Saturday, 15 October 2011

Things NOT to do before or after the IELTS Speaking Test

Things NOT to do before or after the IELTS Speaking Test

Don’t give information about yourself before the test starts. The examiner will ask for your name and ID when ready.
Don’t try to “chat” with the examiner before or after the test starts.
Don’t compliment the examiner on the way they look (or the clarity of their speech, or anything else).
Don’t tell the examiner about previous test attempts or results.
Don’t ask the examiner your result after the test.

Doing any of the above will not have a negative effect on your result but it won’t affect it positively, either!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

IELTS Speaking Test, Part 1 -- How long should my answers be?

Students preparing for IELTS often wonder how long their answers should be in Part 1 of the Speaking test.

Simple arithmetic will give you a good "rule of thumb" answer. Part 1 of the Speaking test lasts 4 - 5 minutes. The examiner will usually ask questions on three sub topics (Home/Hometown or Work/Study + 2 others). For each sub topic, the examiner may ask up to 4 or 5 questions.

You can see that your answers cannot be very long but they shouldn't be too brief, either. The questions in Part 1 mostly relate to personal, everyday topics to which quite simple and straightforward answers can be given.

Something like, "Yes, I do/No, I don't!" in response to a question such as, "Do you like to travel?" is too short. Some answers may be longer than others but on average, each answer will probably be around 2 or 3 "spoken sentences". An answer like, "I do, absolutely, because ___________________, though sometimes ____________________" should be enough. It's all right if some answers are a longer and some are shorter.

Natural but appropriately used language is important throughout the speaking test. You can show a good level of English in Part 1 with confident handling of the preliminary interview-like Question/Answer situation.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Great Websites for Learning About Other Cultures

Here's a link to a list of great websites for learning about other cultures:

The list was made by an English language teacher in the USA.

Exploring other cultures is a fascinating way to learn about the world while you improve your English!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Top 10 IELTS Myths

Go to:

Read it!

Take a deep breath and then a look in the mirror.

If you are focusing on petty distractions rather than spending your time improving your English, re-think your strategies.

IELTS is a language level test; no more, no less.

Friday, 12 August 2011

How We Read

When we first look at a text, we glance over it quickly to get the main ideas. We do this in daily life to decide if we wish to read the text in more detail. In tests such as the IELTS reading test we do this for the same basic purpose: to find the main ideas.

Here's some very interesting information and graphics showing how our eyes move when we first look at a webpage:

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content

Eyetracking visualizations show that users often read Web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.

If you write a blog or write websites, you'll find this information very useful in helping you understand how to structure your writing to maximise reader attention. The same general principle applies to many other kinds of writing, including the IELTS writing tasks. Make sure your main ideas are clearly summarised!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Australian Culture and Etiquette

"Ita Buttrose has had an extensive career in print, radio and television. She maintains that time changes many things, but good manners never go out of fashion -- the subject of her latest book 'A Guide to Australian Etiquette: for all occasions from weddings to work'."

You can read more about the book here:

You can listen to Ita Buttrose being interviewed about Australian etiquette and culture on ABC radio at:

"Quick ways" to gain a foreign langage

(Photo Illustration: Thomas van Ryzewyk/Getty)
It was an interest in vampires, long a part of Slavic culture, that fed Bobbi Duncan’s desire to study Russian. This summer, a year after starting to learn the language, the 21-year-old linguistics student at the University of Texas spent five weeks in Russia and, to her delight, found she could communicate with locals, even if she lacked an extensive vocabulary. “One of the things I learned how to do really well is talk around something,” she says, “so even if I don’t have the words for exactly what I want, I can still express myself pretty well.”
The course Duncan took adopted a novel language-teaching approach conceived by the school’s Arabic program four years ago. Traditionally, language teachers spend much of instruction time running through grammar rules and vocabulary. Students in Duncan’s class had to learn that on their own time, however, and classes were used to practise their knowledge. “What we’re doing in class is activate new materials through group work, through presentations, through games, through activities,” says Mahmoud Al-Batal, director of the flagship Arabic program at the university. “It enables students to immerse themselves more in the language, and it makes them take ownership of learning.”
In this global economy, professionals are frequently required to travel abroad, or find themselves assigned to a foreign office or project. Knowing the local language is an asset that can open up career opportunities and new lines of business. But workers rarely have years to perfect a language; they need to pick as much as possible, usually within months. And programs like UT’s are designed to address that.
Carla Hudson Kam, a linguistics professor at the University of British Columbia, says the approach to language learning should depend on how you plan to use the skill. For someone looking to pick up common phrases in a short period, a computer program or an audiobook will suffice.
This method, however, won’t prepare you for holding a conversation. “For adult language learning, the most successful learners do both some immersion and actual study in a classroom,” says Kam. “Either one of those is not going to be as effective as both of them together.” Ideally, you should communicate with different speakers of the language, and if you’re expecting to travel to a particular region, listen to someone speaking in that accent to get accustomed to it, she says.
Some languages are easier to learn than others, depending on how close they are to your native language and the complexity of their grammar and pronunciation, says Robert DeKeyser, a second-language-acquisition professor at the University of Maryland. For native English speakers, learning Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese is the hardest, while Dutch and French tend to be easier.
As the Texas program highlights, it’s interaction that makes all the difference. “If you just memorize a long list of words, it doesn’t stick in your brain,” says Orlando Kelm, associate director of business language education at UT’s Center for International Business Education and Research. “But if there’s some experience you have that becomes real, then suddenly you remember the word for the rest of your life.” He recommends using Livemocha, a social network that connects users with native speakers around the world, or podcasts to supplement work done in the classroom. It’s also much easier to retain words that you really need to use, Kelm adds. And, as basic as it sounds, a good night’s sleep helps your brain consolidate what you’ve learned.
To be successful, people shouldn’t shy away from testing their language skills with others. “You have to be willing to open your mouth and say whatever comes out, and hope you’re going to get the bread you need or the cheese you want to eat,” says Kelm. “If you’re waiting to say it perfectly, you’re going to have a lot harder time.” He suggests memorizing phrases rather than individual words, because literal translation can get in the way.
But even with shortcuts, learning a language takes time. To reach the level where you can converse about routine tasks for a relatively easy language like Spanish can take about 500 hours, while learning Chinese would require closer to 1,000 hours. With such lengthy time frames, some suggest that learning the foreign business culture—proper formalities and customs—may be more practical than studying the language. “If you understand the cultural things that go on in international business, those cultural issues will apply whether you’re in Paris or Shanghai or in Berlin,” Kelm says. “And in a lot of ways, the cultural aspects are more important than foreign language skills because they’re more transferable.”   From   

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why you should go for a brisk walk before revising

The exam season may be over, but here's a simple piece of advice for next semester. Go for a brisk walk before studying and your memory of the material is likely to benefit.

Carlos Salas and his colleagues had dozens of students study 30 nouns, each displayed for 6 seconds. Some of the students went for a ten-minute walk before being presented with the words. They were told to adopt "the walking speed one would use when late to an appointment, but without the anxiety caused by such a scenario". Other students spent the same time sitting quietly looking at pictures of natural landscapes. After the study phase, some of the students went for another ten-minute walk before attempting to recall as many of the words as they could; other students sat quietly for ten minutes before their recall attempt. This meant there were four experimental groups (walk-walk, walk-sit, sit-sit, and sit-walk, depending on how the participants behaved before the study and recall phases).

The key finding is that those students who went for a walk before the study period recalled 25 per cent more words correctly compared with students who sat still before the study period. By contrast, walking versus sitting before the attempt at recall made no difference to the students' performance.

Past research has shown context-dependent effects on memory. For example, if you chew gum while learning, your recall performance will benefit if you also chew gum when attempting to retrieve memories. No evidence for this was found in this study in the sense that the students' performance was no better when their pre-recall activity (walk vs. sit) matched their pre-learning activity, perhaps because the recall test followed too soon after the learning phase, so that the effects of the earlier walk or sitting period were still ongoing.

Another detail of this study is that the researchers asked the students to report their levels of arousal and tension after the periods of sitting or walking. Arousal was higher after walking than sitting, but tension was no different. So increased arousal is a possible physiological mechanism underlying the benefits of a pre-study walk (see earlier Digest item: "Memory performance boosted while walking").

Salas and his team also looked at meta-memory: this is people's insight into their own memory processes. During the study phase, after each word appeared, the participants were asked to indicate their likelihood of recalling it correctly. Students who sat for ten minutes before studying tended to significantly overestimate their later performance. By contrast, the walkers were much more accurate. However, there was no absolute difference in the predictions made by the two groups. In other words, it seems the walkers only had superior meta-memory because walking boosted their performance to match their confidence.

"Overall, these results suggest that individuals can gain a memory advantage from a ten-minute walk before studying," the researchers said. "Given [these] positive results ... and [their] potentially important practical applications, we hope that researchers will continue to explore the relationship between walking, memory, and meta-memory."

ResearchBlogging.orgSalas, C., Minakata, K., and Kelemen, W. (2011). Walking before study enhances free recall but not judgement-of-learning magnitude. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23 (4), 507-513 DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2011.532207

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

5 Ways to Listen Better

Another of the great TED Talks:

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Communication Skills

                                  SHOWING INTEREST  

When we listen to other people, we often want to show them how interested we are in their conversation. We can do this by

  1. smiling with our eyes 
  2. nodding
  3. saying something to encourage the person to continue their story

One student talks. The other students respond in the 3 ways. Do this while the students are speaking ( don't wait for the other person to stop talking.)

      Ideas :

      1. My weekend
      2. My favourite person
      3.  My worst day ever
      4.  My favourite restaurant
      5.  Who does the housework in your home ?
      6.  My first boyfriend / girlfriend
      7.  My worst day at school
      8.  Something really good that happened to you
      9.  Something really embarrassing that happened to you
      10. My favourite piece of clothing

Communication Skills

Negotiating Meaning

Communication has been described as the process of negotiating meaning.
A good communicator pays close attention to their "audience" (the person or people they are speaking to) and is also an active, responsive listener.

Good Listener

  • Confirms they are understanding
  • Asks for clarification when they don't understand

Good Speaker

  • Checks that the listener is understanding
  • Clarifies when the listener doesn't understand

Confirming understanding


Keep eye-contact and use "attentive" body language
Nod your head
In English we often say "mmm" to show that we are listening to the speaker
Use facial expression to show you don't understand

Checking for understanding

Do you know what I mean?
Do you see what I mean?
Do you follow me?

Make eye contact and check the listener's facial expression for understanding

Asking for clarification

I'm not really/quite sure what you mean
I don't really/quite see what you mean
I don't really/quite follow you
What were you saying about " ………"?
("………" is the part you didn't understand)
I am not really/quite sure what you're trying to say
I didn't get the part about "……………"
I didn't get your point about "……….."


What I mean is …………..
What I'm trying to say is ……….
What I want to say is …………...
My point is ……………………..

Thinking of a life in Australia? You need to learn what Vegemite is!

Australia's Favourite Spread

The initial concept of Vegemite was invented by Fred Walker at his food processing plant in 1923. He later sold this business to Kraft and passed on the secret recipe. It is now the most popular spread in Australia.
Australians love Vegemite Yeast Extract… it is part of Australia's history and has become a unique and loved symbol of our nation. This strange looking black spread, made by blending brewer's yeasts, is one of the richest known sources of B complex vitamins. Australians traditionally use Vegemite Yeast Extract spread thinly on buttered toast, sandwiches and biscuits.
Ingredients: Yeast extract, salt, mineral salt, (508, 509) malt extract, natural colour, (150) vegetable extract, thiamine(E), riboflavin, niacin.
5g of this food contains
Vitamin B 0.55mg
Riboflavin ).80mh'Niacin 5.5mg, which are
half the average daily allowances

22.7 million jars of Vegemite are manufactured in Australia every year - that's 235 jars per minute.
30 jars are sold  in Australia for every one exported.
Vegemite is a permanent fixture in nine out of ten pantries.
Vegemite is made from a blend of yeasts from a number of sources.

So there you have it......have a go!

Adjectives, Adjective Phrases and Adjective Clauses

Adjectives, Adjective Phrases and Adjective Clauses


beautiful                        short               young              old       green               happy              clever               fast                   slow                 interesting …

These are all adjectives.

We use adjectives to tell more about a noun:

A beautiful girl            a short man      a green pen     a fast horse      a happy cat….

Think of adjectives for these people :

Cut is a  ................. student

Joe is a  ...................boy.

Fanny is a ...................girl.

Cathy is a  ................ student.

Adjective Phrases

An adjective phrase is a group of words that tells more about a noun :

The man with the beautiful eyes is my brother.

The girl beside the window is my best friend.

The shop at the end of the street is my aunt's.

A. Answer the questions by using adjective phrases.

Example : Which girl is your sister ?  ( with the beautiful eyes)

The girl with the beautiful eyes is my sister.

1. Which dog is the oldest ? ( with the black ears )

The dog …………………………………………..

2.   Which car is the fastest ? ( with the big wheels )

The car ………………………………………….

3.   Which book is in Chinese ? ( on John's desk)


4.    Which bag has money in it ? ( next to the door)


Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses are like adjective phrases but they also have
 a verb and who/which/that.

The man who has beautiful eyes is my brother.
The man that has beautiful eyes is my brother.

The boy who sits beside the window is my best friend.
The boy that sits beside the window is my best friend.

The shop which is at the end of the street is my uncle's.
The shop that is at the end of the street is my uncle's.

We use "who" when talking about people
We use  "which" when talking about things.

We may use "that" for either people or things.

B. Make sentences with adjective clauses.

Example :  the man / has brown hair / my brother

The man who has brown hair is my brother.

1. The girl / is talking to Gary /  Janice


2. The girl / has a lovely smile/  Nika


3. The pencil case / is large and red /  Ms Bond's.


4. The cat/ has black ears / very naughty.


C. Change the adjective phrases to adjective clauses.

Example : The man in the restaurant looked happy.

The man who was in the restaurant looked happy.

1. The present on the table is for you.


2. The book with the red cover is very good.


3. The boy with big eyes is called Keanu.


When an adjective clause talks about a place, we use where .
When an adjective clauses talks about a time, we use when .

The shop where I bought this book is in ShaTin.

The day when I went to Sai Kung was very cold.

D. Complete the sentences with where or when.

Example : The building ………. she lives is very old.

The building where she lives is very old.

1. The garden ……….these flowers grow is near the school.

2. The shop ………….I bought this jacket is not expensive.

3. The night …………. Naomi met her husband was very warm.

4. The restaurant …………they had dinner was very romantic.

5. The day ……… they married was a Typhoon Signal 10 day.

6. The city ……… they had their honeymoon was a secret.

After words like "the first", "the second", "the last", "the same", we always use "that".
The last time that I phoned them, they were busy.

E. Make sentences with "that", "when" or "where".

Example : The first time …… she saw him, she knew her life had changed forever.

The first time that she saw him, she knew her life had changed forever.

1. The last time ………. I saw them, they looked very happy.

2. The day …………… they met will never be forgotten.

3. The restaurant ……….they ate will always be their favourite.

4. The first time ………..they kissed was not the last time.

The Basic Sentence Patterns of English

Sentence Patterns

The basic sentence patterns are:

The dog
is barking.


the dog.


The dog


The dog
all day.
The dog’s kennel
in the garden.


the dog
a bone.

Practice making sentences with your partner :

The dog
is barking.

The telephone

don’t know.


the dog.


didn’t do

The bus



The dog

Helen and Dorota

The park



The dog
all day.
The dog’s kennel
in the garden.

Ling and her daughter

at 6 o’clock.

on the weekend.
Most people I know


the dog
a bone.


to her family.

didn’t tell
her husband

The three girls
wanted to give

the man on the bus
a letter.
Annika and Sveta
are sending

We can add ADVERBIALS (see type 4) to any of the sentence patterns. The order is usually place before time.

We feed the dog in the garden every day.