Sounding Polite (Part 3)

So far in our series of posts on politeness, we’ve looked at four different approaches that can be adopted to communicate appropriately in English.   

Read on for more tips on how to sound well-mannered when you speak or write.

5. Question forms

Using question forms is a great way of sounding diplomatic when giving advice or suggestions. One option is to form yes/no questions when requesting people to do things. Another is to use negative questions in order to introduce your views gently. Here are examples of both:

Close the door.

Could you close the door, please?

I want directions to the airport.

Could you possibly give me directions to the airport?

We need a better proposal to win the contract.

Don’t you think we need a better proposal to win the contract?

We should paint the cabin blue.

Wouldn’t it be better if we painted the cabin blue?

6. Qualifiers

If you make a direct statement to express your thoughts, the chances are you’ll upset others. This is particularly true when what you’re saying is something negative. In order for you to sound more diplomatic, you could use qualifiers, such as a bit, a little, or kind of. A qualifier can decrease the intensity of anything negative that you say. Here are some examples of how qualifiers can decrease the intensity of your words when you complain or criticise.

This curry is too bland!

This curry is a bit bland.

Jeez, it’s so hot in here!

It’s a little hot in here. 

Derek is extremely boring!

Derek is kind of boring.

7. Passive voice

We can use the passive voice to shift the focus of a sentence from the doer of the action to the action itself. It’s particularly handy when we wish to avoid blaming people for things that they fail to do. Using the passive structure makes the sentence impersonal, creating distance from the immediate present. Here are some examples:

You forgot to switch the outside lights on last night.

The outside lights were not switched on last night.

Looks like you have made a lot of spelling errors.

Looks like a lot of spelling errors have been made.

Remember, more often than not, non-native English speakers sound impolite unwittingly, because they take the wrong approach. 

Sounding Polite (Part 2)

In English-speaking cultures, great importance is attached to avoiding language that others may find offensive. In a previous post, we considered how using softening expressions and avoiding negative words can go a long way towards helping you sound polite.

Here are some more ways in which you can appear courteous while speaking English.

3. Distancing verb forms

When we ask questions, make offers, or give suggestions, it is possible to use the past tense instead of the present. In such contexts, past tenses indicate ‘distance’ from the immediate present, thereby making what we say less direct. Do note that there’s no difference in the basic meaning expressed when the past tense replaces the present. Here are some examples to help you understand this better.

When do you want to check in, sir?

When did you want to check in, sir?

Do you want more sugar in your tea?

Did you want more sugar in your tea?

In the same way, sometimes progressive (continuous) verb forms are used in place of simple forms to sound more casual or less definite.

I hope you can give me a lift after the concert.

I’m hoping you can give me a lift after the concert. (less definite)

I look forward to doing business with you again.

I’m looking forward to doing business with you again. (casual)

4. Modal verbs

Another way to avoid being too direct is by using modal verbs. The past forms of modal verbs will, can, and may are commonly used in everyday communication to exhibit good manners. When making requests or asking for help, the word ‘please’is often added to make a better impression on the listener or reader.

Will you need my car tonight?

Would you need my car tonight?

Can you please call the security?

Could you please call the security?

May I please ask you to wait for a few minutes?

Might I please ask you to wait for a few minutes?

Remember, being polite helps us build good relations with the listener or reader, so it is definitely worth the effort. We’ll be back with some more tips.

Sounding Polite (Part 1)

Communicating in English isn’t as hard as many people think. Once you have a collection of common words and learn to string them together, you can pretty much begin to use English in most everyday situations. On such occasions, poor grammar or diction doesn’t always get in the way of getting the basic message across.

That being said, making sure that you sound polite or appropriate when using English is a lot harder to achieve, especially if you’ve just started learning the language. This is because all our energies go into somehow conveying our thoughts, so we sometimes fail to recognise that what we say might be too direct or offensive.

Here are some tips to help you sound more polite when speaking English.

1. Softening expressions

In some cultures, being blunt or direct is acceptable, whereas in English-speaking cultures, this is frowned upon. Therefore, it’s a good idea to use softening expressions that make what you say less direct. Examples of such expressions are I’m afraid, perhaps, I think, I reckon, maybe, I was wondering if, and to be honest.

Examples:

I can’t help you.

I’m afraid I can’t help you. 

I don’t know much about politics, so I can’t comment.

To be honest, I don’t know much about politics, so I can’t comment.

You should ask someone else for advice.

Perhaps you should ask someone else for advice.

Could you help her?

I was wondering if you could help her.

2. Avoiding negative words

There’s no doubt that people respond better to positive sounding words, making it easier to manage social interactions. Keeping this in mind, avoid using negative words wherever possible. Instead, use a positive equivalent along with a negative helping verb. Here are some examples:

It’s a bad idea to call her at this time of the night.

It isn’t a good idea to call her at this time of the night.

I find him so boring.

I don’t find him interesting.

I think this project report is useless.

I don’t think this project report is useful.

You will fail the exam if you don’t prepare well.

You won’t pass the exam if you don’t prepare well.

We’ll be back shortly with more suggestions on how to sound polite when speaking English.

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we looked at how the IELTS journey begins when test takers arrive at the test venue, following which they deposit belongings, and get registered. Read on to know what happens from then on.

 

Entering the examination room

On completing registration, test takers are ushered into the examination room, where they’ll be spending the next few hours doing the Listening, Reading, and Writing sections. Once the test taker enters this space, they are expected to remain there until the end of the session.

 Each individual is allotted a specific place in the room as per a seating plan that is prepared beforehand. Test takers are sat at a distance from each other to prevent malpractice of any kind, such as copying from one another or helping each other in any other way.

Attempting the written part

The Listening, Reading, and Writing sections of IELTS last approximately 3 hours and are completed on the same day, with no breaks in between them. Should the test taker decide to go to the restroom during this time, they lose that time. While the restroom is out of bounds during the Listening section, test takers may choose to quickly use the loo during Reading or Writing. Time checks are provided periodically to help test takers manage time efficiently.

In the Listening and Reading sections, answers have to be written on the answer sheet in pencil. For the Writing section, though, test takers get a choice between pen and pencil.

Attending the Speaking interview

The Speaking section is a one-to-one interaction with a trained examiner, which can be held before or after the written test. The date and time of the interview is normally announced a week in advance so that test takers have enough time to prepare. On the day, they are asked to report 20 to 30 minutes before the interview along with the passport or ID document. At this stage, biometric data is used to verify that the same individual has appeared for the speaking and written parts.

Once the test is over, IELTS results are made available online on the 13th day. A Test Report Form (TRF), which has individual scores as well as an overall band score, is also issued to the test taker.

 

IELTS Test Day Journey (Part 1)

 

Say the word ‘test’ or ‘exam’, and it’s natural for some to turn into a bundle of nerves. Let’s face it, exam fear cuts across different age groups, with both the young and old likely to get sweaty palms.

Many of us tend to harbour a deep-seated fear of the unknown. So, one way to get around exam fear is by familiarising yourself with the test that you’re planning to take.  In this post, we’ll trace the IELTS test day journey undertaken by candidates.

 

Arriving at the test venue

An IELTS test taker’s exam journey usually begins when they arrive at the test venue on the chosen test date. Depending on which part of the world you sit the test, this may be early in the morning or around noon.

At most test centres, only three sections of the test are conducted on the test date – Listening, Reading, and Writing. Speaking, on the other hand, can be scheduled before or after the written part. At small centres, however, all four sections may be held on the same day, especially if test takers numbers are low.

 

Depositing personal belongings   

As IELTS is a high-stakes test, there are strict regulations that need to be followed by test providers. Test venues tend to have designated areas where personal belongings are to be left. Only authorised items (e.g. pen, pencil, eraser, sharpener, identity document) can be carried into the examination room.

 

Test taker registration

IELTS uses cutting-edge technology, such as biometric registration and verification systems, to ensure that test security isn’t compromised at any point. Apart from fingerprints, the candidate’s photograph is also taken at the time of registration. Their identity document, which is usually the passport, is also subjected to close scrutiny.

Test security is safe in the hands of expert venue staff, who are hand-picked for the job. Once selected, they have to go through extensive training that prepares them to spot fraudulent behaviour or imposters.

 

In a later post, we’ll talk about the rest of the journey undertaken by millions of test takers who have chosen IELTS, the world’s leading English proficiency test.

Clever Reading Skills to Improve your English (Part 2)

books stack

 

If you are poor at reading, then perhaps it’s because you use only one style ‒ intensive reading.

 

In part 1, we looked at how skimming can help you understand the gist, i.e. the general meaning, of a text. Here are two more sub-skills that are widely used in reading.

 

Scanning

This method is useful in identifying factual information in no time, e.g. names, dates, numbers, address, etc. Scanning involves moving your eyes quickly down a page in order to find a specific fact or piece of information without reading the entire text. While scanning, the reader:

  • understands the way the text is structured before beginning to ‘read.’ For instance, is information arranged from A to Z (e.g. a dictionary, where items appear in alphabetical order) or by category (e.g. a catalogue)?
  • sometimes uses their finger or hand to focus on what they are reading.
  • does not make an attempt to understand the whole text; instead they read relevant parts around keyword

 

Many of us use this skill in our daily lives without realising it. For example, when we look for someone’s number in a telephone book, or football scores in the newspaper, we are, in fact, scanning.

 

 

Intensive reading

As the name suggests, this sub-skill is used to get a thorough understanding of a text by reading it closely and carefully. Here, the reader:

  • focuses more on the language (grammar and unfamiliar vocabulary) than the text.
  • sometimes deals with grammar and vocabulary that is beyond their existing language ability.
  • reads the same piece of text again and again to ensure that they have understood words correctly.

 

If you are poor at reading, then it is perhaps because you use only one style ‒ intensive reading. Obviously, this will slow you down, apart from making you too dependent on every single word you read to increase your understanding. Instead, train yourself to use sub-skills effectively so that you are able to read fast and understand better.

 

Remember, a good reader always uses different styles to read effectively!

 

GLOSSARY

 

factual
Form : adjective
Meaning : relating to facts
Example : The newspaper article about the incident had a lot of factual errors.

 

in no time
Form : phrase
Meaning : very quickly
Example : Since there was no traffic, so we reached the restaurant in no time at all.

 

catalogue
Form : noun
Meaning : a list of items, usually with details, that people can look at or buy
Example : The library catalogue lists many rare books amongst its collection.

 

keyword
Form : noun
Meaning : an important word
Example : When giving a speech, Bob keeps a list of keywords to remind him of what to talk about.

 

 

thorough
Form : adjective
Meaning : defines something done completely, with great attention given to every detail
Example : Detective Stinson has a thorough understanding of how crimes are committed.

 

 

View From Campus: My Journey from Nepal to Studying in the U.S.

Rasana

IELTS has made a substantial contribution to what I am today

 

We spoke with Rasana Pradhan from Nepal, who is studying Environmental Safety and Health Management at the University of Findlay in the U.S. She told us about her how the IELTS test helped her prepare for U.S. study and her dreams to set up an environmental NGO back in Nepal.

 

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

As a graduate from St. Xavier’s College and an avid English novel reader, learning English has always been my passion. I always wanted to come to the U.S. and I knew IELTS was the gateway to it, so after completing my BA, I booked my IELTS date and bought IELTS books. I frequently went to British Council to grab some more IELTS books and DVDS so that, I could learn more. Later on I also participated in British Council’s weekly classes and IELTS sessions. Writing essays on variant topics evidently enhanced my writing skills, and speaking about different topics in front of everyone was one of my best experiences.

Then finally, the test day arrived.The best part of taking my IELTS was my speaking test. I had a great time talking to my examiner about my hobbies, my friends and my aim in life. Overall, when I have to sum up, the IELTS test improved my English and boosted my confidence.

 

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

I always had a thirst for knowledge. The education system in the U.S. is one of the best in the world, as it strives for more practical education rather than just theoretical one. I came here to quench my thirst for getting an education that will allow me to grow professionally. In addition, the U.S. is the land of opportunities!

 

How has the IELTS experience prepared you for your degree program? 

I think IELTS has made a substantial contribution to what I am today. It has undeniably made me a confident English speaker. I have actively participated in my class presentations, I can confidently talk to my professors and my American friends. IELTS taught me the exact format of writing, which helped me a lot during my course assignments. Moreover, because of this confidence and good communication skills, I also earned a graduate assistantship this year. For a graduate assistant, fluency in English is essential, so IELTS has helped me fulfil my duties. You not only learn from school, but also from your day-to-day life. I have not only learned to be more independent, but also to solve my problems. Here, I have been able to get a holistic education that goes beyond school and definitely beyond books.

UF alumni

What are your plans after graduation?

I am planning to work for 3-5 years as an environmental and health specialist/manager in the U.S. to gain experience. After gaining sufficient amount of experience here, I have a dream to go back and open an environmental NGO in my country. I co-founded an organisation called The Youth Today Nepal in 2014, and this organisation inspired me to work more for the betterment of the people. There aren’t many good environmental and safety organisations in Nepal and the state of my country’s environment is deteriorating, so I would like to improve those conditions and serve others.

The View From Campus: Five Things to do Before Your Arrival in the U.S.

 

In the third edition of our View From Campus series, we look at five tips international students should follow when preparing for their studies in the U.S.

We spoke to Adina Lav, Assistant Provost for International Enrollment at George Washington University, about her college and the advice she gives new arrivals…

 

  • Describe your institution in five words? Innovative; diverse; ambitious; socially responsible.
  • What is your institution best known for overseas? We are a university with students and faculty members from every state and more than 130 countries. A GW education integrates intellectual discovery, interactive learning and unparalleled access to opportunities in every sector of society. In a city shaping the future, George Washington is a university where faculty and students not only study the world but also work to change it.
  • What are your top academic programs? GW is well known for its majors and research in political science and international affairs. We also have excellent programs in business, engineering, arts and the sciences.
  • What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution? GW has 26,000 students, with nearly 2,400 students from 130 countries, 300 visiting international scholars, and a footprint in more than 80 percent of the countries in the world.  In Fall 2015, China, India, S. Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada were the top five countries represented in our student body. 
  • How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process? IELTS is used as an assessment of English language ability: writing, reading, speaking, and listening – in the admissions process. We use it as part of a larger, holistic review to understand a candidate’s chances of success and best fit for GW. 

 

Five Things to do Before Your Arrival in the U.S.

  1. Once students have got their visas to enter the U.S., what is the most important thing you recommend students do next? Students should focus on their arrival timeline. Most universities have a ‘report date’, which is the date by which the student must be on campus. This date may or may not align with the student’s orientation program. If housing is available, I recommend that students plan to arrive no later than two days prior to their orientation program. This gives them time to get into the country, settle in, and fight any impending jet lag before orientation starts.
  2. How soon can students enter the U.S. once they have their visas? Students entering the United States on F1 or J1 visas can typically do so up to 30 days prior to their report date. Students entering early should confirm housing availability or have a temporary, alternative option set up.
  3. Would you recommend any resources in the students’ home countries to help them prepare for their journey to the U.S.? One of the best resources is the US. Department of State’s EducationUSA advising centres in the student’s country. These centres often have in-person or online pre-departure orientations, which offer a wealth of information to students before the leave for the U.S.
  4. How do U.S. colleges assist international students to prepare for their arrival on campus? In addition to assistance throughout the visa process, colleges typically offer their own pre-departure orientations, checklists, and resource guides. Social media is also a wonderful tool to not only get to know the school and community you’re moving to, but to meet other in-coming students as well. Many schools also offer summer send-off celebrations for students and parents through local alumni chapters.
  5. What advice would you give students who are about to get on a plane to the U.S. to begin a degree program? Come into the country with an open mind and a sense of humour. Americans are naturally curious and straight-forward. Be a good ambassador for your community and remember that the U.S. is a very diverse country, with lots of ideas about the outside world, but generally little exposure. Students have the opportunity to represent themselves, their home communities, and eventually their new universities well.

Five Reasons to Study Abroad in Scotland

 

Scotland has a huge number of international students – around 48,000. But, what makes it such a popular destination?

Here are five reasons why the land of J.K Rowling and Adam Smith is a hit with study abroad candidates…

 

  1. A long history in higher education

More than 600 years, in fact! It has some of the world’s oldest and most respected universities that have help shape our world. From the invention of the telephone to the world of Harry Potter, Scotland’s universities continue to produce international icons.

 

  1. Research is excellent

Scotland’s universities are leaders in research.  It is home to five universities ranked amongst the top international institutions, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Research for STEM subjects is noticeably well funded and boasts world-class facilities. Whatever you want to pursue academically – Scotland is the place.

 

  1. Graduates go on to find a job

Scottish university graduates are very employable. Nine out of every ten graduates go on to find a job or continue study within six months. These prospects are not only down to the well-respected teaching at Scottish universities, but the strong links between industry and the university sector.

 

  1. An ancient land to explore

Beyond the classroom, Scotland universities offer students a gateway to adventure. Scotland’s landscape is some of the most wild and beautiful in the United Kingdom, with stunning lochs (lakes) and glens (valleys) to get lost in. There are countless things to do and see – from Whisky tasting to Whale watching – that will make your time studying in Scotland really memorable.

 

  1. A rich cultural scene

Taking place in August, the Edinburgh Festival (sometimes referred to as the ‘Fringe’) is the world’s largest arts festival. For students in Scotland, this is a fantastic opportunity to see some of the best theatre, music, art and comedy from across the world. And that’s just one of over 350 festivals taking place in Scotland every year!

 

The best judges after all, are the students. It’s no surprise, then, that they rate their experience in Scotland as among the best for studying abroad.

You’re welcome!

Five Cardinal Sins to Avoid in the IELTS Writing Test

 Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

In the IELTS Academic Writing test, candidates attempt two tasks of 150 words and 250 words. The first is an information-transfer task, asking you to describe information given in a graph, table, chart or diagram. Simple, right? Why then do so many candidates make a real hash of it?

It’s quite possible that they are guilty of one (or more) of these five cardinal sins…

 

  1. Not meeting the word limit

Even a cursory glance at the writing booklet will tell you that your response to Task 1 should have at least 150 words. Fail to meet this word limit and you’re hurting your score. Scripts that are under the minimum word length attract a penalty, which could be severe if the response is very short.

TIP: Learn to identify how long 150 words looks in your handwriting beforehand!

 

  1. Not using figures to support descriptions

Are your descriptions of the pictorial data just a series of words that describe trends?

Does it, for instance, say: “Even though the price of crude oil hit a trough, it soon surged to its earlier level, remained stable for a short period, before peaking towards the end of the year?”

Without any figures to substantiate these descriptions, it’s difficult for the reader to fully comprehend how exactly crude oil prices fluctuated over an entire year.

TIP: Add figures where necessary to provide a clear context to the reader!

 

  1. Answering the wrong question!

Example: “As per the data provided on the question paper, it’s evident that crude oil prices saw a great deal of fluctuation in just 12 months. Could it be the Gulf war? Perhaps it’s the result of a change in foreign policy?”

Why prices varied is well and truly beyond what’s provided as task input, so do not attempt to speculate. If you do that, you end up wasting time, adding totally irrelevant information to your response.

TIP: The test shouldn’t be used as a platform to showcase your general knowledge. Your job is to summarise the information provided by selecting the main features; so focus on that!

 

  1. Not producing full, connected text

IELTS Writing tasks require candidates to produce answers as full, connected text. Obviously, this means that use of bullet points and note form are inappropriate; scripts that use of them are penalised.

TIP: While writing, just stick to creating paragraphs. Disregard this simple rule and you may have to pay the penalty!

 

  1. Not drawing a conclusion

A report is a document written after careful consideration of various aspects of a situation; it needs a logical conclusion. If your response doesn’t refer to the bigger picture ‒ a statement that summaries the pictorial data provided ‒ it would be incomplete to say the least.

TIP: Look out for an overall trend in the maze of data; identifying it is half the battle!

 

Remember these handy tips when you begin preparing for the writing test; they’ll save you from underperforming when you eventually take IELTS.

Best of luck!

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