Commonly Confused Words: Playing “Fair” with Homophones!

carnival156356939English can be confusing even at the best of times. Not that homonyms (which are words that are spelled the same but mean different things) such as read [which occurs today] and read [which happened yesterday] or homophones (which are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same way ) like read and red make things any easier! For today’s English tips entry, though, we will concentrate on homophones that begin with f and g. Here are a few of the most common:

Fair / Fare
With fair and fare we have a great example of two common words that sound exactly the same but actually mean not two or three but four different things. Both rhyme with “air” and “care” but fair can be both a adjective and a noun. As an adjective it means either pale or honest and as a noun it is another name for a festival or carnival. It might sound confusing but context certainly helps! Meanwhile, fare is always a noun meaning money for transportation (as in bus fare). To help keep things straight try this example sentence on for size: “Fair Claire thought the bus fare to the fair was fair.”

Forth / Fourth
While fair and fare might be a bit complicated, this next set is not. Though both sound exactly the same – and rhyme with “north” – forth is synonymous with forward while fourth is used when describing number four in a group or list. Thus we could say “James put forth his fourth idea when he presented another good suggestion at the meeting.”

Gorilla / Guerilla
It might seem easy to confuse these two but we can assure you that they are quite different. Indeed, gorilla (with an o) is the name of the large animal you can visit at the zoo while a guerrilla (with a u) is a soldier that specializes in surprise attacks. Though technically pronounced differently they sound similar enough to confuse even native English speakers. To keep things straight just remember that only “u” can be a guerilla – no matter how much you like bananas!

Ireland Student Visa

IRELAND160498144Why study English in Ireland?
Though small in size, Ireland enjoys a world-renowned reputation. With it storied past, vibrant culture, and dynamic future, it truly has something to offer everyone. Such allure makes the fact that relatively few international students – a mere 32,000 in 2010 – study in Ireland all that more surprising. Their loss, however, can be your gain. Indeed, Ireland may be the best-kept secret in international higher education. After all, not only was Dublin was listed by Quacquarelli Symonds as one of the top ten cities in the world to be a student but also the International Student Barometer Survey  – another important metric of student satisfaction – ranked Ireland ahead of all other English-speaking countries as well as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Where can I study?
Ireland may be small but its bustling, modern cities are home to some of the most famous universities in the world. Not only are three – Trinity College, University College (Dublin), and University College (Cork) – among the world’s 200 best but these flagship colleges also serve as an inspiration model for the country’s many other centers of higher education. Moreover, the country’s reputation for hospitality extends well beyond the walls of higher education – the country boasts a number of public and private English language schools to choose from.

What are the Ireland student visa regulations like?
Best of all, recent changes to the Irish student visa policy make studying English in Ireland easier than ever. Not only are students from the European Union, European Economic Area, and Switzerland except from student visa requirements (as Ireland is itself a member of the EU/EEA), but students from many other countries are able to study in Ireland on a standard tourist visa.* For those interested in a longer course of study, obtaining an Ireland student visa means obtaining a “D” visa. For more information on this process, see our information page on Ireland Student Visas.

* For more information on this policy change please see the INIS briefing here.

English Exam Overviews: The ECCE

eccelogo_cmykAs one of the five Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment exams, the Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (or ECCE) may seem like just another entrant the world of English language proficiency assessments. As our brief overview below explains, however, there are several factors that make the ECCE a distinct and compelling choice.

What is the ECCE and what makes it unique?
Designed to meet the needs of upper-intermediate level English as a second language students, the ECCE is meant to serve the needs of  intermediate-level (B2) students. Unlike many other exams designed for this skill range, however, because the ECCE was originally designed by the University of Michigan it emphasizes the conventions of American English. This means that students are assessed using the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation rules that are used in the United States. This makes it an ideal choice for students who studied (or wish to study) English in the United States.

How is the ECCE scored?
The listening section and grammar, vocabulary, and reading (GVR) section of the ECCE exam are scored electronically and reported on a scale that ranges from 0 to 1000. By contrast, the speaking and writing sections are assessed separately by human grades according to a set of standards established by Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment. Although assessed separately, scores on all four sections of the exam are factored into a student’s overall score. Thus students cannot pass three sections and fail the fourth and still receive a passing grade.

Where can I take the exam and how do I register?
The ECCE exam is offered at Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment test centers all over the world. Because rules and procedures can vary by location, however, it is a good idea to check the online registry of approved testing centers and contact the one that best meets your needs directly. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the exam itself, be sure to check our full overview!

Idioms In Depth: Idioms from Food

slice cake153505933We are what we eat, or so they say, so it should come as no surprise that we also speak what we eat! In addition to the many colorful foods that “pepper” an English speaker’s vocabulary – anyone in the mood for a slice of pineapple upside down cake? – foods have also inspired a lot of idioms and expressions. Here are a few of our favorite idioms from food:

A Piece of Cake
This expression, like cake itself, is used to describe positive (or sweet) situations – it is used to describe something that is easy to do. For example, “Because he is an experienced driver, James thought the short drive would be a piece of cake.”

In A Pickle
Even those who like pickles can admit that they can be a little sour at times. Just keep this fact in mind and you will be able to remember why “in a pickle” means “in trouble.” For example, “James was in a pickle because he ran out of gas on the middle of the highway.”

A Peach
Taste is also at the heart of this idiom but, because peaches are sweet, they are used to describe friendly people (as opposed to bad situations). You would call a nice person a peach for the same reason you describe him or her as “sweet.” For example, “The nice person that stopped to help James was a peach – she even drove him to get more gas.”

A Lemon
Taste again wins the day with this expression. Because lemons are sour, it is common to describe a recently purchased item that does not work well as a lemon. After all, if you wasted you hard-earned money you would feel pretty sour, too!

The root of this idiom lies not in taste but in price – something that “costs peanuts” is, like the food itself, cheap.*

Like “peanuts,” this idiom is also based on the price of baloney – another historically inexpensive food. Unlike peanuts, though, because in the English-speaking baloney is a kind of sausage that is usually made up of the worst cuts of meat, it is used to describe something that looks appears better than it really is. Because of this baloney is used to describe nonsense.  Use this example sentence to help you remember all three of these expressions: “When Will read that the luxury car was selling for peanuts he knew it was a lemon – the salesman’s claims must be baloney.”

*While they may not be as cheap as they once were, they are certainly cheaper than other nuts such as almonds, cashews, and macadamias!

Did you enjoy this article? Check out our Learn English section and read our other related Commonly Confused Words blog posts.