Exam preparation

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 3)

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So far in the series, we’ve discussed three things you should do and one you shouldn’t in order to read faster. Here are a couple more things to avoid.

 

Don’t sub-vocalise

Have you ever caught yourself pronouncing words quietly in your head while reading a text?

This habit of saying words in our mind as we read them is called sub-vocalising.

When we first begin to learn to read as children, we do so by saying words out aloud. This practice improves both comprehension and diction. As we grow older, we learn to be silent while reading, but the habit of pronouncing words one by one sort of stays with us. The difference, of course, is that by then it’s all done in our head.

There’s no doubt that vocalising text helps comprehension, but it also slows us down terribly, so it’s best to kick the habit.  One effective way to overcome this is to move the pointer faster than the speed at which you hear words in your mind.

 

Don’t re-read everything

Do you sometimes go back to a sentence you’ve just read and double-check to see if you’ve understood it correctly?

Don’t worry if the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone here.

When doing a reading exercise, however, fight the urge to re-read, because it may be a total waste of time. Instead, wait till you finish reading an entire section before you choose whether or not to go back to a sentence.

You’ll find that reading some more of the text can help you understand without having to re-read that first sentence.

 

Remember to follow these dos and don’ts, and you should be able to read faster with better comprehension.

 

GLOSSARY

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 2)

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In the first part, we spoke of how it is good practice to use a pointer while speed reading, and how to retain information. Here are a couple more tips you should try…

 

Practise regularly

As clichéd as it sounds, there is no doubt that practice makes perfect. Speed reading may appear to be challenging at first, but regular practice should help you master this skill. And once you get to that point, you’ll realise that it is quite possible to glace through entire sections of a document or book in a matter of minutes and get the gist of it.

Think about how much time speed reading can save you, and you’ll need no further motivation to put in the hard yards.

 

Don’t read every single word

When we first start learning to read as children, we are often told how it is important to read every single word to ensure complete understanding. Guess what? You can’t do this when you speed-read. Your focus should be on gaining a general understanding of the content, so trying to do anything more can slow you down.

So, which words should you focus on? Well, if not reading a word won’t affect your comprehension, feel confident to skip it. Allow your eyes to fix on the important words. Over time, your brain will pick these out and gloss over the less important ones.

Before you know it you’ll be reading super fast!

 

We’ll be back with some more advice in the next part.

 

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 1)

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In this digital age, information comes at you with lightning speed.

We are constantly swamped with different types of information too, in the form of messages, posts, emails, news stories, and so on.

 

So, how can you deal with this overload to get the information that’s important to you?

While there is no straight answer to this question, one way to cope with the problem is to use speed reading.

Put simply, speed reading refers to the activity of reading something faster than usual, focusing on the general meaning of a text rather than individual words.

 

Here are some dos and don’ts for training yourself to read faster….

 

1. Use a pointer

When we read, we mainly use two body parts – the eyes and the brain. Our eyes see the text in front of us, moving from left to right to read each sentence. The brain, on the other hand, absorbs this information, leading to comprehension.

In order for us to read faster, our eyes have to be trained to move quicker across texts. One way to achieve this is by using a pointer, such as our finger, a pencil, or a pen.

Initially, the pointer’s job would be to guide the eyes across the text rhythmically, gradually increasing the speed at which our eye balls move. Over time, the speed at which we read should correspond to the speed at which we move the pointer across a text.

 

2. Learn to retain information

Often people have the misconception that speed reading is all about flipping through the pages of a book as quick as they can, retaining very little of what they have read.

Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, if you cannot remember what you read, what is the point of reading something in the first place?

A skilful reader should know when to go at a steady pace and when to slow down. For example, when they come across a challenging concept or complex description, it’s best to go slower so that they are able to retain information better.

 

We’ll have more on speed reading in the next parts so watch this space.

 

 

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 3)

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So far in the series, we’ve spoken about four pronunciation features that a learner should try to improve – individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, and weak forms. Let’s now explore two more such features.

 

5. Chunking

Ever heard of the word chunk? In a very general sense, it means a piece of something larger.

While speaking, it’s important that we package what we say for the listener so that they are not overwhelmed by too much information. And chunking helps you do just that! Breaking up long sentences into smaller chunks helps the listener understand better.

For instance, if someone were to ask you for your phone number, how would you like to give it to them?

Method 1

9876543210

Method 2

98 (pause)

765 (pause)

432 (pause)

10

Obviously, any listener is likely to find the second method easier, because the pauses in between help them take in information more easily. Now, let’s take this approach and apply it to a sentence.

Text

Did you know that London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

Text with chunking

Did you know (pause)

that London is the capital of the United Kingdom (pause)

and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

 

6. Intonation 

In simple terms, intonation can be described as the music of a language when spoken. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice changes the meaning of what is being said.

As you can see, in the first example, use of a rising intonation signals that speaker B is excited, whereas the falling intonation in the second example indicates displeasure or disappointment.

Use of appropriate intonation patterns does matter a lot, especially when asking questions, ending a sentence, using question tags, expressing feelings, or contrasting two things.

Without it, you run the risk of giving listeners the impression that you are not confident or not in control of what you are saying.

Remember, read up on these pronunciation features, introduce them while speaking, and you’ll start sounding better and better.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

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In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

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!

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 2)

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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!

 

 

 

Traps to Avoid in IELTS Listening (Part 1)

 

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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.

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.

 

Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

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In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

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