Improving Intonation (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of why it’s useful to better your ability to use various intonation patterns while speaking. We also looked at two common types of intonation, falling and rising.

In this post, we’ll first consider some more intonation types and then give you tips on how to improve your intonation.

Types of intonation

3. Rise-fall intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice and then drop it. This pattern is often found in:

  • alternative questions
    E.g. Would you like tea or coffee?
  • lists (pattern in the example – rise, rise, rise, fall)
    E.g. We’d need milk, sugar, flour, and eggs.
  • conditional sentences
    E.g. If you seeDanny, please ask him to call ➘ Rebecca.

4. Fall-rise intonation
In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice and then raise it. This pattern is commonly used to suggest that something is uncertain or incomplete. Have a look at these examples:

I don’t like drinking tea in the morning.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker enjoys drinking tea at other times of the day)

The first half was exciting.

(perhaps hinting that the second half was boring)

Do you think this is allowed here?

(perhaps hinting that the speaker is not sure if something is permissible)

I can’t afford a car at the moment.

(perhaps hinting that the speaker may be able to buy one in the future)

Ways to improve intonation

Here are some tips to help improve your ability to use various intonation patterns.

  • Listen carefully to short recordings of native speakers of English, paying particular attention to the way their voices rise and fall. Then, imitate their intonation by just humming along, without saying the actual words. Remember to focus on the melody, not the words.
  • Record yourself saying a sentence with absolutely no intonation, just like how a robot would do. Later, repeat the same sentence by using stress and intonation. Listen to both versions to know the difference that intonation can make.
  • Record yourself saying any common word over and over again, changing your attitude each time. For example, repeat the word ‘coffee’, giving it different meaning each time to indicate different emotions, such as enthusiasm, displeasure, surprise, and relief.

Remember, it’s difficult to listen to our own pitch, so working with audio materials is the way forward for improving your intonation.

Improving Intonation (Part 1)

A key pronunciation feature that helps you convey your thoughts and feelings with precision is intonation. In its simplest sense, intonation can be described as the melody of spoken language, i.e. the rise and fall in your voice when you speak. The focus here is on how we say things, not what we say.

It goes without saying that the concept of intonation is common to all languages; yet not many pay attention to this area while they speak, as they are so caught up in choosing the right words to express what they want to say. What they don’t realise is that intonation can be as important as word choice if not more.   

Why improve intonation

Here are a few good reasons why it is worthwhile to work on your intonation:

  • Bettering your understanding of intonation helps you become a skilled communicator.
  • Failing to use intonation could mean that listeners may soon lose interest in what you’re saying and switch off.
  • Getting your intonation patterns wrong might give rise to misunderstandings, with listeners even taking offence.
  • Not having enough awareness of intonation can impair your listening comprehension too, as you’re likely to misinterpret what others say.

Types of intonation

Here are some common intonation patterns found in English speech.  

  1. Falling intonation
    In this type, you drop the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is usually found in:
  • statements
    E.g. I’m going for a stroll on the beach.
  • commands
    E.g. Get your hands off my coat!
  • wh-questions that seek information
    E.g. What’s your name?
  • question tags that invite agreement
    E.g. It was such a lousy film, wasn’t it?

2. Rising intonation
In this type, you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence. This pattern is generally found in:

  • yes/no questions
    E.g. Do you like my newdress?
  • question tags that seek an answer
    E.g. You haven’t had a fight with Tom,have you?

We’ll be back with more in the next part. Meanwhile, think about whether your pitch goes up and down when you speak in English.

The View From Campus – The Value of International Student Orientations at US Universities

As the new academic year begins at many U.S. colleges and universities this month, we hear from Mohinder “Holly” Singh, Senior Director of International Students and Scholars Center, Arizona State University, on the very timely topic of the value of participating in new international student orientation on U.S. college campuses.

Q: Describe your institution in 10 words?
A: #1 public university in the U.S. chosen by international students. 

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: According to U.S. News and World Report, Arizona State University is #1 Innovative School in the U.S. ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed. Many international students select ASU to study our undergraduate business programs and graduate Engineering programs.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: Grad: Homeland/National Security and Emergency Management, Information and Technology Management, Local Government Management, Supply Chain Management and Logistics, Urban Policy.   

UG: Supply Chain Management and Logistics, Business Management, Quantitative Analysis, Business Management Systems, Teaching.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: China, India, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and South Korea.

Q: What is the role of an international student office on campus?

A: At Arizona State University, the International Students and Scholars Center works to facilitate the success of our students’ and visiting scholars’ time in the U.S. Our core goal is to ensure compliance of our students and visiting scholars with Department of Homeland Security and Department of State immigration regulations.  In addition, we work to assist our students and visiting scholars with academic integration, cultural adjustment issues, leadership development and any other support they may need.

Q: What steps do U.S. universities take to help international students adjust to their new environment?

A: ASU helps new international students feel welcome even before they arrive in the U.S. All new international students are invited to complete an online introductory module, which provides information about campus culture, ways to get involved, how to ask for assistance and introduces the many resources available to students after arriving on campus.  Additionally, each semester ASU hosts an International Orientation Week prior to Welcome Week to officially welcome new international students to campus.  These orientation experiences includes information on immigration regulations, on-campus employment opportunities, U.S. classroom culture and other information about student life at ASU.  Students from around the world are also provided with opportunities to engage in social settings to build relationships and connections with their fellow students. 

Q: Why should an new international student attend orientation?
A: ASU’s International Orientation Week program is specifically designed for new international students as it will introduce them to important resources, allow them to meet new friends, show them how to succeed academically at an American university, and offer opportunities for them to have their questions answered by university staff and officials. 

Q: What should new international students remember when attending orientation at ASU?
A: ASU’s fall semester begins in late August, which is an extremely hot time in Arizona.  New students must remember to drink lots of water and dress in layers as the air-conditioning inside buildings makes it very cold indoors. 

Q: What is the most important piece of advice you’d give new international students attending orientation?
A: Ask questions.  We understand that asking for help is hard for some individuals from certain cultures, but ASU’s President, Dr. Crow, always encourages students to raise their hand and ask for help when they need it. 

Q: What should new international students do after orientation if they need support or have questions?
A: New international students are always encouraged to reach out to the ISSC for any questions they have whether they are regarding immigration regulations or other topics.  If they ISSC cannot provide the support directly, we will reach out to the appropriate department to provide the information needed by the student. 

IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 2)

In a previous post, we spoke of how it’s important to be well-rested, well-fed, and comfortably clothed on the test day so that you can give a good account of yourself in IELTS.

Read on for some more tried and tested tips that can help you on the day.

Take your ID document along

On arrival, one of the first things that a test taker needs to undergo at the test venue is an identity check. When registering for IELTS, you receive information on what type of ID you’ll be expected to carry. In many regions, this would be the test taker’s passport. If you fail to take along your ID, you will not be allowed to sit the test. So, whatever you do, do not forget your ID.

Carry enough stationery

If you’re taking paper-based IELTS, you’ll have to write mostly in pencil. Time is invaluable, so anything that helps you save precious seconds is good news. Have 3 to 4 pencils ready to be used so that you don’t lose time sharpening when one goes dull. Similarly, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, and a couple of pens are also essential.
In some cases, the stationery is provided to you at the test venue. But, if this is not clearly mentioned to you when you book the test, ensure you carry enough stationery with you on the test day.

Leave electronic devices outside

Mobile phones or other electronic devices shouldn’t be taken into the test room, so leave them at home. At some test venues, designated places may be available where personal belongings can be stored. Remember, if an electronic item is found on you while you are in the test room, it would be considered a serious breach of test rules.

Arrive early

It’s really in your best interest to arrive on time at the test venue. For one thing, when you’re running late, you slip into panic mode. More importantly, test takers who report late may not be allowed to participate.

Watch how much water you drink

The Listening, Reading, and Writing tests are conducted one after the other, with no breaks in between. If you do choose to use the toilet, you’ll lose that time. Hence be mindful of how much water you drink during the test. It might also be a good idea to pay a quick visit to the toilet just before you enter the test room.

Remember these tips, and you should have a stress-free test experience.

IELTS Test Day Advice (Part 1)

Sitting an exam can be pretty nerve-wracking for most, even if it happens to be a straightforward language test. Often test takers are so caught up in exam preparation that they fail to get the simple things right.

Every year, thousands take IELTS, the world’s most popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. If you are thinking of having a crack at it anytime soon, we have some handy advice to help you perform to the best of your abilities.

Get adequate sleep

The IELTS test is considerably long, with the test taker spending 2 hours and 40 minutes to complete the Listening, Reading, and Writing tests alone. Add to this the time taken by venue staff to check identity, collect biometric data, and give instructions, and the test taker might spend close to 4 hours under examination conditions.

To get through test day without having your energy levels drop, it’s important that you give yourself sufficient sleep. Once you’re well-rested, you’ll arrive at the venue feeling fresh, ready to take on any challenge. 

Have a heavy meal

It is common to experience pre-exam jitters on the eve of a high-stakes test such as IELTS. Test takers are so consumed by the anxiety to do well that they don’t always eat adequately.

If you begin the test on a near-empty stomach, you’ll soon suffer hunger pangs, and consequently lose your concentration or feel nauseous. See to it that you have a hearty meal before you set off for the exam venue. Food and drink cannot be taken into the test room, so what you eat has to be substantial.

Wear something comfortable

Formal or casual, the clothing you wear has no bearing on your test scores, so choose wisely. While you may be tempted to dress to impress, comfort should clearly be the priority here.

Wear something that you’ll be comfortable in and that’ll give you confidence to perform. At many test centres, the air-conditioning will remain switched on throughout, so don’t forget to take along an extra layer of clothing to keep warm.

We’ll be back soon with more simple yet effective exam tips.

Understanding the IELTS Speaking Section

Being able to speak with confidence and clarity is a reliable indicator of an individual’s language proficiency. Naturally, all language tests have a component that assesses the test taker’s oral skills.  

Here’s an overview of the IELTS Speaking test.

Parts

Part 1: Introduction and interview (four to five minutes)

This part aims to put test takers at ease by getting them to talk on familiar topics, such as home, work, studies, family, and interests. Being the easiest part of the test, it’s a great chance to overcome nerves.

Part 2: Individual long turn (three to four minutes)

The test taker receives a task card with a particular topic. They get one minute to prepare, after which they have to speak for up to two minutes on the topic. They may need to draw on their personal experiences and feelings to do well.

Part 3: Two-way discussion (four to five minutes)

Thematically linked to the previous part, here the examiner asks the test taker questions about more abstract issues and ideas. Since questions tend to be of a complex nature, it gives test takers the perfect opportunity to show off their language skills. 

Skills tested

Over three parts, IELTS Speaking assesses a wide range of skills. Initially, test takers get to communicate opinions and information on everyday topics. Later on, they need to exhibit an ability to speak at length on a given topic without much effort, organising ideas coherently as they go along. Towards the end, they also have to express and justify opinions, analyse situations, and speculate about issues.

Marking

Speaking interviews are conducted and assessed by certificated IELTS examiners, who hold relevant teaching qualifications and have sufficient teaching experience. Tests are marked according to the IELTS Speaking test assessment criteria (Fluency and Coherence, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy, Pronunciation). To do well, test takers have to produce a wide range of language throughout with accuracy. The wider the range you display, the higher the accuracy, the better the outcome.  

Unlike other tests, the Speaking section in IELTS is a face-to-face interview that is as close to a real-life situation as a test can get, so prepare well to make the most of it.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 3)

So far in the series on letter writing, we’ve considered four ways in which you could end up losing marks – not stating the purpose clearly, employing an inappropriate tone, not fully covering bullet points, and failing to notice plural forms. 

Now, read on for some more advice on what not to do when attempting Writing task 1 in IELTS General Training.

5. Poor organisation

Structuring the letter shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, as test takers have enough help, a fact that not many cotton on to. The bullet points on your examination paper will always be ordered logically, so all you have to do is follow it.  Do not waste time trying to rearrange the sequence. There’s absolutely no point in you reinventing the wheel!

Similarly, there is a misconception that the more linking expressions a letter has, the better its organisation. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Just like how underuse of linking expressions is a problem, overuse too is something to be avoided.

Remember, there’s no substitute for clarity of thought. This means even a generous sprinkle of linking expressions cannot help you achieve good organisation if the ideas you’ve presented aren’t clearly related to each other.

6. Memorizing model letters

Like with any other exam, success in IELTS demands a disciplined effort from the test taker. So, it’s best to draw up a timetable and work on your English skills systematically. When you’ve not been able to do this, last-minute exam jitters can get the better of you, and you begin searching for shortcuts. It isn’t uncommon for test takers to memorize entire model letters in the hope that one among them might appear in the exam.

However, there are no quick fixes here. At first sight, tasks may appear to be the same, but there’s always a difference. Besides, IELTS examiners are language experts trained to spot and penalise memorised responses. A better approach would be to learn language chunks that help you perform common letter writing functions, such as apologising, making suggestions, and turning someone down.

And here’s a final tip: friendly letters may look easy, but they are often the hardest to write if you are a non-native speaker. So, don’t forget to give yourself loads of practice.

The View From Campus: How to Research U.S. College Options

This month, Marci Fradkin,, Director of International Outreach and Admission, at Valparaiso University in Indiana, discusses how international students can best approach finding the college or university in the United States that is right for them.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?
A: Experiential learning, Connections, Result Driven, Friendly, and Beautiful.

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?
A: Being a STEM paradise and being a top 20 undergrad engineering program.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
A: Undergrad-Engineering, Computer Science, Biochemistry, Psychology, and International Relation.  Grad-MS Information Technology, MBA,  MS Analytics and Modeling, Public Health, and MS Economics and Finance.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college?
A: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, and China

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?
A: We use it for undergrad and graduate admission and it is taken into consideration in awarding scholarships for both.

Q: What is the most significant challenge most international students have when considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?
A: What is the best fit university for me, because we have over 4,000 universities in the US.

Q: How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?
A: I recommend students start their planning for studies overseas in their sophomore year so they have time to research university options and to prepare to have the proper courses.  Also that will give students time to prepare for taking test and to save money.

Q: What factors should students use to narrow their range of choices from over 4000 accredited colleges and universities down to a manageable shortlist of institutions? 
A: I always encourage students to look at the success of the graduates, for instance Valparaiso University 97% job or graduate school placement.  I also encourage student to look at class size, Valparaiso average class size is 19, student to faculty ration, we are 11:1, and to look for research and internship opportunities are available.

Q: If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?
A: Liberal Arts Colleges can have strong STEM programs, they teach students to make connection in their education, and they teach their students to be leaders in their fields.

Q: What kinds of students can be successful or “good fits” for liberal arts colleges in the United States?
A: The student who is a best fit for liberal art college are inquisitive, like to make connections, and to be part of a community.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we considered how to avoid two potential pitfalls when attempting the letter writing task in IELTS. 

Here are a few more things to watch out for if you wish to achieve a good writing band score.

3. Not covering bullet points adequately

In IELTS, test takers are told exactly what information to add in the letter, in the form of three bullet points. It goes without saying that these three points form the very heart of the task, so they have to be sufficiently developed. Failing to do so will mean a lower band score on Task Achievement, one of the four assessment criterions. Of course, a lower band in one area equals a lower overall writing score.

See to it that you read the bulleted list carefully, thinking up ways to extend each point purposefully. Everyday situations are used to set IELTS letter writing tasks, so use this knowledge to your advantage. Imagine yourself in the situation detailed in the task, and you’ll soon have enough ideas to flesh out each bullet point.

4. Failing to notice plural forms

One thing that snares even competent users of English is the use of plural forms in the task. The bulleted list, or the part above it that sets the context, may have plural nouns (e.g. problems) or determiners (e.g. some) that refer to an indefinite quantity.

Test takers need to pick up on any suggestion of plural forms in the task and respond appropriately. For instance, if the task states that you have some furniture to sell, make sure you include details of more than one piece of furniture. Similarly, if you’ve been asked to explain problems you are facing, the letter should mention at least two problems. If you happen to write about only one, you’ll get penalised for sure. To avoid running such a risk, it might be a good idea to underline plural nouns, or determiners such as some, as soon as you see them. That way, you’ll remember to include enough information later on while drawing up a plan.   

Remember, in an exam situation, staying alert is as important a thing to do as anything else. We’ll be back with more advice on letter writing.

Pitfalls to Avoid in IELTS Letter Writing (Part 1)

Letter writing may be a dying art, but even today a well-written note can leave a lasting impression on the reader. No wonder then that letter writing skills are still in demand.

In IELTS General Training Writing, one of the tasks to complete is a letter that may be personal, semi-formal, or formal in style. The test taker is presented with a situation and asked to respond to it, writing a minimum of 150 words.

Now, writing a letter isn’t exactly rocket science, but if not careful, you could easily lose marks in a test. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when you attempt the letter writing task in IELTS.

1. Purpose is unclear

Written without clear intention, a letter can leave the reader somewhat confused. They may come across a lot of information yet not understand what it is that the writer wants to achieve in the first place. So, read the task carefully so as to identify its requirements, including the main purpose. In IELTS, you’re likely to encounter common, everyday situations that require you to do some of the following: apologise to someone, enquire about something, make arrangements, invite someone, complain about someone or something, and explain something.

On beginning your response, use the first couple of sentences to make it clear why you’re writing. For instance, in a formal letter, beginning with a phrase such as I’m writing to… can make the purpose clear right from the outset.

2. Inappropriate tone

Sometimes test takers get the style of writing horribly wrong, using an inappropriate tone to compose the letter. A personal letter, for example, may have too many words and phrases that sound formal, or grammar structures that indicate a high degree of formality. In IELTS, use of inappropriate tone invites an immediate penalty, which would subsequently affect you overall writing score.

Naturally, it pays to think about who you’ve been asked to write to and how well you are supposed to know them. This should help you decide what style of writing would be appropriate. Once you identify the right tone, keep it consistent throughout the letter to achieve the desired effect on the reader. 

We’ll be back with more advice to help you avoid some of the most obvious pitfalls in letter writing.

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