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’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Work Experience Can Transform Your Prospects

 

Image courtesy of Matthew Ragan CC 2.0 Flickr

 

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

 

Contacts

Make contacts. Lots of them.

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

 

Learn the ropes

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

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

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

 

See if it’s for you

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

 

What you still need to learn

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

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

An Insider’s IELTS Preparation Tips: Listening and Reading

newspaper stack

 

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

 

The Listening Test

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

 

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

 

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

listening-video

 

 

The Reading Test

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

reading-video

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

IELTS Reading: Dealing with Difficult Question Types (Part 1)

group reading

The IELTS Reading test, in both Academic and General Training, has 40 questions. A wide range of reading skills are tested using a variety of question types, some of which are much more challenging than others.

 

In this part, we’ll take a closer look at a particular question type that most candidates feel is the hardest – identifying information (True/False/Not Given).

 

Here’s a simplified version of this question type to help us understand how best to deal with it.

 

Reading text

Mr Farrell, a revered professor at the university, walked into the room in a huff that day. Dressed in a pair of dark trousers, light-coloured shirt and red tie, his dapper appearance seemed to be in stark contrast with the foul mood he was in.   

 

Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading text?

Write:

 

TRUE if the statement agrees with the information given in the text
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information given in the text
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

 

  1. The Professor was wearing a black shirt.
  2. The Professor was wearing a blue shirt.
  3. The Professor was wearing a pastel shirt.

 

So what do you think are the answers?

 

Tips to answer

 

Choose TRUE when you find information in the text that agrees with the statement in the question.
Example: 3. The Professor was wearing a pastel shirt.
Explanation: Since pastel shades are pale or light-coloured, it’s safe to conclude that the statement agrees with the text.

 

 

Choose FALSE when you find information in the text that contradicts the statement in the question.
Example: 1. The Professor was wearing a black shirt.
Explanation: Black isn’t a light colour so this statement contradicts the information in the reading text.

 

Choose NOT GIVEN when you don’t have sufficient information to choose either TRUE or FALSE.
Example: 2. The Professor was wearing a blue shirt.
Explanation: The colour blue is available in different hues, both light and dark. There simply isn’t sufficient information in the statement to choose either True or False so the answer is Not Given.

 

 

Remember, statements that are TRUE are the easiest to find; perhaps start with them and then move on to the others.

Discover further reading preparation and tips for the IELTS test here.

 

Happy reading!

 

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!

One Easy Way to Improve Your English Listening Skills

Photo courtesy of Philippe Put (Flickr) www.ineedair.org

 

So Easy A Baby Could Do It! 

As babies, we’re bombarded with sounds that our brains begin to codify almost straightaway. It’s a skill that is in-built and helps us to adapt to real life situations and understand our environment. So, as adults we should approach listening comprehension in the same way, by relating it to real-life experiences.

 

It’s all about context

Babies associate familiar people ‒ such as parents or siblings ‒ with typical situations (e.g. feeding time, bath time, naptime, etc.) and the sound chunks that are frequently produced on these occasions. Listening to repeated utterances of these chunks makes it easier for them to understand the gist of what is being said.

Let’s now take this theory and apply it to language tests.

Consider the IELTS Listening test, which is divided into four parts: the first two focus on informal contexts, whereas the last two are set in more formal situations. Just being familiar with the context can help you predict the sort of language that will be used, which subsequently helps you identify answers.

 

Filling in the gaps

In some language tests, the context of a conversation becomes clear as soon as the instructions are given. In IELTS, for instance, we hear the voiceover set the context at the beginning of each part; for example: “Section 1. You will hear a conversation between a university student and the shop assistant at a book store. First, you have some time to look at questions 1 to 4.”

 

Take a few seconds and think about your own experiences of buying books: What questions did you have? What information did the seller provide? Then, look at the questions and think of the sort of language you are likely to hear when the speakers reveal the required information ‒ i.e. how to get details such as the title of a book, its author’s name, the publisher’s name, its cost, etc.

Here are some ways in which such information can generally be sought:

Title Author Published by Cost
·   What’s it called?

·   What’s the title?

·   We have an international bestseller called …….

·   Who’s it by?

·   Who wrote it?

·   Who’s the writer?

·   Do you mean the one by Prof. Derek ……..? Oh yes, that’s the one!

·   Who’s the publisher?

·   Who’s it published by?

 

·   How much is it?

·   Is it expensive? Not really, it’s only $ ……

·   Is it cheap?

·   What’s the price?

 

Sometimes, anticipating the language for a specific context prepares you to spot answers in conversations.

So the next time you attempt a listening exercise, do what babies do – use situations you know to your advantage.

 

Click here to try this technique on a practice IELTS listening test

 

Good luck!

 

P.S. We’re going to be posting every week on a Thursday. So, come back for more English language tips, experiences and insight into studying abroad.

English tips to survive the Super Bowl

Photo courtesy of Josh Lackey

Photo courtesy of Josh Lackey

If you’re thinking of studying in the USA, you’re in for incredible opportunities, adventure, and first-class teaching. And the more you immerse yourself in the culture, the more rewarding your experience becomes.

For international students, the Super Bowl is an American experience not to be missed. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, there’s something for everyone: the spectacle, the halftime show, the commercials, the chilli – it’s all to be savoured.

This Sunday, the New England Patriots take on last year’s winners the Seattle Seahawks, in a bid to lift the biggest prize in American sport.

So to help you get through the game with some idea of what is going on, we compiled a run-down of some of the unique English vocabulary that gridiron (American football) uses.

 

Audible: When the quarterback calls a last-second change to the play. It’s confusing for everyone, so you’re not alone! This has made its way into everyday speech in the USA, used when someone assumes responsibility. “Ok, the boss is away, so I’m calling an audible on this one.”

Blitz: When the defending team goes hell-for-leather to tackle the opposing quarterback. In other words, the big guys try to smash the guy with the ball before he can throw it.

Deflate-gate: The term coined for the conspiracy surrounding the Patriots’ last game, where they were accused of deflating the balls to gain an advantage. Top scientists have been explaining the physics of it to the nation for the past fortnight.

Downs: This is at the heart of the game’s rules. The team with the ball has four attempts (downs) to gain 10 yards, (the TV networks put a yellow line in for you). So, if you hear ‘3rd and 7’ it means it’s their third attempt and have seven yards still to gain. If they’re successful, the whole process starts again. If they’re too far away after three tries, they’ll usually punt (see below) the ball.

End Zone: The areas at either end of the field that are usually coloured and show the teams’ logos. Get the ball in there and you score a Touchdown.

Extra Point: After a touchdown is scored, that team can kick the football through the posts for an extra point.

Face Mask: No, this has nothing to do with beauty treatments. In football it is an illegal move when someone grabs an opposing player’s helmet to stop him. This incurs a penalty.

Fair Catch: When the guy returning a kick puts his hand in the air, he’s saying to the big guys about to tackle him: “Ok, I won’t try to run, just please don’t hurt me!”

Field Goal: A scoring option worth three points – kicking the ball between the yellow posts.

Fumble: When a player who has complete control of the ball drops it. There’s then a mad scramble for the ball, with everyone piling on top of each other.

Going for Two: Rather than kicking an ‘extra point’ after a touchdown, you can opt to run or pass into the end zone from the two yard line. The riskier option for sure, but worth two points.

Hail Mary: Desperate times call for desperate measures. A Hail Mary is when a quarterback throws the ball towards the end zone in the last seconds of the half or game, praying a teammate will catch it and win the game. When this works everyone goes berserk.

Interception: When the quarterback’s throw is caught by a player on the other team. This is about the worst thing that can happen for a quarterback.

Line of Scrimmage: The line where the ball was stopped. This is where the two teams face each other.

Pick Six: Ok, this is the worst thing that can happen for a quarterback. It’s when he throws an interception and the ball is returned by a defending player for a touchdown.

Pocket: The little space that the big guys make for their quarterback. From here he can look for the best passes up field.

Punt: A kick to the opposing team on 4th down

Quarterback: If you don’t know who this is by now, you’re better off just concentrating on the chilli and chicken wings.

Sack: When the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage. The tacklers often go for a little dance afterwards to show people how happy they are.

Snap: The start of the play when the ball is passed back to the quarter back (through the big guy’s legs).

Touchback: When a punt or kickoff is caught in the end zone.

Touchdown:  When a player takes or catches the ball in an opponent’s end zone, scoring six points. Then begins the excessive celebrations and choreographed dancing.

Unnecessary Roughness: It seems that roughness is allowed, but only where necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be penalised.

An all-nighter: If you’re one of the millions of people around the world staying up late to tune in to the big game you’ll be doing what’s called ‘an all-nighter.’ This is colloquial term which most students become familiar with at some point.

 

Enjoy the game! And follow @TakeIELTS1 for more tips on using English abroad. 

If you’re thinking of studying in the USA, and need an English test, click here.

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