How Work Experience Can Transform Your Prospects

 

Image courtesy of Matthew Ragan CC 2.0 Flickr

 

Work experiences can vary greatly – sometimes you’ll be thrown right in at the deep end, and others you’ll have to seek out challenges. Wherever you find yourself during university or after graduating, here are four things to remember to make work experience work for you.

 

Contacts

Make contacts. Lots of them.

Work experience is your opportunity to meet those people who might be hiring you one day. If you show willingness to learn and enthusiasm for the line of work, your employer will remember you as a safe pair of hands – someone reliable. So, you’re increasing your employability with every good impression you make.

 

Learn the ropes

Being able to try your hand at the job is unquestionably good. Ok, you might not be performing surgery or presenting a case in court just yet – but being in that environment (hospital or court) will expose you to how things are done and the different expectations there are on different roles.

Even if you are only supporting someone else’s work, or shadowing them, being familiar with the surroundings will make future employers more likely to look favourably at your application.

This is particularly good for when you’re interviewed for that dream job. If you can back up your grades and enthusiasm with evidence that you have worked in the field in some capacity, the interviewer will see that you are serious about your chosen career.

 

See if it’s for you

Work experience isn’t just for the opportunity to break into a career; it’s your chance to see if the work is something you’d enjoy doing long-term. It’s a good idea to speak to the people who are doing the job already, buy them a coffee and take five minutes to ask them about the drawbacks as well as the advantages. You’ll be getting a clearer picture of whether the career is really for you or not.

 

What you still need to learn

There will always be a gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. You’ll not have all the skills or knowledge to just walk into your dream job. So use work experience to get a picture of the things you can do to improve and then go away and work on them.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

To throw somebody in a the deep end
Form : Phrase (refers to the deep end of a swimming pool, as opposed to the shallow end)
Meaning : To make someone do something difficult, especially a job, without much help.
Example : “On my first day at school I had to present to the whole class. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end!”

 

A safe pair of hands
Form : phrase
Meaning : Someone who can be trusted to do a good job
Example : I left Sandy in charge of the shop while I’m on holiday – she’s a safe pair of hands. 

 

(Learn) the ropes
Form : phrase
Meaning : To become familiar/skillful at doing something
Example : It took me a while to learn the ropes, but now I’m a skilled photographer.  

 

 

Try ones hand at something
Form : phrase
Meaning : To have a go at something (new)
Example : I’d like to try my hand at sailing one day. I’ve never done it before.  

 

 

 

A drawback
Form : noun
Meaning : A disadvantage. A feature that makes something less appealing.
Example : The main drawback of working in a bar is the unsociable hours.  

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Mark Morgan (CC Flickr)

Ever felt punctuation is just a set of decorative symbols that can be done away with? Well, think again!

 

A poorly punctuated sentence can severely distort meaning, thereby confusing the reader. Here’s a good example:

  1. I had lunch with my parents, an architect and a Labrador.
  2. I had lunch with my parents, an architect, and a Labrador.

 

What these two sentences mean are entirely different, the change in meaning caused by the presence or absence of a comma after the word architect.

Sentence 1 means: I had lunch with 2 people, i.e. my parents. One of them is an architect, whereas the other is a breed of dog (Labrador).

Sentence 2 means: I had lunch with 3 people and an animal, i.e. my parents, an architect, and a dog.

 

Though many of us make an effort to use punctuation, we often restrict ourselves to just two – comma and full stop. It’s a shame that a dozen other punctuation marks that can make our writing cohesive remain largely ignored.

 

In this series, we’ll explore the entire set:

 

full stop comma exclamation mark question mark hyphen dash apostrophe
. , ! ?
quotation marks colon semi colon slash ellipsis square bracket round bracket
“ ” : ; / [ ] ( )

 

  1. Full stop

The most common use of a full stop is to signal the end of a statement; it is also used in indirect questions and abbreviations. Do keep in mind that there is no space between the last letter (in a word) and the full stop.

 

Used Example
to signal the end of a statement I work as a teacher.
at the end of an indirect question She asked me where I had been.
with abbreviated (shortened) forms etc. | e.g. | Sept. | p.m.

 

 

  1. Comma

Generally speaking, commas indicate slight pauses or breaks in a sentence: they may separate items in a list, extra information, or clauses.

 

Used Example
to separate each item in a list We bought flowers, fruit, pudding, and sweets.
to separate extra information that is not part of the main sentence Graham’s brother, Phil, is very naughty.
to separate a clause Tim, who lives in London these days, was at the party.

 

Remember, efficient use of punctuation can make your writing a lot clearer.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

do away with (something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : remove; get rid of
Example : We’re doing away with all the traditions this Christmas and not having a tree.

 

distort
Form : verb
Meaning : to change a piece of information so that it is no longer accurate
Example : Newspaper articles sometimes distort the truth. 

 

a shame
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to mean that something is disappointing
Example : It’s a shame that they lost the match even after playing so well.

U.S Liberal Arts Colleges Explained: The View From Campus

 

Reed College, USA

 

“We see IELTS Academic as an important tool in evaluating a prospective student’s readiness for the academic demands of our curriculum.”

 

This month’s edition of the view from campus features Reed College, a private liberal arts institution in Portland, Oregon. Virginia Groves, Senior Assistant Dean of Admission, explains the function of small liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

 

  • Describe your institution in 5 words?

While it is tough to use just five: Intellectual, Love of Learning (ok, I know that was a cheat), inclusive, inquisitive and intentional.

 

  • What is your institution best known for overseas?

Reed has both a unique campus culture and academic rigor.

 

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

Our three most popular programs are English, Biology and Psychology.  We also offer the option of getting your nuclear reactor operator certification, which is a popular program across all majors.

 

  • What are the top five countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

Reed College is 8% international with many of our students coming from China, India, Canada, Vietnam, Singapore.

 

  • How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process?

It is recommended that applicants submit an English Proficiency exam if they score below a 600 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT or if the medium of instruction at their school is not English. We see IELTS Academic as an important tool in evaluating a prospective student’s readiness for the academic demands of our curriculum.

 

 

  • What is the most significant challenge most international students have when first considering the U.S. for post-secondary education?

Higher education in the U.S. is incredibly unique when compared to most institutions overseas, where the curriculum and institutions push students to focus on their chosen profession.

International students looking at U.S. liberal arts colleges and universities need to mentally prepare for a system that does not have one way of doing things.  You will have to take classes outside of your chosen area of study and there is no one single path that a student “should” take after they leave their liberal arts college experience.

 

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

It depends on the deadline of the institution, but typically, if a regular deadline is in early January, we recommend that our students start at least thinking about researching and learning about a school’s application process and requirements at the end of their junior (11th) year.

If the schools you are applying to do require exams, make sure to allow for enough time to take these exams twice (just in case).

 

  • What do prospective international students who are beginning their research need to know about liberal arts colleges in the United States?

You do not have to be fiscally or politically liberal nor particularly artistic to study at a liberal arts college! The goal of a liberal arts college is to prepare you for ANYTHING that you are interested in pursuing after graduation.  The variety of courses and the way that most private, liberal arts colleges structure the curriculum will enable you to learn how to think critically, analytically and creatively.

 

 

  • There are a lot of possible tests international students might need to take. For students considering liberal arts colleges are there some tests that those schools consider that other schools don’t?

It all depends on the institution and how they use those tests to evaluate their applicants.  Some will require the SAT or ACT of all students, international and domestic.  Some will require the English proficiency exams such as IELTS.

Universities will also, on occasion, use these exams to help inform what classes to place admitted students in, while others will require that you take internal placement exams when you arrive on campus.

 

Collocation: Finding The Right Words For The Job

Image courtesy of Janet Galore (CC Flickr)

Even Words Love and Hate Each Other!

 

Many of us are picky when it comes to socialising. We hang out with the people we like; and as for the others – we don’t tend to bother.

 

Guess what? Words do the same, in the sense that they are often seen together in exclusive groups. This relationship that words in a language share with each other is known as collocation. For example, you can have a drink or make a cup of tea, but you can’t do a drink.

 

Types of collocations

There are different varieties of collocations in English. Here are some:

 

Type Example
adjective + noun express train
verb + noun run a marathon
noun + noun car salesman
verb + adverb speak softly
adverb + adjective newly married
verb + prepositional phrase run out of

 

Why words collocate

There’s no specific reason. It’s just that users of a language put certain words together more frequently than they do others. This also means that there are no clear rules that govern the use of collocations. So, as a learner, you just have to know which words go with which others.

 

Why learn collocations?

When you learn collocations, you are learning words in chunks, or groups of words. Naturally, this not only improves your accuracy but also fluency. For instance, suppose you learn the word ‘good’ along with the many other words it collocates with; this will widen your vocabulary and enable you to speak more fluently.

 

Adjective Preposition Meaning Example
good at something able to do something well He is good at singing.
with something able to use something well She is good with computers.
for health having a useful effect This drink is good for health.
to me Loving, friendly My Grandma is really good to me.

 

Remember, English tests such as IELTS assess a candidate’s ability to use collocations correctly. So, learn new vocabulary in chunks, never in isolation.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

picky
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes someone who is difficult to please
Example : Olga is quite picky about what she eats.

 

hang out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to spend time with particular people in a particular place
Example : Sylvan enjoys hanging out with his cousins at the local pub.

 

bother
Form : verb
Meaning : (often used in a negative sense) to spend time or energy doing something
Example : Miguel doesn’t bother brushing his hair.

 

fluency
Form : noun
Meaning : ability to speak or write a language easily and to a high standard
Example : Philip is fluent in Swahili.

 

isolation
Form : noun
Meaning : the state of being alone or separate
Example : Prisoners at this prison are kept in isolation if they cause trouble.

How to Choose a Career (You Will Enjoy)

icecream

Image courtesy of Melody Hansen (CC Flickr)

 

Choice Anxiety

Choosing a career, like many things in life, can seem like a daunting prospect. In some countries you’re expected to have an idea of what you want to do as early as 14 years old!

After that it’s hard work towards a university place and finally off to 50 years of work in your chosen profession. This can seem like a lot of pressure and to make big life decisions before you’re really aware of these things!

At such young ages, it is often our parents who have a large say in what we’re doing – though that’s not always the case or indeed a bad thing! But some realism is needed here, as we can’t always know how our tastes, opinions and curiosities will change as we move into adulthood and the world of work.

But how to find a career that you enjoy in the long run? There’s no one answer, but here are a few suggestions…

 

It’s ok to be confused

I think this is often overlooked, but it can help to ease the anxiety that we (and society) place on finding that ‘dream’ job. Perhaps it’s hard not to feel pressure when you see friends or siblings doing well, but I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people are confused – even if they don’t look it! So don’t pile extra pressure on yourself.

 

Find what you like to do – this will help

It’s not particularly surprising, but finding the thing(s) that make you happy is a breakthrough in itself. The more you do, the more likely opportunities to get paid for it will come along. This won’t work for everything, of course, but think in the same ‘ball-park’ and things will become clearer.

 

Transferrable skills

Perhaps the idea of a career is outdated, except for truly vocational and highly specialised professions, such as doctor or lawyer. So, studying medicine or law might be the only way for someone to work in those two professions, of course.

But studying either law or medicine will undoubtedly give you skills and knowledge that could be applied elsewhere – as a health correspondent or legal adviser in the charity sector for instance.

The most important thing here is that there are a multitude of careers and jobs out there that required a range of skills. If you’re not sure what you want to do in the long-term – don’t worry! So long as you are picking up transferrable skills and keeping an interest in a wide range of things, something will happen further down the line.

 

Try it out

Shop around. Be bold. Ask for advice and make it easy for people to let you help out. Talk to people who are doing the sorts of jobs you’re interested in and ask them how they got there. Impress them with your curiosity and knowledge! All of these things will give you a better idea of what’s required for certain careers and what the reality of the day-to-day work is.

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 3)

man-reading

Image courtesy of baraa_kell (CC Flickr)

 

So far in this series, we’ve considered two question types: Identifying information (True/False/Not Given) and Matching headings to paragraphs.

 

Let’s now look at a third variety that many find difficult: Multiple Choice (MCQ). Here, test takers have to choose the best answer from a list of alternatives that are lettered (A, B, C, etc.).

 

Here’s a sample exercise.

 

Reading text

Kathakali, a dance form that originated in the South Indian state of Kerala, is a visual treat, particularly to the discerning eye. A typical play entails dancers, who wear vibrant costumes and elaborate make-up, bringing to life characters from various Indian epics, while supported by musicians and vocalists. In doing so, they create the perfect blend of dance, music and acting. Artistes typically make use of various body parts while executing Kathakali movements, most of which are adopted from ancient martial art forms.

 

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.
1. Which one of the following is mentioned in the paragraph?
A People with a good understanding of dance find Kathakali more enjoyable
B Colourful dresses are a part of only some Kathakali performances
C Music is a more integral part of Kathakali than dance
D Kathakali has influenced arts of olden times

 

Tips to answer

 

  • Begin by understanding what the question is asking – here, you need to identify which point appears in the text.
  • The easiest way to find the answer is by checking if any alternative appears in the text in a different form (i.e. a paraphrase). For example, here the answer is alternative A:

 

A People with a good understanding of dance find Kathakali more enjoyable
Text Kathakali is a visual treat, particularly to the discerning eye.

 

  • Sometimes spotting a paraphrase may be quite difficult, especially if your vocabulary is limited. Then, taking an indirect approach works better ‒ eliminate any alternative which you think cannot be correct. And how do you do it? Simple, by spotting contradictions (differences in what the text says and what the alternative says)!

 

B Colourful dresses are a part of only some Kathakali performances
Text A typical play entails dancers, who wear vibrant costumes and elaborate make-up…

 

C Music is a more integral part of Kathakali than dance
Text …while supported by musicians and vocalists.

 

D Kathakali has influenced arts of olden times
Text Kathakali movements, most of which are adopted from ancient martial art forms.

 

Remember, at first glance, it may look as though two (or more) alternatives may be correct. So, always read closely to identify contradictory information.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

alternative
Form : noun
Meaning : a thing you can choose out of two or more possibilities
Example : An apple is a healthier alternative to chocolate.

 

paraphrase
Form : noun
Meaning : a statement that expresses something using different words
Example : This is a paraphrase of what he actually said at the meeting.

 

The View From Campus – Homecoming: An American Tradition

homecoming

by Rasana Pradhan, Graduate Student at University of Findlay

 

For international students who are not familiar with what U.S. colleges call “Homecoming” can you please explain what that means?

Homecoming is the annual practice of welcoming back alumni to their former school. For those who have graduated, it’s the time for them to go back to their college and meet friends and faculty members, and catch up. It’s an annual tradition in high schools and colleges in the U.S., usually celebrated in October.

Homecoming centres around a specific game most often American football and occasionally basketball, hockey or soccer. The game is followed by a parade featuring marching bands. The homecoming game is played by home team usually against a weaker team, so the match is generally an easy win.  A homecoming dance ordinarily follows the game and coronation of homecoming king and queen is also done during the celebration.

     

What kind of activities happen around campus during Homecoming?

The homecoming at the University of Findlay started with different campus offices participating in the “Homecoming banners” and “Decorated door display” competition. The banners were judged in October 15 and Student Affairs and International Admissions and Services were declared as winners. As a part of homecoming itself, a Fruit n’ Veggie Derby was hosted by Findlay Green Campus Initiative, where participants constructed and raced fresh fruit and veggie derby cars for prizes. Homecoming also includes a tailgate party, fancy dress, reunion parties, pep rallies and picnics.

 

How can international students get involved in what takes place?

Most of the time invites will be sent to the students via email and if volunteers are required, it will be mentioned in the emails. All the events organised in the university seeks the involvement of not only domestic but also international students.

 

As an international student, do you think it is important to participate in these kinds of celebrations on campus?

As an international student, I think participating in these event is a must. Before coming to USA, I was an introvert and was very shy. And after joining this university, I took part in various activities and events, where I interacted with new people and learnt new things. All these activities helped my confidence and now after a year, I can give presentations in front of hundreds of students with full confidence.

 

 

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 2)

bookshelf

Image courtesy of poppet with a camera (CC Flickr)

 

In the earlier part, we discussed how best to answer an IELTS Reading question most people find difficult – identifying information (True/False/Not Given).

 

Let’s now look at another that many find hard – Matching headings to paragraphs.

Here, candidates are given a list of headings and a text with about 6 to 8 paragraphs (or sections). They have to identify the right heading for each paragraph.

 

Here’s a simplified version of this question type.

 

Reading text

Elephants are gigantic creatures that can grow over 12 feet tall and weigh as much as 7 tonnes. They are herbivorous, feasting on vegetation such as leaves, twigs, roots, and grass. However, the quantities consumed are huge, and understandably so – an adult elephant needs about 150 kilos of food a day to survive. These large mammals may be broadly classified into two species – the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Though the African variety is slightly larger and wrinklier than its Asian counterpart, both are mammoth and possess brute strength. Their trunk, for example, can withstand weights of approximately 300 kilos.

 

Choose the correct heading for this paragraph from the list of headings below.

 

 
List of Headings
i Why African elephants are superior to their Asian cousins
ii The might of elephants
iii A varied diet and its benefits

 

 

 

 

Tips to answer

This question type checks the test taker’s ability to differentiate main ideas from supporting ones, so you must learn to identify the main theme in a paragraph. Also, before choosing a heading, make sure the key words in it agree with the information in the paragraph.

 

The paragraph details the size and strength of elephants, so the correct heading is: ii The might of elephants.

 

Although the text compares African and Asian elephants, the focus is on how both species are huge and strong, despite some physical differences. So, heading i is wrong. Similarly, there’s mention of the elephant’s diet, but it’s a supporting idea. Also, the text doesn’t talk about how elephants benefit from eating a variety of food, so heading iii is wrong.

 

Remember, identifying the central theme of a paragraph is the key to cracking this question type.

 

GLOSSARY

 

differentiate (A from B)
Form : verb
Meaning : to understand that two things are not the same
Example : His paintings are so similar that I can’t differentiate one from another.

 

detail
Form : verb
Meaning : to list all the information about something
Example : The article details how red wine is produced at our farm.

 

diet
Form : noun
Meaning : the food and drink that a person or an animal eats regularly
Example : Micah’s dog is on a diet of brown bread and milk.

 

crack (something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to find a way to do something that is difficult
Example : The police are trying hard to crack the case of the missing boy.

 

An Insider’s IELTS Preparation Tips: Listening and Reading

newspaper stack

 

This week we’re going to look at preparation tips for the IELTS Listening and Reading components.

 

The Listening Test

The first, but most obvious point to remember is to listen carefully to the recording. Listen for overall meaning, but especially for those words that can give you a clear idea of what is being talked about. You will be listening for the answers to the questions on the paper, so try to follow the recording closely and write at the same time. You’ll have 10 minutes after the recording has ended to transfer your answers to the answer sheet.

 

TIP: Good practice is to listen to English radio stations online or your favourite English language podcasts with a friend and then discuss what is being talked about.

 

  • Try and anticipate what the speaker will say; this will require concentration
  • Don’t worry if there is a word you don’t understand; you may not need to use it
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one

listening-video

 

 

The Reading Test

There are a number of different types of reading, as we’ve talked about on this blog before, so preparing for the Reading component should include practising these different skills.

 

TIP: Practice reading online and newspaper articles on a range of subjects and give yourself different time limits to do it. Then hide the text and write down everything you can that you took from the passage. You’ll then become familiar with reading different types of text and be able to quickly absorb and relay the information.

 

Remember, in the Reading test you shouldn’t try to read every word in the passage. For some questions, scanning the text will give you what you need, so long as you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Read with purpose. If you’re asked for something in particular – be on the lookout for it.

  • Make sure that you understand the questions and follow instructions carefully
  • Pay attention to timing; do not spend too long on one passage or question
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, attempt it but do not waste time; move quickly onto the next one
  • Don’t panic if you do not know anything about the subject of the text; all the answers can be found in the text

 

reading-video

 

 

 

How to Master Letter Writing in English (Part 2)

stamps

Image courtesy of Chris (CC Flickr)

 

In the first part, we looked at the concept of tone and its importance in making your letter sound appropriate. To decide what kind of tone is suitable, we said it’s useful to consider who you are writing to (the recipient).

 

Another important fact to think of is the purpose, i.e. the reason for writing.

 

The purpose

How we write may change depending on why we are writing, even if the recipient happens to be the same person. To understand this better, let’s consider the following:

 

Situation A: Write a letter to your manager informing him/her about some problem you face at work.

Situation B: Write a letter to your manager inviting him/her to your house-warming.

 

Though you’re writing to the same person in both cases, situation B is personal, whereas A is work-related. Naturally, situation B may make use of language that’s less formal than the one in A.

 

Consistent use of tone

Once you identify the appropriate tone, how do you then ensure it is used consistently across a letter or email? Here are some ways to do this:

 

More formal Less formal
Do NOT use contractions

E.g.: We are pleased to…

Use contractions

E.g.: We’re really happy to…

Use long words / less common vocabulary

E.g.: hold a discussion

Use simpler vocabulary

E.g.: have a chat

Do NOT use abbreviations

E.g.: February, Monday, as soon as possible

Use abbreviations

E.g.: FebMon, asap

Complete sentences

E.g.: I am sorry about the confusion.

Incomplete sentences

E.g.: Sorry about the confusion.

Use one-word verbs

E.g.: Can you visit my office and collect the files?

Use phrasal verbs

E.g.: Can you drop into my office and pick up the files?

 

So, the next time you attempt a letter writing task, begin by identifying what tone is appropriate for the given situation. Then, use various language features (some are given in the table above) to keep the tone consistent throughout your letter.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

concept
Form : noun
Meaning : an idea related to something
Example : Oliver finds it difficult to understand even the simplest concepts of science.

 

appropriate
Form : adjective
Meaning : suitable for a particular situation
Example : I think it isn’t appropriate to wear jeans to work.

 

abbreviation
Form : noun
Meaning : a short form of a word or phrase
Example : St is an abbreviation for the word ‘Saint’.

 

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