I’d like to ask which of these two sentences sounds more natural to native English speakers.
He is a first/second etc. year student at the University.
He is in his first/second etc. year at the University.
It’s that when I was at school (in Russia) we were told that the phrase “a first/second etc. year student” was so-called ru-English (unnatural and sometimes incorrect English spoken by russians who don’t know English well enough) and that native speakers never said that saying instead somebody was in his/her first/second etc. year at the University.
And are there any other ways to express this thought, for example, using the word ‘course’?
Your teachers were wrong! It is completely correct, natural English to say:
He is a second-year student at the university.
He is in his second year at the university.
He is a sophomore at the university.
They’re all perfectly normal and correct, and if I were to guess, I’d say that No. 1 is a little more common than No. 2. (I think No. 3 is limited to North America, but I’m not sure.)
This bad advice from your teachers reminds me of when I got Czech students whose teachers had told them that “English teacher” was wrong and that they must say “teacher of English”. That was nonsense too, because we seldom say “teacher of English”.
Why do you think the phrase “a first/second etc. year student” is so-called ru-English ? In Russian we don’t say like that, do we !?
Я первого/второго года студент ?? - Is it natural in your book? I seriously doubt that.
We say “Я первокурсник/второкурсник” or (very formal) “Я студент первого/второго года обучения”
I myself didn’t think that the phrase “a first/second year student” was ru-English, my teachers did. They said that although the construction “a first/second year student” was an English one (not russian) native English speakers only said that somebody was in his/her first/second year at the university.