Monday, March 23, 2015

My Personal Favourite Posts on the Blog So Far...

As you might notice, I've started to post again.  I've also noticed that there are a few more people visiting the blog.  So to all the new readers - welcome!

If you are new to this blog and you don’t know where to start then I would like to recommend these 10 posts that are my personal favourites.  I think these 10 posts are the most useful and most helpful articles for learners of English.

This is a very popular post which explains one of the things that Cambridge examiners are looking for in your speaking and writing.

2. Accent vs Pronunciation

This looks at the difference between the two and provides some advice and links to a wonderful resource for listening.

3. Cudunagonbeda

If you are having problems understanding native speakers with their fast talking, or you would like to improve your speaking, this might be of interest to you.

4. How much time do I need?

How long does it take to learn a language and how much effort do you need to be successful?  It is different for each person, but there are a few general rules here.

5. Anybody having problems with the Present Perfect?

This takes a poem/song to provide a little exercise for listening to examples of the present perfect tense.  You might find it useful, but I've added it here because it was fun to make!

6. Thinking about Superman a.k.a. Imaginary Situations (Conditionals)

Talking about things we wish were true makes up a lot of our conversations, so these grammar points are explained clearly and with lots of written and picture examples.

7. How Green is your Internet (Working with Numbers in English)

This is another very popular post that takes a two minute video and gives you a small listening task to help you practise listening to English numbers.

8. Learning and Forgetting Vocabulary & No Magic Please

Did you know that forgetting vocabulary is actually a very important part of building your vocabulary?  These two posts explain one of the best ways I know to improve vocabulary quickly!

9. Using Tongue Twisters for Your Pronunciation

I honestly feel that practising little tongue twisters is a great way to improve pronunciation in another language.  It is also very impressive to people when you get it right!

10. How Useful is Translation? (University Preparation Tip #1)

I love Google Translate and I think it had become a very useful tool to help language learners.  But it can't replace learning a language.  This article shows the problems of using too much translation.

Friday, March 6, 2015

How do you approach an IELTS Writing Task 2 question? (guest post by Stephanie Furness-Barr)

‘Approach? What Approach?’ vs ‘Approach? Definitely!’

Here’s what my students say they do when they’re writing an IELTS Writing Task 2 essay. Which way do you think is best? Why?
  1. "Approach? What approach? I only have 40 minutes to write a task 2 so I don’t waste any time. I read the question and just start writing what’s in my head. I have a general plan, like I do when I'm giving the answer to a question. I stop writing when the 40 minutes is done."
  2. "Approach? Definitely! I only have 40 minutes to write so I don’t waste any time. I read and analyse the question, jot down some of my ideas, write a plan then check if the plan is going to help me answer the question. I check the question a lot because it’s so easy to answer it the wrong way. Then I write the answer, paying attention to grammar and vocabulary. If there’s time, I check the writing for spelling and punctuation mistakes."
Have you guessed which way is best?

Let’s look at the first approach. If you think about what you’re going to write and try to write with good grammar and vocabulary at the same time, you’re asking your brain to do too many things at once. This is often unsuccessful, even for native speakers. Why?

Your essay...

...might be ‘stream of consciousness’, in other words, unorganised and incoherent, and possibly repetitive.
...may not answer the question.
...may be too short
...may have a lot of unnecessary grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation mistakes
...might look really messy. This shouldn’t matter to an examiner – unless your handwriting is so bad he or she can’t read it - but you want to ‘put your best foot forward’* don’t you?

*do and look your best

If you said the second approach is better, you’re right! Here’s why:

1. Read and analyse the question
In these two stages you focus on


you’re going to write
2. Brainstorm – write down any ideas (in notes – sentences take too long to write) you have about the topic and question.
3. Plan your essay – write a structure.
WHAT (ideas)
HOW (organisation)
4. Write your answer.
In these stages you focus on


you’re going to write it.
(e.g. grammar and vocabulary,
spelling and punctuation)
5. Proofread your answer.

If you think about WHAT to write first then your brain will be able to concentrate on HOW to say it afterwards. This is more likely to result in an essay that...

...answers the question. 250 words. finished. well organised. written with the best grammar and vocabulary you can manage in the time limit

This is formally called the Process Approach to writing.


A question for the IELTS exam might look like this:

‘In some school systems, it is normal for students to have a sports lesson during the week. Some people say that this is a waste of time, while others say it is an important part of education. Discuss both these views and give your opinion.’

Below is a possible response to the question from a writer that didn’t follow the process approach to writing. What do you think of it?
  • Does it answer the question?
  • Is it 250 words?
  • Is it organised?
  • How much variety of grammar and vocabulary do you see?

Sports are really important. They are important because they keep us healthy and happy. Everyone should do sport in school, even though there’s not enough time to do them. If we don’t have sport we’ll get bored, and then we can’t get concentrated in classes because we want to go out and play all the time. Everyone knows that sports are good for you. The experts say this is important especially for boys. Girls don’t need to sport so much because they are better at their studies. Teachers should organize teams to play football. My school teacher was terrible at football but everyone loved him anyway.

Of course, school subjects are important too and we need to spend time with maths, language and science, sure but it is really good to be exercised and get fresh air. This is my opinion.

Now you try writing an answer to the question using the Process Approach!
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