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Learn to use Word EMPHASIS for English Fluency

14 Sep

I can’t emphasis enough how the proper use of  ’emphasis’ helps the ESL learner to sound more fluent when speaking English.  Learning how to use emphasis properly is helpful not only in preparing for English proficiency exams such as the TOEFL, IELTS or the TOEIC Speaking Test, but is equally important for academic and business situations.

Emphasis is the word in a sentence which is spoken with emphasis, in other words usually at a higher pitch and/or accompanied by a pause in speech.  There are a variety of reasons why emphasis is used.  Look at this list below for some reasons.


  • the speaker wants to call to attention what is most important.  This is common when expressing opinions.
  • the speaker wants to imply or infer something without saying it directly.
  • the speaker is being accusatory.
  • the speaker is disagreeing with something said.
  • the speaker is being argumentative or sarcastic (emphasis is used liberally in arguing) ^^
  • the speaker has used inversion – in other words, changed the order of a sentence by adding a prepositional phrase at the beginning (example: SUDDENLY, the cat jumped up and scratched his face.)
  • the speaker wants to affirm or deny some action.  (example:  John DIDN’T go to school yesterday.)


This is no easy task.  Becoming fluent in English is all about practice, exposure and time.  My husband is Korean and although is English is great, he still has difficulty with emphasis.  In fact, our conversation today inspired this blog post.  He said that when I speak Korean I add in English-style emphasis, when instead, I should learn to use proper Korean emphasis in all cases.  I suppose I had thought emphasis to be a more universal language tool… I was wrong.  There’s my ‘English-centric’ point of view creeping in again! 🙂

Since I’ve found that giving good examples is often the easiest way to “explain” something to my students, take a look below.  This is excerpted from a printable worksheet I created earlier which is in a matching activity for students. You can download it here: Jennifer Teacher – Using Emphasis

Take a look at the following examples, where the bolded words are emphasized.  Say them aloud and notice how the meaning, intention, inference or implication of the sentence changes.

a)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else said it.

b)  did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

c)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Disputatious denial; Argumentative.

d)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  You stole something else.

e)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>  Someone else stole it.

f)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You did something else with the bandanna, not steal it.

g)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole someone elses’ bandanna.

h)   I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   You stole one of a different colour.

i)    I did not say you stole my red bandana.  —>   I “implied/wrote/suggested” you stole it, not “said.”


Do these examples help you to understand the proper use of emphasis?   If so, try explaining the meanings of the following three sentences (leave a comment with your answers):

Q1)  Did you happen to get me a coffee, too?

Q2) What time are we supposed to meet on Saturday?

Q3) Why are you studying English?


If you feel you need some more help, try these external resources.  There aren’t many available on this unique subject, but here are a couple I’d recommend: Learning to use Emphasis in English

Prof. Argenis A. Zapata: Ways of Expressing Emphasis in English

Is the TOEIC test really an indicator of functional English?

23 Aug

The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) measures the ability test-takers to use English in everyday workplace activities.  There are over three million TOEIC test-takers in over sixty countries worldwide each year, with Japan and South Korea making up most of these.

The TOEIC tests, (there are now three: Speaking; Writing; Reading and Listening), despite addressing the four main components of English study, remain inefficient in indicating functional English proficiency.

A brief intro to the three TOEIC tests

The TOEIC®Reading and Listening test is the original test, and was highly criticized for not effectively assessing English fluency as it was missing ever so important speaking and writing components.  ETS, the company who provides the both  the TOEFL and TOEIC exams, addressed this and came out with TOEIC® Speaking and Writing tests  in 2007.  Therefore, there are now three tests that complete the TOEIC repetoire.  Still, it leaves me wanting more.

Why I feel TOEIC isn’t a sufficient indicator of functional English:

  • Not all institutions require all three tests, and it is often the Listening and Reading test only that is taken and scored for.   Because of my belief being that language is a whole entity, and can not readily be divided and subdivided beyond an academic lens, this test just isn’t a good indicator of functional English, or English proficiency.
  • In addition, the vocabulary and strong grammatical emphasis in the TOEIC Reading and Listening test make it impractical for everyday English situations that would be encountered in most workplaces abroad.
  • Finally, TOEIC does not integrate the English skills it tests for.  In opposition, the TOEFL test is an integrative, reflexive test that brings together reading, writing, listening, and speaking, in a variety of questioning formats.   The TOEIC is a multiple choice test that doesn’t allow for as much integration.



Here’s the TOEIC Korea site in 한국어.

Here’s a Wiki Article on the TOEIC.

Here’s a sample test for the TOEIC Speaking and Writing Tests.

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