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What to expect on the TOEFL iBT Speaking test – sample questions, too!

22 Jul

The infamous speaking section of the TOEFL iBT (the internet based TOEFL test), has many ESL hopefuls nervous.  That’s fair because the pace of the questions and the content can be difficult for even some native English speakers.  Of the overall TOEFL iBT test, about 25% is speaking, accounting for approximately 20 minutes of test-taking time.   It focuses on academic English and to get a great score you need to answer questions in a clear, concise way demonstrating an understanding of the material.

 

Breakdown of the 6 Speaking Questions/Tasks:

To ace the speaking part of the TOEFL iBT you need to know what to expect.  There are 6 speaking questions which you answer by speaking into a headset.  Let me break them down for you:

The first 2 questions are called Independent Tasks and are on topics familiar to the test-taker.   You have 15 seconds to prepare an answer and 45 seconds to speak.

A sample Independent Task question is: “Some universities require first year students to live in dormitories on campus.  Other’s allow students to live off campus.  Which policy to you think is better for first year students and why? Include details and examples in your answer.”

The last 4 questions are called Integrated Tasks and involve using more than one skill – reading, writing and speaking for example.  In some cases you can read the question first, then listen to it, prepare your answer and then speak.  Other times you’ll listen first, prepare and then answer.  After listening and reading the test-taker is given a short time to prepare a response, about 30seconds, and then must proceed with answering as requested.  Usually the response time is 60 seconds.

A sample Integrated Task question is “For thousands of years humans have been able to domesticate, or tame, many large mammals that live in the wild together in herds.  Once tamed, these mammals are used for agricultural work and transportation.  Yet some herd mammals are not easily domesticated.  A good indicator of a mammal’s suitability for domestication is how protective the animal is of it’s territory.  Non-territorial mammals are more easily domesticated than territorial mammals because they can live close together with animals from other herds.  A second indicator is that animals have a hierarchical social structure, in which herd members follow a leader, are easy to domesticate , since a human can function as a ‘leader.’ ”  <THEN YOU WOULD LISTEN TO A SHORT 1-2 minute LECTURE BEFORE GETTING A QUESTION…> “The professor describes the behavior of horses and antelopes in herds.  Explain how their behaviour is related to their suitability for domestication.”

 

Now, if you’re thinking that seems difficult – you’re not alone.  The TOEFL test can be one of the most important tests of your life, your score determining whether or not you can be accepted into the overseas school  or company of your choice.  Never fear!  Jennifer Teacher is here!  If you’re ready to start preparing seriously for your test, contact me.

Learning to speak like an English Canadian

20 Jul

Hello, eh!  Native English speaking Canadians may have the best pronunciation amongst ESL Teachers worldwide.  Whether or not you agree, Canadians do have a crisp, clear way of speaking and can often be good listeners, a skill ever so important in conversation.

So how does an aspiring student of English learn to speak like a Canadian?

  1. Seek out a Canadian conversation tutor who you can spend time talking with, picking up their style of speech, idiomatic expressions and pronunciation.
  2. Listen to CBC Radio Podcasts on your mp3 player when walking through town or riding the bus.  Try to imitate how they’re speaking.  They have quite a selection of available podcasts, but the Radio 1 is my favourite.
  3. Watch Canadian films and TV programs – yes, we make movies and TV shows, too.
  4. Find a pen pal that you can have Skype conversations with!  If you’re interested in this opportunity, please let me know.
If you have experience with Canadian ESL teachers, tutors or friends – please leave a comment below and tell us what you think of their English!

Create a daily writing plan to improve your English

16 Jul

For English learners, writing can really be a great way to study when you’re not in class or with a tutor.  Committing to write every day helps your vocabulary, spelling, grammar and even your conversation abilities (because often people write something as they would try to say it!).

I suggest my students keep a notebook and spend about 30 minutes each day writing.  It doesn’t matter what you write about, it can be anything, it’s the act of writing and committing to the process.  Writing by hand is better than by computer, as it supposedly activates more memory retention.

Daily Writing Log Plan:  Spend 15 minutes writing about anything.  (below are some ideas to motivate your pen^^).  Don’t take a break and keep your pen moving for the whole time.  Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or making mistakes – simply write.  At the end of your writing time, spend another 15 minutes correcting some of your spelling mistakes, adding in vocabulary words that you need to look up in a dictionary,  and fixing grammar.  Don’t worry about correcting it all, just do what you can in 15 minutes.

Writing topics to get you started:

  • Describe the weather
  • Talk about how to cook your favourite food
  • Tell about your last vacation
  • Describe your dream wedding/vacation/date
  • Talk about your family’s history
  • Describe a school subject
  • Tell about your study plans for the next year
  • Outline the plot and characters of a book you just read
  • Describe your surroundings – especially good in a coffee shop!
  • And in case that’s not enough, here’s 1000 ideas for writing.

The Daily Writing Log is a tool that my students have found helpful.  If you’d like to join in one of my classes or have private tutoring lessons here in Mok-dong, Seoul, please contact me for more information.

5 Hints on Learning to Use Idioms Properly

10 Jul

If your lips are sealed, I’ll share some of my no-brainer hints on learning to use idioms in everyday conversation.

Idioms are fun to use, often quirky and can seem so strange to a non-native English speaker that they are often hard to forget.  For ESL learners, learning idiomatic expressions presents a challenge, but using them successfully in the right way, in the right conversations is a step closer to fluency.

Hint 1: Practice using idioms in everyday conversation.

Native English speakers don’t realize how many idioms they use in daily conversation.  Speaking with an English learner who uses idioms often makes us feel more comfortable and more understood.

Hint 2:  Use an idiom in the proper context.

In Korea, there are some idioms that Koreans have adopted and use quite often.  I always love hearing them and find I introduce one or two each conversation class and encourage my students to try to squeeze them into the conversation until they learn the context properly.

Hint 3: ‘Stick to‘ commonly used idioms.

Even for those who use idioms well and incorporate them into conversation, there is a tendency for the expressions to be out-dated or not commonly used.  For example, I had one student say to me, “Don’t you want to have kittens when you forget your bus card?”   While he used the context well, (have kittens means to feel very upset or angry), I can’t say I’ve ever heard that expression used in pop culture.

Hint 4: Idioms are often cultural.

Idiomatic expressions representative of the culture they come from making it difficult for those from different cultures to understand, they can be down right confusing!  Even in the English-speaking world, there are different idioms in common use.  While it’s difficult for an ESL learner to know if an idiom would be more popular in America than in England, being aware that some people from some countries may not understand your use of an idiom.  That’s okay, keep trying!

Hint 5:  Group idioms together to learn faster.

Try learning idioms that are similar, such as those having to do with body parts first.  Learn as many as you can before switching to another category and you’ll soon be head over heels in love with idioms! ^^

For an extensive list of idioms and phrases to get your juices flowing, click here.

How to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT

8 Jul

If you haven’t come across it in your scramble to prepare for taking your TOEFL test, you need to check out the helpful tips guide that ETS (Educational Training Systems), the maker of the TOEFL test, has prepared.  It’s called:  How to Prepare for the TOEFL iBT, and is a great clarifying resource to have on hand.

This guide covers the four sections of the TOEFL test: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.  They suggest ways to prepare for each section, cover the question formats you’ll encounter on the test, and tell you how the test is to be delivered and scored.

When preparing for the test, my students’ top concerns are typically:  how can they form clear speaking responses in the amount of time given; and  how quickly they’ll need to write their answers in the writing section?   If given enough time they could prepare great answers, spoken or written, but part of the TOEFL iBT test’s success in assessing English fluency is that answers must be given in a specific period of time.  Therefore students need to practice all of their English skills, and as suggested in the guide, ‘practice more on your weakest skills’ first.

In addition, this guide covers test preparation guidelines and frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) by test takers.

If you want more information and links on TOEFL Test Prep – Subscribe to this blog!

Thanks!  ^^

What to Look for in a TOEFL Study Guide Book

5 Jul

There are many reputable (and some less reputable) study guide books available in multiple languages, aimed at helping students better prepare for their TOEFL test.   With so many books to choose from, you want to find the one or two that will really help you achieve TOEFL success.

When you’re choosing a study guide book one of the first things you’ll want to do is be sure to consider the type of TOEFL test you need to prepare for.  Not many places still offer the written test, so you’re more likely to write a computer-based test (CBT) or an internet-based test (iBT).   Also, look for a current edition.

ETS (Educational Testing Service) is the company that manages and creates the TOEFL tests, and so naturally their study guides are really popular.

Look for guide books that have CD’s to help with listening comprehension and audio exercises.  Sample tests should also be included, preferrably with answer keys.   I find the student planners included in some books help my students reach their study objectives in an organized manner.

The essay-writing section of the book should be clear and with many examples and opportunities to write your own.  Practice drills of all aspects of the TOEFL test are key to success.

If the study guide your considering doesn’t meet the above recommendations, keep looking!  And remember, this is a challenging test and there is no “magic book” that will magically prepare you for your TOEFL  test.  You’ll need to study hard, work with an ESL Teacher or Tutor who specializes in TOEFL test prep and find opportunities to practice the language.

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