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 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

 

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!

 

 

 

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)

 

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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.

 

Starting University? Your Guide to Support and Well-being

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University is a one of the best times in your life. But sometimes it can prove difficult and students need support for those problems that arise. Here we give you a quick guide on what support is available that will help you manage what life throws at you.

 

Stress and Mental Health

Living away from your family (often for the first time) can be hard for many people at first. You’re in new social situations and dealing with all the stresses that studying can bring. That is normal.

Luckily, the stigma of talking about these difficulties is rapidly falling away, so whether it’s your doctor, student support groups or national mental health bodies, the options are there for students to seek help when they need it.

Look for your Student Services centre, university website or speak to a student representative to find out more.

 

Social life and Activities

Life away from the classroom can provide much needed distraction from study stresses and a chance to left off steam. Universities have a wide range of societies and sports clubs to cater to your interests and connect you with people who share them. These are a great way to make friends and find your feet in a new environment – so get involved.

 

Staying Safe

The vast majority of people go through their student years without any trouble, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of the law (especially if you’re studying abroad) and take precautions. For example, insurance for your belongings will save you lots of heartache if they are lost or stolen. And knowing that some countries driving on the left hand side of the road (including the UK) is a must!

 

Managing Finances

As well as being the first time away from home, many students will be managing their finances for the first time at university. Money in your pocket can be liberating, but it can also contribute to stress if you’re not careful.

So, as well as trying to keep on top of your budget students should be aware that they can get help and advice from Student Services and other university services. Don’t worry, they’ve heard it all before!

 

 

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.

 

 

Top 5 Productivity Hacks For College Students

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The new academic year is fast approaching and like all good students, you’ll be thinking of how to get the most out of your time and studies.

Whilst there is no substitute for hard work, there are always a few life hacks that can help you along the way.

Here are five hacks that can be invaluable during university:

 

  1. Airplane mode

This function on smartphones gives you the opportunity for some much needed peace and quiet when you need it most. When you’re studying, it’s best to keep the many distractions that being permenantly connected can bring at bay. Also, turning notifications off is a good idea.

 

  1. Hide your phone

One stage further than airplane mode is to leave your phone off and out of sight. It can distract you from what you’re doing even if it’s just turned on. A good motto is: out of sight, out of mind.

 

  1. Schedules

We’re creatures of habit, so planning your time is a good way of building good habits. By having a schedule (including your free time, gym, breaks etc), you’ll be much better at keeping on top of all your duties and make the most of your time. Try to find when you work best and then figure that into your schedule.

 

  1. Wear headphones

The key to this one is to drown out outside noise, not share the tinny sound of your music with the rest of the library. It’s a good habit to have them on to cover your ears and keep you focussed on the job in hand. You don’t have to listen to music, but if you do – maybe something quiet and calming is best!

 

  1. Buddy up!

A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes – so having a study mate or group can help alleviate the stress of study. It can also help keep you to your commitments to have friends remind you! Working together is fun too, so find a fellow traveller and buddy up!

 

Improve Your Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

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Let’s face it, among all the language skills, reading is perhaps what most people least enjoy, especially if it happens to be an academic text. The reason for this can vary – a wandering mind, narrow vocabulary, or just impatience.

 

However, there are situations where this skill is a must; an exam perhaps being the best example. Almost all popular language tests have a reading component. IELTS, for instance, has a reading module designed to test a wide range of reading skills.

 

So, how do you improve your comprehension if you are not the reading kind? Here are some ways:

 

  1. Use speed reading

Speed reading is the technique of reading a text quickly with the aim of understanding its overall idea. In a reading comprehension test, this skill is priceless, as test takers find themselves in a race against the clock to answer all the questions. When dealing with long passages, the reader often focuses on content words – i.e. words that carry the message, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This way, they save time, allowing them to better focus understanding and answering those questions.

 

  1. Learn to deduce meaning

One thing that slows readers down is unfamiliar vocabulary. Each time they come across a word they don’t recognise, it hinders their reading speed, thereby affecting comprehension too. One way to overcome this problem is to develop the ability to deduce meaning. In other words, form an ability to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know by looking at words surrounding it. Let’s put this technique to test with the help of an example:

 

We drove past hyacinth fields in full bloom, the air filled with their sweet, lingering fragrance.

 

If you don’t recognise the word ‘hyacinth’, focus on words surrounding it – fields, in full bloom, sweet, lingering, and fragrance. From the context, it is clear that hyacinth is something that grows in fields, develops over time, and has a pleasant smell that is long-lasting. If your guess at this point is that it’s a flower, then you are dead right!

 

So, the next time you come across an unfamiliar word, try to deduce its meaning; then look it up in a dictionary to confirm you guessed right.

 

GLOSSARY

 

let’s face it
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to indicate what you are about to say is unpleasant but true
Example : Let’s face it, we both know you shouldn’t be marrying a guy like Jake.

 

wandering
Form : adjective
Meaning : moving aimless from one place to another
Example : Sally fares poorly in studies because of her wandering mind.

 

comprehension
Form : noun
Meaning : an individual’s ability to understand things
Example : Miguel had no comprehension of how difficult it was to raise a child.

 

a race against the clock
Form : phrase
Meaning : a situation when someone has to do something quickly, as they only have a limited amount of time
Example : Rescuing people during floods is always a race against the clock.

 

hinder
Form : verb
Meaning : to make it difficult for someone or something to make progress
Example : A leg injury hindered Roger from playing his best tennis.

 

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