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!


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!)


The IELTS or TOEFL

ielts or toeflWhen applying to most universities in the United States, proof of knowledge of the English language might have to be presented.  The standard way institutions of higher education check for this is through standardized tests such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

The IELTS is an examination established in 1989 and managed by the University of Cambridge, the British Council, and IPD Education.  Although preparing for the exam may be stressful and challenging for those wishing to be admitted to a university with a set minimum score, performing well is far from impossible.

The IELTS is broken down into four main components – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.  It’s very important to read and listen to directions carefully, as not closely following them can mean bad marks earned.  Simple mistakes are often made by not conforming to the directions given.

The TOEFL is headed by the Educational Testing Service, and was originally created by faculty at Stanford University in the 1960s.  Like the IELTS, it is also broken down into Reading Speaking, Listening, and Writing sections – though it’s a bit different.

There exists a variety of preparation courses that aid in getting a better grasp of the language and scoring high on these examinations.  A quick search online can lead an inquisitive student in the right direction to a local or online resource.  With proper preparation, exam scores can be raised significantly after completion of a course.  Universities are generally told not to accept neither IELTS nor TOEF scores older than two years, so an up-to-date report is necessary for most applications.


Learning English Vocabulary

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 exam over at The 5 W’s of the TOEFL to know what you’re in for!

 


What to Expect from TOEFL

Many U.S. colleges and universities require their applicants, whether international or not, to take one or more standardized tests, including one in particular called the TOEFL.

TOEFL, which stands for test of English as a foreign language, evaluates the ability of an individual to use and understand English in an academic setting. Nearly one million individuals of all ages take the Interned-based test (iBT) or the Paper-based Test (PBT) TOEFL test each year. International students can expect to complete portions reading, listening, speaking and writing in English, with a 10-minute break after two portions have been completed. Each examination is about 4.5 hours long and is scored using both an automated system and human raters to ensure that an accurate picture of an applicant’s ability is obtained.

Once the test has been complete, scores are usually posted online within two weeks, and scores can be sent out to universities and institutions where the applicant is applying upon the student’s request. Once the test has been taken, a TOEFL score is valid for two years. After two years, the score is considered invalid, since a candidate’s language proficiency could have changed since the date of the test.

International students taking the TOEFL should prepare in advance before they sit down at a computer or travel to a test center to take the test. A number of preparation materials are also available that can help individuals prepare for the test in advance, including books, guides and online practice tests. However, if an undesirable score is obtained, students may retake the TOEFL as many times as they wish. For more information on TOEFL, test dates and locations, visit www.ets.org/toefl.


English Becomes Compulsory in Japan

Starting in April, Japan will be introducing English to fifth and sixth grade children between the ages of 10 and 12. This new curriculum came when Japanese students had one of the lowest TOEFL scores among all of the Asian nations.

Why? In many countries in Asia, English is taught as a second language starting in primary school. Take, for instance, South Korea, who made English mandatory for students beginning in 1997. There is also China who has been requiring English studies in primary school since 2005.

Japan, in an attempt to catch up, has placed great importance on English language at a young age so that students would have long-term success in this globalized world. While the goal is not concrete, officials are creating a curriculum where students will learn a minimum of 285 words and 50 expressions by the time they leave primary school.

As countries trade with other countries, the primary language of communication is generally done in English. While Japan has been internationally recognized as a leading nation in terms of production and trade, Japan’s government has been under intense lobbyist efforts by the business community to improve English skills. As the 4th largest exporting country and 3rd highest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world, Japan is feeling the pressure to remain competitive in order to maintain this position. One of these ways is seen as teaching English to students at a young age.

As April approaches, teachers are feeling ill prepared to teach English. While many agree that learning English from an early age will be critical to the long career that awaits them, critics say that teachers are not properly trained and do not feel comfortable speaking English in front of the class. A recent survey by Benesse Corp questioned 8,000 teachers and found that 62% felt that English was a burden and 73% said it would be better to have a teacher specializing in English instruction.

In either case, English learning for Japanese students is hoped to make a positive influence on these children in hopes of creating high performance in the workforce.


Tagum City: IELTS Results Declared Important

Dear World:
Take notes from the awesome people of Tagum City, Philippines.

Every year, a few butchers and electricians in Tagum City are deployed to Canada and Australia to compete and put their skills to use in the global job market. But it seems city government officials have caught on to a rapidly growing trend – English as a second language. In an effort to give their workers a “competitive edge,” the government has administered Saturday morning English learning sessions, or Skilled Workers English Enhancement Program (SWEEP).

With the leadership of 4 English professors from UM Tagum College, the workers are able to prepare for the IELTS exam.

Anwar Maadel, the city’s literacy council, said “The mayor had found out that in 2010, our workers’ IELTS results were very low so he wanted to help improve it through Sweep.”

To read more about what this one little corner of the world is doing to better the education of its citizens and contributing to the global conversation, check out the full article here of how learning English impacted Tagum City.


IELTS Test

As you narrow down the international schools you plan on applying to, you will notice that most schools that teach their coursework in English have minimum language requirements for admissions. The most commonly used English language exam around the world, particularly in Europe and Australia/New Zealand, is the IELTS test.

You should take this exam at least a month before your application is due to allow sufficient time to have your scores sent to your schools. You can retrieve your IELTS results online two weeks after taking the exam. Be sure to do this early since your scores will no longer be available online after 28 days. If you miss this window, not to worry! You will receive the results of your IELTS test in the mail, which are typically mailed out 13 days after your IELTS test date.

While each school requires different minimum IELTS scores, the general requirement is that you should have at least a 6 or 7 out of 9 to show that you have adequate English proficiency to be well prepared for your academic courses. To make sure that you are properly prepared, the IETLS tests your ability to read, write, speak, and understand – all important skills in order to perform well in your academically strenuous class.

Check out the who, what, where, when and why’s of the IELTS for additional information!


International Students Take the TOEFL Exam

The TOEFL exam is advertised as a test that  “Gives You an Advantage: Most Widely Accepted, Most Popular and Most Convenient Choice”. So what happens when a long history of politics gets in the way of your college application?

For a period of two weeks last July, that’s what Iranian students had to deal with. Due to some U.S. sanctions that didn’t allow Education Testing Services (ETS), the company that administers the TOEFL, to process payments from Iran, the test was suspended in the country.

As you can probably imagine, this created a bit of a stir for a young generation of Iranians who were eager to study abroad in U.S. and European colleges. Without the TOEFL, that is required in most of these colleges, Iranians saw their futures put at an incredible risk.

This got me thinking. Why hadn’t I heard about this when it was going on?  Then I remembered I myself was in Italy, studying Italian at a school I had easily registered into, because I just felt like it. But what if Italy and the U.S. had a feud and I wasn’t allowed to have gone? Imagining my life without those experiences abroad is well, unimaginable.  And that’s exactly why young Iranians stood up and protested. Because the TOEFL exam represents something bigger than an exam score: it represents a new life filled with opportunities and adventures.

Thankfully though, things got resolved more or less, and Iranians were once again granted the opportunity to register for the TOEFL.

If we can learn anything from this linguistic fiasco (other than politics are stupid), it’s that we shouldn’t take the opportunities we have in front of us for granted. If you’ve been considering/debating/putting off taking the TOEFL, what exactly is stopping you? Just imagine if you couldn’t register for it tomorrow. If you need any more convincing, check out The 5 W’s of the TOEFL to have all your questions answered.