Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 1)

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What’s your biggest worry when setting out to learn a new language? Perhaps mastering grammar or widening your vocabulary?

 

For most learners, it never crosses their mind that pronunciation can be a key element in success.

 

No matter how accurate or fluent your English is, bad pronunciation can seriously weaken your ability to communicate successfully. After all, if you mispronounce a word, it can change the meaning of what you were trying to say entirely!

 

In this series, we’ll talk about six key pronunciation features that you can help you improve.

 

  1. Individual sounds

Did you know that the pronunciation of each word in English is a combination of short individual sounds called phonemes? Pronouncing these individual sounds accurately is half the battle. A good place to start would be the phonemic chart, which has all 44 phonemes, neatly grouped into three sections: consonant sounds, single vowel sounds and double vowel sounds.

 

Remember, producing a phoneme accurately requires you to position your mouth and jaw in a specific way. So, you could be in for hours and hours of diligent practice before you are able to make the right sounds.

Here’s the British Council phonemic chart to get you started: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/phonemic-chart

 

 

  1. Word stress

In English, a word is usually made up of one or more syllables, which are basically small sound units with a vowel sound and one or more consonant sounds. Here’s an example:

 

Word English
Phonetic transcription /ˈɪŋɡlɪʃ/

 

The word English has two syllables – ‘En’ and ‘glish’. While pronouncing, the first syllable has to be emphasised more than the second. Similarly, all words in English have a unique stress pattern, so while speaking, some parts of words need to be pronounced more strongly than others. If you don’t, the listener may find it difficult to understand you.

 

Here’s a quick tip: once you begin recognising all the phonemes, use a dictionary to check if you’re producing the right sounds while pronouncing a word.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

set out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to begin doing a task with a particular aim
Example : Having saved up for years, Matt and Eva set out to build their own house.

 

half the battle
Form : phrase
Meaning : the most challenging part of doing something
Example : As a salesman, winning a potential customer’s trust is half the battle.

 

be in for something
Form : phrase
Meaning : going to experience something,
Example : Your dad is in for a shock when he finds out you’ve had your tongue pierced!

 

Your Guide to U.S. College Scholarships

Image courtesy of rik-shaw (look for the light) via Flickr (CC2.0)

 

The United States is a popular place to study. And it’s no surprise that that popularity makes it expensive. Universities and colleges in the U.S. will ask you to prove you have enough funds before they will accept you.

Many international students will think that it’s too much for them to afford. But there are ways to get there that won’t break the bank.

Top of that list are scholarships.

Scholarships come in all shapes and sizes. The money and eligibility will be different for each one, so don’t expect they’ll all fit you and your needs.

They are competitive too, so it’s worth applying to all the ones you can to increase your chances.

 

Your College

In 2012-2013 more than $8.8 billion in financial support was given to international students studying in the U.S.

Most of this aid comes directly from the colleges and universities.

Once you know which college you want to go to (and have been accepted at), first look for scholarships that institution offers international students. They may have some that apply to particular countries, or fields of study – so enquire with them before you go looking elsewhere. The admissions teams will be able to point you to any scholarships they might have.

 

Your Home Country

The U.S. may offer scholarships to students from your own country (or region).  Or your country might run aid programs itself. For example, the East-West Center Scholarships and Fellowships are aimed at international students from the Asia-Pacific region studying in the U.S. Contact your own government’s education body to find out what’s on offer.

 

U.S. Government-funded programmes

Open to international students in all fields (excluding medicine), the Fulbright Foreign Student Program is the most well-known of government-funded scholarships for international students. It offers scholarships for graduate students to study in the US for one year or more.

Find and contact your nearest U.S. Embassy to find out what’s else you could be eligible for.

Lastly, the Institute of International Education publishes an annual guide called Funding For United States Study. It lists over 800 grants and awards that are offered to international students coming to the U.S.

 

Good luck!

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 3)

 

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So far in this series, we’ve looked at some ways in which test takers make mistakes in IELTS listening: losing concentration when distractors are used, spelling words wrongly, looking for instances of word match, and not understanding different ways of referring to time.

Here are two more ways in which you could lose marks:

 

Word limit

All questions in the listening part come with clear instructions. While some questions require the test takers to choose answers from a list of options, others contain blanks that need to be filled in. When filling in blanks, you need to be cautious not to exceed the word limit. If not, your answer will be marked incorrect.

 

In IELTS, even small words such as articles (a, an, the) and pronouns (I, we, you, he, she, it) are counted as individual lexical items. So, if you don’t keep track of the number of words you enter as answer, you’ll certainly lose marks in perhaps the silliest of ways.

 

Example

Question

Complete the sentences below.

Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS for each answer.

 

35. During such rituals, the tribal chief used to wear a __________

 

36. _________ offerings were often made to the gods.

 

 

In this example, the task clearly instructs test takers to complete each sentence using no more than two words. Let’s assume the answer to question 35 is silk jacket. If you happen to rephrase this as jacket made of silk, your answer will obviously be marked wrong, as it has four words.

 

Transferring answers

Listening is the only part of IELTS where test takers receive extra time to transfer answers. This is because they are asked to jot down answers to all 40 questions on the question booklet itself as they listen.

 

The extra 10 minutes is for candidates to write answers legibly and sequentially (entered in boxes 1 to 40). Of course, answers that are out of sequence will be marked wrong.

 

Remember, while these tips may sound simple enough, it takes a bit of practice to get them right.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

blank
Form : noun
Meaning : an empty space
Example : Please fill in the blanks using words from the reading passage.

 

jot down
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to write something
Example : Give me a second, Sam. Let me find a notepad to jot down the address.

 

legibly
Form : adverb
Meaning : (written or printed) in a way that can be understood easily
Example : Please fill in the application form legibly

 

US Study: Get There with IELTS

Hear what IELTS means for international students in the U.S

 

The U.S. is a popular place for students from across the world.

Each year, thousands of U.S. colleges and universities accept hundreds of thousands of students from other countries.

If you’re thinking of joining them, then you’ll need IELTS.

IELTS is the most popular English test for people who want to live, study or work in another country. IELTS is also accepted by more than 3,300 institutions in the U.S, including all Ivy League colleges, so you have a huge choice of where to go.

An IELTS test score is proof of your English language proficiency and can help you achieve your goal of getting a place at a U.S. college or university.

Click on the video above to hear what some of the U.S. international students are saying about IELTS.

And to hear more from IELTS students who are already living their dream by studying in the U.S., be sure to check out our monthly View From Campus blog posts.

Get there with IELTS!

View From Campus: Swati from Bangladesh

Swati Roy

 

This month we invited Swati from Bangladesh to give her insights on studying at a U.S. college.

 

Who are you? Name, university, academic degree program, and home country.

My name is Swati Roy. I am an international undergraduate student from Bangladesh at Ohio University, majoring in Accounting and Finance.

 

How would you describe your experience in preparing for and taking the IELTS test

I would describe my experience in preparing for and taking the IELTS test as simple. It is avery simple way to demonstrate your English proficiency since it’s broken down into components and the British Council has plenty of resources to prepare for each. The process was seamless from preparing for the test, taking the test, to submitting my scores through British Council to my university choices.

 

How did you decide on the U.S. as your study destination?

I decided to study in the U.S. because colleges in the U.S. provide a greater flexibility to study what you want. You can explore multiple courses to recognise your passion before you declare your major. And there are various resources to help you with the decision.

 

How has IELTS prepared you for your degree program?

I believe the IELTS prepared me to better understand the content in my college classes because the curriculum is in English. It has also saved me time because I was able to enrol directly into my degree program without having to go through any English learning program or proficiency testing upon arrival. Especially, preparing for the listening and speaking components of the IELTS has also prepared me to effectively communicate with my faculty and peers at the university.

 

Why did you choose Ohio University?

I chose Ohio University because it is one of the best public universities for studying business in the U.S. It provides top notch, student centred learning. In addition to that it has a college culture that is unmatched and an extremely beautiful campus.

 

Describe your role as an international ambassador at your institution?

As an Ohio University Global Ambassador, I work as a liaison between the University and prospective international students. I help answer any questions they have about the admissions process or the university in general. It is always more relatable to them coming from an international student already studying at the University than someone from the administration. I also work along with other Global Ambassadors on different media and outreach efforts to attract more international students to the university and add more diversity to our ever-growing international community at Ohio University.

 

What is most important thing for students considering coming to the U.S. to know about applying to colleges and universities?

I believe the most important thing for students considering coming to the U.S. to know are the specific requirements of a college or university for admission that includes minimum SAT/ACT score, IELTS, minimum GPA, high school transcripts etc.

 

What are your plans after graduation?

Upon graduation, I would love to move to a big city such as Chicago or New York. I would like to work for a multinational consulting firm.

 

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Britt Reints via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In part 1, we spoke of two kinds of traps – distractors and spelling.

Here are two other ways in which you could lose marks in IELTS listening.

 

  1. Word match

Sometimes test-takers choose a certain answer because the exact same words are used in the conversation and the question paper. This is particularly true when attempting multiple choice questions. However, most answers in IELTS listening are paraphrased. In other words, the vocabulary used in the conversation is usually different to the one in the question.

 

Example

Question

23. What does the woman like most about the house?

A   the design

B   the locality

C   the living room

 

Recording script

Estate agent: So, what do you think?  

 

Woman: Very nice! I mean, I love the living room – it’s spacious and so tastefully done up. And the design is so European! I’ve always wanted to live in a house with French windows and a brick fireplace. But the best bit, without doubt, is the neighbourhood. It’s so pretty and peaceful – just the kind we were looking for.  

 

As you can see, the actual answer is paraphrased – the word locality in the question is replaced with the word neighbourhood in the conversation. Understandably, listening for matching words will only mislead you, so spend time on improving your comprehension instead.

 

  1. Time conventions

If you are a non-native speaker, the chances are you don’t refer to time the way people in English-speaking countries do. Being an international test, IELTS listening makes use of such native terms to talk about specific periods of time. Here are some examples:

 

 

Convention Used to talk about Example
quarter to 15 minutes before any hour on the clock quarter to six = 5.45
quarter past 15 minutes after any hour on the clock quarter past six = 6.15
half past 30 minutes after any hour on the clock half past six = 6.30

 

Do learn more about them, or you could be left with a blank when it comes to taking the test!

 

 

 

Five Key Essay Writing Tips For Students


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Essay writing asks students to critically analyse arguments and write convincingly.   

Here we give you five tips to do this successfully…

 

  1. Understanding the question

If you don’t understand the question, then I’m afraid you have fallen at the first hurdle. Everything you do after this will be wide of the mark, so make sure you understand what the question is really asking.

The wording will give you the best indication of this. It may include words like ‘evaluate’, in which case you should be weighing up merits as well as shortcomings. Spend some time going over the question and thinking critically about what it is you’re going to do.

 

  1. Read widely

You need to know the key ideas and writings on the subject you’re arguing. This means you must read a lot. There is no escaping this.

Read from a variety of sources; historical essays, contemporary journals, newspaper articles, as well as primary sources. The greater the variety of reading material, the greater your understanding and your essay will be.

Tip: The balance of time spent reading versus writing should be heavily in favour of reading. Think long, work chop-chop.

 

  1. ‘Yes… No… But’

An essay is an argument. To know what you are arguing for, you must also know the arguments against your own position. This can be broken down (in a very simplistic form) to: ‘Yes, No, But’. This is the structure of your essay, sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion.

‘Yes’ – in favour of your position; ‘No’ – you outline the key points against your position; ‘But’ – you criticise the shortcomings of the ‘no’ position and bring further points in favour of your argument.

This is your plan and structure all in one. It’s a tried and trusted formula.

 

  1. Key sentences

Every paragraph you write should start with a sentence that gets to the point. This indicates to the reader what the following paragraph will argue. It’s very easy to get side-tracked as a writer, so you need to keep focus and bring the reader along with you at every stage.

Get to the point quickly then you can expand on the idea. The key sentence helps to signpost to the reader what’s coming next. It may sound obvious, but it is effective.

 

 

  1. If you can speak, you can write

The tendency for university students is to think that they have to use lots of long, academic-sounding words to get a good grade. But, using clear language helps get your argument across best. Being wordy for the sake of it only papers over the cracks.

When writing, imagine you’re talking to a close friend (or pet cat) who knows a little bit about the subject. If you can get your arguments over to them in a clear, concise and convincing way, then you can write: it’s the same.

The best writers do – and so should you.

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 1)

 

Image courtesy of egrodziak via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

 

Ever thought what listening tests are designed to do? Well, the primary aim is to separate the wheat from the chaff – identify which test takers are able to fully comprehend what they hear, and which aren’t. And to accomplish this, traps are set across the test to trick test takers and induce errors.

 

Here are some traps you should avoid in the IELTS listening test.

 

  1. Distractor

As the name suggests, a distractor is something that causes confusion so that the test taker does not pay enough attention to what they should be doing – which is listening for the right answers. For instance, in a conversation, a speaker may say something and then quickly correct themselves, or they may be corrected by another speaker. As a result, the listener hears two versions of the same piece of information – obviously, one is correct while the other is incorrect.

 

Example

Question

5. Telephone number: 9342__________

Recording script

Receptionist: Okay, what’s the best number for us to contact you on?

 

Customer:  You can call me at the hotel where I’m staying. The number is: nine-three-four-two-six-five-three-nine… Oh no, did I say five-three-nine? Sorry, it should be three-nine-five.

 

If you’re not careful, a distractor can make you choose the wrong answer, so be prepared. And here’s an additional tip: in IELTS listening, distractors are most commonly used in section 1, and they usually involve some type of number (telephone number, credit card number, postcode, cost of something, time, date, etc).

 

  1. Spelling

In IELTS listening, poor spelling is penalised, so test takers need to be able to accurately spell words that are long and complicated. If your spelling isn’t great, try learning commonly misspelt words.  Additionally, make a list of words that you have already find trouble spelling.

Mnemonics can also be incredibly helpful in remembering the spelling of tricky words. For example, if you find it challenging to spell the word island, just remember this sentence: An island is land surrounded by water.

 

Remember, one way to avoid falling into a trap is to spot it early on, so keep an eye out while reading questions.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

separate the wheat from the chaff
Form : phrase
Meaning : to identify a good group from the other, less desirable ones
Example : Face-to-face interviews with applicants can help recruiters separate the wheat from the chaff.

 

induce
Form : verb
Meaning : to cause
Example : Drinking cough syrup can induce sleepiness in a person. 

 

mnemonic
Form : noun
Meaning : something, such as a poem or word, that helps a person remember something
Example : Use the mnemonic VIBGYOR to remember the colours of a rainbow.

 

keep an eye out (for something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to watch carefully for something
Example : While shopping I always keep an eye out for clothes sold at a discount.

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

Grinnell College, IA, USA

 

This month, Jonathan Edwards, Senior Associate Director of Admission, Grinnell College in Iowa, USA, discusses how international students can best approach finding the college or university in the United States that is right for them.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words?

Open, rigorous, independent, liberal, diverse

 

What is your institution best known for overseas?

We’re known as a small school with a big heart that offers a rigorous, innovative curriculum in an environment that fosters intellectual and social independence.

 

What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

Economics, Math, English, Computer Science, Psychology

 

What are the top five countries represented at your college?

China, India, South Korean, Vietnam, and Japan are the best represented at Grinnell. Non-US students comprise 20 percent of total enrollment.

 

How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process?

We require proof of high-level English language competency. IELTS scores help us best understand an applicant’s English proficiency.

 

How far ahead should students start the planning process if they are planning to come to the U.S. for study?

I would say at least 2-3 years in order to prepare for required standardized tests,  as well as to do the research to find the schools that best suit them.

 

If international students come across self-described “liberal arts colleges” in their search what do they need to know about these institutions?            

Liberal arts colleges don’t typically offer one path to a particular career goal. We are more interested in helping students, who are still at an age of discovery, to explore their options, affinities, and passions.

They continue to develop the critical skill sets, work ethic, and compassion that will afford them a rewarding life, not only a rewarding job. This is why liberal arts schools encourage broad, inquiry-based learning in small, diverse, residential environments.

 

What kinds of students can be successful at liberal arts colleges in the United States?

Those that are curious, motivated, critical, and adaptable.

5 Tips to Ace IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)


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In the first part, we spoke of two tips to score well in the IELTS letter writing task: following letter-writing rules and adding finer details.  Here are three more:

 

  1. Fully develop bullet points

The letter-writing task in IELTS requires test takers to include specific information, which is generally presented in the form of three bullet points. Here’s a sample task:

 

 

A friend has agreed to look after your house and pet while you are on holiday.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

 

·         give contact details for when you are away

·         give instructions about how to care for your pet

·         describe other household duties

 

 

 

Remember, each bullet point has to be fully developed, so a passing reference wouldn’t be enough. For example, to fully extend the first bullet point, you could provide alternative ways of contacting you.

 

Example text

I’ll be staying at The Grand Hotel in Krakow, so you can always call me there, or leave a message if I’m out. If it’s something urgent though, I’d like you to ring my colleague Jake’s mobile, as I don’t have international roaming. I’ve jotted down the numbers on a sheet of paper and stuck it on the kitchen door so that you don’t lose them – we both know your memory isn’t great!  

 

  1. Keep the writing style consistent

The writing style you employ mainly depends on two factors: how well you are supposed to know the person you are writing to and why you are writing. It’s important that the style you use is consistent across the letter. In the above example, a reference to your friend’s poor memory lends the letter an informal feel. Further, the use of the exclamation mark at the end, and informal words such as jot down, help maintain the friendly tone.

 

  1. Produce a full, connected text

Your letter should be a full, connected text, which means use of bullet points or note form will attract an immediate penalty. While most candidates are aware of the importance of linking sentences within a paragraph, few think of establishing a connection between paragraphs. See if you can achieve this.

Most importantly, no matter how well-written your letter is, all that hard work will go down the drain if you don’t meet the word limit, so be sure to write more than 150 words.

 

So, follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to doing well in the IELTS letter-writing task.

 

GLOSSARY

 

passing reference (to something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : brief mention (of something)
Example : The boss made a passing reference to lack of punctuality among staff.

 

employ
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something
Example : The police had to employ force to stop protesters from entering the mayor’s office.

 

lend
Form : verb
Meaning : to give a particular quality to something
Example : The minister’s presence will certainly lend the campaign some importance.

 

go down the drain
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be wasted
Example : If it rains, the sand castles will collapse, and all our hard work will go down the drain.

 

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