English Made Simple

There’s a general consensus about the English language: “It’s easy.”

That’s what most of my friends abroad would say. You know, the ones who have English amongst their list of 4-5 languages, while I play a game of charades and repeat “qui, qui!” for no reason to the French lady at the baguette shop — hoping she’d figure out I want the one to the left, not right.

While English is known as a relatively simple language to learn, it shouldn’t be confused for as plain. In fact, it’s a beautifully precise language. There exist thousands of words that are each fit to come as close to expressing a feeling through language as possible.

And guess who also knows this? The makers of the TOEFL. When creating an exam that tests the proficiency of someone’s English skills, vocabulary is crucial. In an academic setting, choosing the right word to express your opinion in a class discussion or coming up with an argument on a research paper all require an understanding of word meaning and connotation. Because universities count on TOEFL exam scores to validate your English skills, the creators of the exam make sure they test you extensively on this.

A friend once told me that learning a language isn’t just about perfecting your accent or ordering breakfast without hand gestures (unless you’re learning Italian, and well, that’s just as important). But this friend said that the day you really know a language is the day you understand its jokes – because that’s where the heart and soul of a language and cultures lies.

Now, while the TOEFL won’t ask you any knock-knock jokes (who’s there?), you should become familiar with common idioms and saying that make everyday life in an English environment all the more easier (and clearer)

Check out Valen, over at EngvID, as she covers 7 commons idioms you’ll hear often in the States.

And make sure to go over the Vocabulary section description of the TOEFL over at The 5 W’s of the TOEFL to know what you’re in for!

Turkey Brings Teachers to Improve English Language Fluency

Turkey just announced that they are planning to bring 40,000 foreign teachers to prepare local students for English language courses. These teachers are going to be assigned to various levels including kindergarten, elementary schools, and high schools. The new plan, put forth by the Ministry of Education, states that they will bring up to 10,000 foreign English teachers every year for four years – translating into 40,000 foreign English language teachers over a four year period.

These new teachers will focus on conversation skills since the current system is designed to teach grammar so students continue to have problems with their speaking skills. In order to make this new focus fun for students, English cafes will be set up to assist with conversational skills. Additionally, children shows will be aired in English with Turkish subtitles so that children can begin to listen and gain exposure to English and enhance their listening skills. Not only that, but technology is being used to maximize English language exposure to reach students that may not have access. In fact, the first phase of implementation will have teachers from the United States teaching students in Turkey in real time.

In modeling the Turkish program, Turkey explored the current English language learning programs of South Korea and Japan. Based on this system, Turkey has realized the importance of starting students from an early age. Because of this, students at a pre-school level and older will start to reap the benefits of this program projected to cost TL 1.5 billion (or approximately $990 million USD).

Can IELTS be the common thread between Kuwait and Colombia?

So what does a Kuwaiti and a Colombian have in common (other than the makings of a really lame joke)? A few weeks ago I found out: the IELTS.

Turns out, two friends of mine had been freaking out over the same test — Ahmed, a 21-year-old Business student at Florida International University and Stephanie, a 20-year-old med student in the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá. Both felt the pressure of the IELTS coming on. Ahmed, who had taken it when he first came to the States and said the experience had been nerve wrecking, recently told me he was even more nervous this time around. But I didn’t understand why — he had already passed once, after all. “Well, with my time with the language now, I should know more…”

I found this incredibly interesting. Added to Ahmed’s anxiety wasn’t the fear of what to expect – he knew the structure of the exam from beginning to end. It was the pressure to prove to himself, his family and the university, that his English (the reason he came here to begin with), had in fact improved.

Then there is Stephanie, who as a med student in Colombia is required to prove she has a basic proficiency in English (as if the whole saving lives thing wasn’t enough!) But, if you really think about it, it makes sense. The results of Stephanie’s IELTS score are important because it will be that proof she needs to show her future international colleagues, that language isn’t a barrier for her life saving skills.

So what do my two friends have in common? The fact that they both rely heavily on the benefits the IELTS has to offer. So if you find yourself considering if the test (and the inevitable anxiety that comes with taking any test) is worth it, just take a moment to think about all the doors that could open for you if you just give it a go! Happy thinking (and studying!)

Learning English in South Korea

In 2009, South Korea revamped its high school curriculum by putting more emphasis on studying English, Korean and math. Up until this time, students in high school were mandated to learn another foreign language in addition to English however this new legislation no longer required students to do so.

A year after this change, research is showing a large decline in the number of high school students studying another foreign language. And who’s to blame them – they do after all have their hands full with Korean and English. Many officials are concerned with this drop, forecasting that if these numbers continue to fall so may the options in foreign languages.

Since last year with the new emphasis on learning English, the number of high school students studying another foreign language fell 11.2 percent to 18,554. While some question how many languages a high schooler should learn in the school curriculum, there are many critics that point out that there are plenty of students that study multiple language around the world.

In South Korea, native English speakers are in demand and are being brought to South Korea to teach the locals and improve fluency. In fact, from our previous article, native English speakers are in such demand that it has exceeded supply and there are new opportunities being looked at with English language teaching robots.

With this new focus of learning English, studying other foreign languages has been pushed out of mainstream popularity. For example, according to this same study, other foreign languages have suffered a huge decline. In fact, high school students studying German fell 26.9%, Spanish fell 25.4%, French fell 18.6%, Japanese fell 17.5%, Chinese fell 13.3% and Russian fell 5.6%.