that your perception of English goes beyond your academic life. By consuming different media, you hear many different voices and how language is applied in context. This will help you better understand others and help you develop both your written and verbal expression.

Practise speaking

Verbal communication is very important in academia. Many researchers avoid speaking at conferences due to a lack of confidence speaking in English. Whether it be an oral presentation or a casual conversation with a peer, expressing the full depth of your work in a second language is inevitably difficult.

This is why it is important to also practise speaking with others. Get a native English-speaking friend or colleague to give you feedback on your accent, intonation, and word choice. This is crucial for your clarity of expression and will prepare you for delivering speeches and answering impromptu questions in the future.

Keep it simple!

Lastly, don’t overcomplicate! It can be tempting to write your research at a level of complexity that matches that of your subject matter. But, opting for simple, clear wording will help your readers comprehend and digest your work, and leave little room for misunderstanding.

For more advice on how to write effectively, we have many articles on the blog covering an array of topics.

Even native English speakers benefit from having professional language editing services go over their work. Ensuring the language of your manuscript is up to a publishable standard will help maximise the impact of your paper.

MDPI Author Services offers high-quality English editing to prepare your research for publication, whether you intend to publish with MDPI or not. To help ensure a fast and straightforward publication journey, our Rapid Service provides authors with a comprehensive language edit within 1 business day, allowing you to meet your deadlines.