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Applying to Oxford University to read English as a non-native English speaker

Applying to Oxford University to read English as a non-native English speaker

I get asked the question ‘Why Oxford University?’ on a regular basis when people find out that English is not my native language and that I study English Language and Literature here. My immediate response is always one of amazement to be honest. I don’t really know if the person asking me is coming from a place of genuine curiosity or of a condescending one. ‘Why Oxford?’ Maybe because it is a university with a high academic profile, and that it will open up doors for me that wouldn’t have been possible if I were to study the same degree in my home country. It seems like such an unnecessary question to ask given the fact that if I came from an English-speaking country, it wouldn’t even have been asked. It can get quite tiresome having people doubt your abilities when they hear your accent or find out that English is your second/ third/ fourth/ etc. language. Yet at the end of the day, I still get to have the satisfaction that I have succeeded in getting a place at a prestigious university despite (and to a large degree because of) the fact that English is not my native language. There is something so empowering in using linguistic skills that a lot of the students at Oxford do not have.

During my application process, I made the decision to not shy away from the fact that English is not my mother-tongue. Instead, I decided to use this fact about me to my advantage, both to show the growth that I’ve experienced throughout my academic journey and to accentuate many of the skills that I use in my day-to-day life. What I mean is that people who are non-native English speakers have a different and unique skillset when it comes to approaching the language that can enhance the way they study it and its literature. I decided to highlight those skills in my personal statement, showing the universities that I applied to that I have skills that not only make me a good prospective student, but that will also bring in a new perspective to the course.

It has been two years since I submitted my application, and I’d say with confidence that my decision to highlight rather than diminish the fact that I’m not a native English speaker was definitely the right one for me. Now that I’m studying English at university, I can also say that I do apply my unique skillset whilst studying my degree, primarily because I approach texts differently from some of my peers due to cultural differences (for example I have only just began to realise the immensity of Shakespeare’s cult following in Britain). I also approach the language differently, seeing influences from the other languages I speak seeping into English. I have definitely had a few bizarre comments from others about my ‘amazing grasp of the English language’, but I have also loved doing my degree so I choose to ignore some occasional comments.

Speaking from experience, I’d definitely encourage any prospective non-native English speaking student to apply to the Oxbridge universities – especially if you want to study

English – because the insight you have is great in widening discussions about literature and academia as a whole. Remember to back yourself, and do not sell yourself short! There are so many people that are envious of your linguistic abilities, so do not let them be the reason that you doubt yourself or undermine your knowledge.

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