How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 5)

Image courtesy of Shibby777 (cc 2.o Flickr)

In this final part of the punctuation series, let’s consider ellipsis and two kinds of brackets: square and round.

 

Ellipsis

An ellipsis is a set of three dots (…) that are evenly spaced. It’s most commonly used to show omission, i.e. not including some words in a sentence, usually ones that aren’t important.

 

Used Example
to shorten quotations The rule book clearly states that “members must return any borrowed item ….”
to indicate hesitation See, the thing is … he’s broke.

 

Remember, if the ellipsis appears at the end of a sentence, it is placed along with the full stop, making it a series of four dots.

 

Square bracket

Square brackets can introduce an explanation that provides clarification, or may provide a short translation of a foreign word that appears in a quoted sentence. They may also be used to indicate that the writer feels something in the original material is a possible error.

 

Used Example
to provide clarification The year I got married [2007] was an important one in my life.
to provide short translations of words in quoted materials Diana says in the interview: “He whispered je t’aime [I love you] as I walked by.”
to indicate a possible error The book says he was born in Venice [Verona?].

 

Round bracket

Also known as parentheses, round brackets are mostly used to add extra information; this may be a single word, fragment or complete sentence.

 

Used Example
to provide additional information The governor (and his family) will attend today’s event.
to provide short translations of words He said cześć (hello) as soon as he saw me.
to expand abbreviations or acronyms that the reader may not be familiar with She became CTO (Chief Technical Officer) of the company in 2012.

 

It is worth remembering that the content between brackets should not be grammatical integral to the main sentence.

 

Punctuation is one of the simplest language features to learn, so use it appropriately; people will think you are being careless if you don’t!

The View From Campus: How You Can Finance U.S. Studies

University of Minnesota Twin Cities

This month’s article features Aimee Thostenson, Director of International Student Recruitment, at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Ms. Thostenson explains one of the most critical elements to successfully studying in the United States: funding your years of education.

 

Describe your institution in 5 words? Large, research, public, comprehensive, urban

 

For what is your institution best known overseas? High-quality and top-ranked academic programs, great metropolitan location, affordable tuition and many opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom

 

What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

  • Top 5 countries represented in programs at all levels: China, Republic of Korea, India, Malaysia & Vietnam
  • 13% of all students are international, 9% at the undergraduate and 23% at the graduate level. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities enrolls students from 130 countries

 

How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

Students can submit IELTS results as part of their application for admission.  At the undergraduate level, our minimum for admission consideration is 6.5 overall with a 6.5 section score in writing.  Graduate programs require 6.5 overall with 6.5 section scores for both writing and reading.

 

What are the best sources of funding for international students coming to the U.S.? 

  • Some universities will offer merit-based scholarships, which means that they award the scholarships based primarily on a student’s academic record or grades.
  • Universities may also offer need-based awards, based on the student’s family financial situation. Make sure to check with each university on how this works.
  • Sometimes, universities may offer special scholarships because of a personal attribute or talent, like a scholarship specifically for students who play a particular instrument or intend to go into a particular program/major.
  • Sports or athletic scholarships are also an option, but they are often extremely competitive
  • Graduate students, in addition to merit and need-based scholarships, may be eligible for assistantships (teaching or research under the direction of a faculty member).
  • Usually, assistantships mean that the full or partial cost of tuition is waived and the assistant may receive other benefits like a salary and health insurance.
  • One additional benefit of F-1 immigration status is that international students are allowed to do off-campus internships, paid or unpaid, during their academic program (called Curricular Practical Training) provided the internship is directly related to the student’s academic program.
  • International students may be eligible for educational loans if they have a US citizen or permanent resident cosign the loan for them.
  • Some international students may be eligible for third party funding, for example, from a future employer or sponsoring agency.  This would be up to the student to investigate on his or her own.  A good resource for this kind of funding is the EducationUSA network.

 

For graduate degree seeking students, what is the best advice for finding institutional aid?

Graduate students should be in contact with the academic department directly about funding opportunities.  Graduate admission officers also can assist prospective students to find the right person.

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 4)

Image courtesy of Iain Farrell (CC 2.0 Flickr)

 

In this part of the series on punctuation, we’ll explore different uses of the colon, semicolon, and slash.

 

Colon

The colon usually introduces a list or an explanation. It can also appear before direct speech, or be used to highlight the last part of a sentence.

 

Used Example
before a list We need the following: eggs, butter, sugar, and flour.
to introduce an explanation My motto is simple: live and let live.
to signal direct speech (i.e. a speaker’s actual words) She pleaded: ‘Please let me in!’
to highlight a single word or phrase at the end of a sentence Having starved for two days, I had only one thought: food.

 

Semicolon

Stronger than a comma, weaker than a full stop: this is possibly the simplest way to define the function of a semicolon. Its main use is to separate sentences that are closely linked.

 

Used Example
between two sentences that are too closely linked to be separated by a full stop Students can’t use mobile phones in class; teachers can in an emergency.
in a long list with internal commas We have stores in Bremen, Germany; Krakow, Poland; and Moscow, Russia.
between two independent clauses joined by a transitional phrase (e.g. consequently, for instance, thus) It has been raining heavily since yesterday; consequently, many trains have been cancelled.

 

Slash

Also known as the virgule, the slash has several functions but is seldom used in formal writing.

 

Used Example
to carry the meaning per 100 km/h
as shorthand for or Each passenger must carry his/her passport at all times.
to carry the meaning cum Don’s dad was his manager/coach till 2005.
in abbreviations c/o (short for care of)
to indicate a period spanning two years 2015/16 season
to show the connection between two things The London/New York flight is delayed.

 

Just like how the meaning of spoken words can vary, depending on the use of various pronunciation features such as tone or pausing, the meaning of written words may change by the use of punctuation marks. So, as far as punctuation goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 3)

Image courtesy of QuInn Domborwski (CC Flickr)

 

In the previous part, we covered some uses of the exclamation mark, question mark, and hyphen. Moving on, let’s take a closer look at three more punctuation marks, beginning with the dash.

 

  1. Dash

The dash and hyphen are often confused by many language learners, as they are similar in appearance. The difference, of course, is that the dash is wider than the hyphen. However, their usage is entirely different.

 

While a hyphen holds different parts of a word (or different words) together, a dash is used to separate non-essential information in a sentence. It can also be used in a sentence instead of a comma, semicolon, or colon.

 

Used Example
to separate information that is not essential to understand the sentence Getting the train ‒ though it’s often crowded ‒ is the fastest way to the city centre.
in place of a comma, semicolon, or colon, to show breaks in a sentence He lives in a cottage ‒ which was built in the 1950s ‒ beside the lake.

 

  1. Apostrophe

There are two main uses of the apostrophe: to show possession (i.e. something belongs to somebody) and to show omission (i.e. not including something).

 

Used Example
to show how a person or thing is related to, or belongs to, someone or something Ben’s car (= a car owned by Ben)
to indicate that letters or numbers have been left out she’ll (short for  she will) | We got married in ’83 (short for 1983).
with the plurals of letters and digits He hit four 6’s in an over. | There are two m’s in this word.

 

Using an apostrophe to form the plural form of decades or abbreviations is considered incorrect these days. For example:

 

1930s ✔ (1930’s)

several MPs ✔ (several MP’s)

 

  1. Quotation mark

Known as inverted commas in British English, quotation marks can be single (‘s’) or double (“d”). They are commonly used at the beginning and end of direct speech – i.e. words someone said that are written down exactly as they were spoken.

 

Used Example
to mark the beginning and end of direct speech The air hostess asked, “What would you like to have?”
to separate a word or phrase that is being discussed His new book is called ‘The Rising Sons’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The View From Campus – Public Universities Admissions

This month’s article features Robert Hardin, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for International Recruitment, at the University of Oregon

 

  • Describe your institution in 5 words? Green, unique, groundbreaking, welcoming, and thoughtful.
  • What is your institution best known for overseas? The University of Oregon has alumni from around the world that have made an impact, including: Phil Knight (founder and president of Nike), Daniel Wu (actor), Renee James (former president of Intel), Ann Curry (journalist), Ken Kesey (author), and Chuck Palahniuk (author) to name just a few. UO is also known around the world for having successful sports teams and individual athletes.
  • What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?
    The University of Oregon’s top academic programs are: Accounting, Architecture, Education, Psychology, and our sciences, particularly Biology and Physics.
  • What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?
    China, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan. We are an international university with over 3,200 international students (about 14% of the student body) from 103 different countries.
  • How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?
    IELTS is one of the few ways we allow students to prove English proficiency. It is a helpful and valuable tool for us to determine if a student has the level of English needed to be successful at the University of Oregon.

 

Making Admissions Decisions

 

Do most public universities have set deadlines for international admissions?
Yes, most US public universities have deadlines. However, some deadlines are more flexible than others. At the University of Oregon, we accept applications after the deadline if there are spaces available. However, if you want to apply for scholarships, you will need to meet all posted application deadlines.

 

What are institutions looking for in an application essay/statement of purpose?

We want to get to know a little about the applicant. The essay is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself other than your grades and test scores.

 

What needs to be in a letter of recommendation that my teachers/professors are asked to write?
Teacher letters of recommendation should go beyond what grade you received in a class. We want to know more about how you performed as a student. For example, a letter of recommendation from your math teacher talking about the hard work and effort it took to earn your grade in the class will help us better understand your true academic potential.

 

How important are test scores in university admissions decisions?

In the US, there is no standard practice for admission decisions, so each university sets different expectations. However, the vast majority of US universities value your class grades more than your test scores or other factors.What are the most important factors public universities use to determine admissibility of international students?
Grades are usually the factor that public universities consider the most important. At the University of Oregon, our research shows that high school grades are the best predictor of success for new college students. Test scores are often the second most important factor. After test scores and grades, it is common for public universities to use other factors such as grade trend, strength of curriculum, extracurricular activities, essay, and teacher recommendations.

 

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.

The View From Campus: Researching U.S. Degrees

u-of-delaware-shot

This month’s interviewee Anna Wise, Assistant Director of Admissions, University of Delaware

 

University Quick Facts

Describe your institution in 5 words? Innovative, Engaging, Community, Opportunity, Passion.

What is your institution best known for overseas? It’s best known for Engineering, Business and being in a strong location.

What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)? Our top programs are: Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Hotel and Hospitality Management, Physical Therapy, and Masters of Business Administration.

How international is your institution? We have 4000 international students, from 116 countries. The top countries are China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Mexico.

How does your institution use an IELTS result in the admissions process? Our admissions requirement is IELTS 6.5

 

 

Researching Options 

What do prospective undergraduate international students struggle with most when researching the thousands of college options in the U.S.? 

Students can struggle getting past the idea of rankings and “name brand” schools.

How do you define what a public institution means for an international student? 

Public institutions have funding for research and facilities from the government, so that means more research opportunities for you!

What do prospective international students who are beginning their research need to know about public/state universities in the United States?

Public universities are often great places to go for internship and research opportunities. Attending a big state school often also means more clubs and sports teams on campus, which means greater school spirit!

What are the advantages of attending public institutions in the U.S.?

It means there is a wider variety of degree options, more specialised degree programs, research and internship opportunities – as well as a larger alumni base for possible jobs after graduation.

 

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.

 

 

Clever Reading Skills to Improve your English (Part 1)

newspaper stack

Nowadays information can be taken in through an ever-increasing variety of media: newspapers, magazines, hoardings, flyers, blogs, phone messages, web chat, online posts, dictionaries, brochures, and so on. And the end result? Most of us are forced to deal with an endless stream of content in our daily lives, in both electronic and print form. However, the way we read these texts differs.

 

For starters, why we read is not always the same. Sometimes we read to gain information, at other times we do so for sheer pleasure. Understandably, WHY we read something influences HOW we read it. Another factor worth considering is writing style: the tone of a novel is quite different to that of a research paper, which means we change our reading style depending on what we are reading.

 

In an exam situation – for example, the IELTS Reading test – it is important that candidates use various sub-skills to read different texts efficiently.

 

Skimming

When we skim, we read a text very quickly to form an overall idea of the content. In other words, we move our eyes rapidly over the text to get an overview of it. While skimming, the reader:

  • reads just content words ‒ nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs, which generally give us the most important information in a passage.
  • takes a quick look at the heading and subheadings to understand how they are connected.
  • does not stop to ponder over the meaning of individual words or phrases.

 

So how easy or difficult is this technique? It may not seem all that simple at the beginning, but learners get better at using this skill with practice. Of course, once you master skimming, you may be able to go through about 700 to 1000 words per minute and obtain an overview of it all.

 

And that’s exactly the kind of ability that will help you perform better in a reading test.

Look out for Part 2 for more tips and skills to help improve your reading.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

for starters
Form : phrase
Meaning : to highlight the first in a list of reasons
Example : We are facing many problems – for starters, we don’t have enough staff.

 

sheer
Form : adjective
Meaning : complete or total
Example : Watching their daughter take her first few steps was sheer joy for Mathew and Lisa.

 

rapidly
Form : adverb
Meaning : very quickly
Example : Crime figures in some parts of the world are increasing rapidly.

 

overview
Form : noun
Meaning : an outline of something
Example : Our research provides an overview of the challenges faced by today’s youth.

 

 

ponder (over something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to carefully think about something
Example : Minnie spent hours pondering over her father’s comments about her career.

 

master
Form : verb
Meaning : to learn how to do something extremely well
Example : He still hasn’t mastered the skill of passing the ball to his teammates accurately.

 

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest