Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 16, 2011

Case Study 6 – Another IELTS Doctor

This is my sixth case-study in the series. Like the others it illustrates a journey we both took to reach a particular language goal. Like the others the benefit gained was mutual. In this case I had a very reluctant student but it was a strange situation as he did seek me out but then felt he could go it alone.

Although I promised to describe my online work with IELTS students in subsequent posts I felt that this was an interesting case and wanted to share it with you. Now I promise the next case will deal with an online student!

See the other posts:

Case Study one – Mehmet (project manager)

Case Study two – Stepan (IELTS – doctor)

Case Study three – Maria (company relocation to UK )

Case Study four – Takeshi  (IELTS – doctor)

Case Study five – Ayesha (IELTS – doctor)

 

Case Study Six – Salim

My sixth student in the series was also an IELTS student and a doctor. Salim was from Syria. He had been living in the UK for some time and was very fluent in spoken English.  He had spent some time at school in the UK so his English skills were quite polished.

When I first met Salim he was about to take the test for the second time. He was worried about his reading and just wanted a lesson to go over some techniques. He was very confident about the exam and was certain that only the reading would be a problem.  This was unusual as mostly it is the writing that people want to have checked. I asked him about writing but he hadn’t brought any to the lesson and said that he was fine. He was looking for an overall band of 7. Working on just one part of the exam is not something I normally like to do, I like to make sure that all parts of the exam are on track as none of them work in isolation and the reading and listening impact on the writing and speaking. By integrating the study the outcome in all parts is more assured. I was a little concerned that he was concentrating so much on this one part.

He told me that he would be able to get a high score in speaking and listening and that if he managed to improve his reading then the writing would not be a problem.  This seemed logical but in my opinion as an IELTS coach I felt that in order to be safe in the result ‘all balls needed to be in the air’ at all times. We agreed to disagree and spent the lesson on the reading. I got the impression he was there reluctantly and felt deep down that he didn’t really feel that he needed help but his friends, some of whom had worked with me, had urged him to come.

After the lesson I wished him luck and asked him to let me know his result. I heard nothing more from Salim.

A few months later he called me and asked if he could come to see me. It transpired that he had not got the score he required and the thing that had let him down badly was his writing. He told me that he thought he had been a little over-confident (even arrogant – his words) and now realised that he needed to work more systematically and not try and get the score he needed ‘by numbers’.  This tendency to rely on one or two papers to get the desired result is a high risk strategy and also flies in the face of the whole point in preparing for IELTS in the first place – which is to make sure that you have the required language level for the job that you are going to do (or the course of study you are going to undertake). There is little point in getting the required IELTS result by the skin of your teeth and then struggling through your course or putting your new job in jeopardy because your English is not the best it can be.

I have also worked with several doctors after they have secured their job because they were having problems with English actually in the hospital. Passing the IELTS in only the beginning and in the medical field there is a lot of colloquial language that you will meet which can cause a lot of mis-understanding!

The second meeting

When we met for second time we decided to take a holistic approach and look at all parts of the exam and also language level. As I mentioned before Salim’s English was very fluent and he was a confident speaker, he didn’t, however, have a lot of control over register and tended to speak in a very colloquial manner which is not always appropriate for every type of communication. This was affecting both his speaking performance and his writing.

The study plan

This is a pattern I use with IELTS students both face to face and online.

The week’s work would consist of exercises both IELTS and general English (to improve vocabulary, fluency, structure etc..) that I would give Salim to do at home. Salim would produce, at his best band 7  level, a Task 1 and Task 2 every week. We would meet face to face for two hours (online is usually 1 hour) once a week to go over the writing, do speaking practice and try out some listening and reading.

This approach worked well. We covered all aspects of the exam so everything was up at band 7 level. We improved Salim’s flexibility in his choice of formal and informal language and he became comfortable with this. His reading got better and better and his writing was not just left to chance any more. He was able to used more formal language in his speaking and felt more confident about tackling even the most unusual topics.

After a month he  took the IELTS again and got 7s across the board. Not only had he managed to pass the IELTS exam with flying colours, but he had also improved his English to such a standard that he knew when he started to work at the hospital he would not have any problems at all and would be able to deal with any situation!

I met Salim almost a year later in the street. He was working at the hospital and he was really enjoying his job and his life. He was with a group of friends some of whom were also preparing for IELTS. He greeted me and again thanked me for my guidance and said to his friends.

“Don’t be arrogant, do as your teacher tells you – that is the best way to get a good IELTS score!”

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

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August 24, 2011

Advanced students – case study 5 – IELTS doctor

 This is my fifth case-study in the series. Like the others it illustrates a journey we both took to reach a particular language goal. Like the others the benefit gained was mutual this case is slightly different as it involved an intensive 2-day study followed by on-going tutoring via the internet up until the exam.
 
See the other posts:

Case Study one – Mehmet (project manager)

Case Study two – Stepan (IELTS – doctor)

Case Study three – Maria (company relocation to UK )

Case Study four – Takeshi  (IELTS – doctor)

 

Case Study five – Ayesha

My fifth student in the series was also an IELTS student and a doctor. She was slightly different from the other doctors I have mentioned as she was a recently qualified doctor and had just arrived in the UK as a newly wed looking to pursue a career as a doctor in the UK. Her husband was already working in a hospital here.

Ayesha had recently taken the IELTS before getting married and moving to the UK but had unfortunately not got the band score she needed. In the few months she had been living in the Uk she had started to prepare again for the test. She soon realised that in order to prepare adequately she needed help from a specialist teacher and that is when we became acquainted. In fact it was her husband who contacted me. Being very busy in the hospital, he was looking for a weekend course where Ayesha could get an intensive boost in English and then continue preparing by herself up to the exam date. As she had only just arrived in the country she was too nervous about travelling on her own so I was more than happy for them both to come together.

 They arrived late on Friday evening, I collected them at the station. We had a light supper and then they retired to bed.

The first lesson

We started bright and early on the Saturday morning and started to go through each part of the test. I soon discovered that Ayesha’s main problem had been lack of preparation particularly in the speaking and writing papers. She had assumed that the speaking would simply be a short conversation and told me that she had the impression that the examiner was wanting her to say more but she didn’t know what to say.

The writing also needed a little work to get to band 7 and there were a few grammar areas to address.

We decided to concentrate for half a day on each part of the exam:

  • Listening – we worked through different types of listening material both IELTS and non-IELTS and talked about techniques and strategies for the exam
  • Writing – We looked mostly at analysing the title and then creating good plans for the essay. On Saturday evening Ayesha produced both a Task 1 and a Task 2 for me to check.
  • Speaking – Ayesha’s spoken English was quite good but lacked breadth. We went through the test and practised each part and also talked about how she could get more practice – being in England meant that there were opportunities to do this but Ayesha was a little nervous about joining groups or clubs. We agreed that we would speak on the phone as part of the follow-up and she would try and speak more to her neighbours and other people that she ‘knew to say hello to’ (this is someone you don’t really know very well but see from time to time).
  • Ayesha’s reading score had also been very good but as she was looking for an overall score of 7 we felt that we could improve this to boost her final score..

The study plan

We worked from 9 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. and then again from 2.00p.m. until 5.00p.m. During each session we concentrated on one area of the test.

There was a little time in the late afternoon to get out for a short walk which gave us time to talk generally – something which is important for fluency.

There was also time during our meals together (with both our respective husbands) to have more conversation.

Ayesha’s husband had brought work with him to complete and my husband took him out for a while to see the local area.

The weekend was a good way to get an overview of  useful test strategies from Ayesha’s point of view and I was able to see where her strengths and weaknesses were in each part and provide a study plan for her to follow going forward to the actual test. We did this on the final afternoon.

So armed with a plan, some websites to check out and I hoped, a little more confidence, I took Ayesha and her husband back to the station for their return journey home.

During the few weeks that followed we spoke on the phone and also communicated via email. She also sent me more writing which I corrected and returned. Where there were language problems I sent supplementary exercises to help and gave her a daily dose (using Gapfillers) of general language skills work to keep developing her English skills.

She had also made friends with one of her neighbours who, on hearing about the IELTS test offered to meet regularly so that Ayesha could practise her speaking – if you don’t try these things you’ll never know what might have been!  This was a real boost to both confidence and fluency.

A month or so later Ayesha took the IELTS she called me and told me what the questions had been – they were all fairly standard and some of them were things I had given her to do in her practice. She felt very upbeat and thought that the test had gone well.

A couple of weeks later I was in the car when my phone rang and I saw that it was Ayesha so I knew that this would be her result. She had got an overall band score of 8 (3 x 8 and 7.5 in Writing – amazing) !! She was so excited and could now move on with the next stage of her preparation to work in the UK as a doctor.

This is Ayesha’s  final email to me after the exam.

I am happy to send my score card and to dedicate my success to your guidance and the emotional support. I have booked my plab1 exam on feb.11th and started preparing for it. hope I will pass that exam too with your blessings.thanks a lot                                                 

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

March 11, 2010

Advanced Students – Case Study 4

This is my fourth case-study in the series. Like the others it illustrates a journey we both took to reach a particular language goal. Like the others the benefit gained was mutual but unlike the others, this one was a very scary journey.

See the other posts:

Case Study one – Mehmet

Case Study two – Stepan

Case Study three – Maria

Case Study four – Takeshi

My fourth student was still in Japan when I was approached. He was an eminent doctor, well-known in his field both in Japan and internationally. He was coming to the UK to take up an appointment in a large London hospital. There was, however, a problem, he had to have a score of 7 in each of the IELTS papers and he had taken the test twice in Japan and not achieved this.

The hospital had decided that he should come to London, study, be immersed in the language, visit the hospital and get to know people there and then re-take the exam in London. This made sense but there were two further problems

  • I was about to move house
  • We had exactly one month to prepare, take and achieve the result or Takeshi would be unable to take up the post!

So, no pressure there then!

The first lesson

I accepted the challenge and so on a cold, blustery January 2nd I arrived at the hospital to meet Takeshi.

He asked me if he was my first student of the year. I replied that he was, he was happy about this and presented me with a bottle of very good champagne!

The first thing I noticed about Takeshi was how very organised he was in his learning. He had approached everything very systematically and his study folders were meticulous. We went through an example of each part of the exam noting down everything that was incorrect or not fully understood. At the end of this process we had a list of areas to  develop.

And so we set to work.

We decided to concentrate on the following areas in particular:

  • Listening – we would concentrate on tuning his ear into English sounds, look for nuance and deal with listening passages in small chunks.
  • Writing – the task here was to get the writing to flow better and give it  bit more of a natural feel
  • Speaking – work on pronunciation and making the speech flow more naturally

His attention to detail was amazing. His surgical training helped here. He dissected the reading passages and rarely got a question wrong. His speaking was very precise and showed a very wide range of vocabulary and good use of structure. His writing was well organised and developed but needed some work. It was his listening skills that needed the most work.

 In the case of Takeshi there weren’t really any specific breakthroughs just sheer dedication and hard work.

We both ‘rolled up our sleeves’ and got on with it!

The study plan

We met every day for 2 hours in the morning. We worked through all the tasks, building vocabulary, confidence and honing skills. At the end of each session I assigned work and Takeshi then spent the afternoon and evening studying. At the beginning of each day we went over everything and then continued learning and checking and checking and learning. He even spent most of the weekend studying too. For this one month nothing else mattered!

I have rarely seen such absolute dedication to a task. He lived, ate and slept English and IELTS. Every grammar error was followed by more practice until it was clear. I was in danger of running out of material! 

Each mistake had to be understood, corrected and practised until Takeshi was sure he had eliminated it. The process was not boring or in any way onerous – on the contrary it was like nurturing a plant and seeing it grow day by day.

Speaking became more natural (not only due to me, but also to the time he spent with his colleagues) Listening skills blossomed until, like the reading, there was rarely an error. His writing flowed more and, especially in task one, he was almost writing better than me!

As the month drew to a close I felt satisfied that we had ‘all the balls in the air’ and Takeshi felt more confident about taking the exam again. He had chosen a centre that would be easy to get to and not pose any travel problems.

He took the exam and flew back to Japan the next day. I did not get the chance I usually have with my students of discussing the exam afterwards.

I heard nothing more until a few weeks later when I had a very excited telephone call from Japan! Success – we were both relieved! He had scored a mix of 7s and 8s but that wasn’t important, he had what he needed and was now making preparations to move his family and take up the post at the hospital.

Some months later I was contacted by the hospital again. This time to teach Takeshi’s wife.

What I learnt most from this student is that dedication, hard work and a systematic approach to language learning pay off especially when you have a clear goal. Of course there’s nothing like a bit of external pressure to get the adrenaline flowing!!

February 1, 2010

Advanced Students – Case study 3

This is the third in my series of Case studies on Advanced students – posts about students I have taught and their English language learning journey. It was a journey I shared with them and I learnt as much from them as, I hope, they did from me!

See the first two posts:

Case Study one – Mehmet

Case Study two – Stepan

Student 3 – Maria

My third student came to me as an intermediate student. Her name was Maria and she and her family had been relocated to the UK from Chile by her husband’s company.

Maria had three children including a two-month-old baby boy! She was keen to improve her English skills but with a baby so small was unable to attend courses. Her husband had requested that a teacher teach her at home.

I first spoke to Maria’s husband who told me that Maria’s English was very basic and she was worried about how she was going to cope in London. He thought that she might be afraid to pick up the phone and so it would be better for me to call him initially to arrange everything. Before meeting Maria I had a picture in my head of a very timid, diminutive woman bowed down by the cares of the move and struggling with her new life in the UK.

The first lesson.

Imagine my surprise when, having arrived at the house, the door was opened by a very tall, energetic, confident woman holding a small baby! She greeted me in good, if a little hesitant, English. No shrinking violet here!

We agreed that we would build on the strong foundation in English that she already had and  would get her speaking more fluently, widen her vocabulary and generally take her English to the next level. We decided to use a traditional course book as a basis as she had time, being in the house with the baby all day,  to review and do homework.

During the first few weeks, we spent a lot of time on practical tasks like organising workmen to do various things around her house. We would prepare the calls and then she would do them. I would be ready to leap in and take over if there were any problems. There very rarely were and soon Maria became very confident about all these day to day language uses and we began to concentrate more on language exercises, newspapers and other things she was interested in.

Breakthrough 1

Maria’s two older children attended a UK school and so it wasn’t long before she had a small social circle of English friends.  She became involved in activities at school, had children over to play and quite soon had a social life which included people of many different nationalities and all with English as their common language. This improved her fluency and vocabulary and with her continued dedication to her English study she was becoming a very effective and proficient user of English.

Breakthough 2

Maria’s two school aged children although native Spanish speakers always used English to each other. This was unprompted and simply happened. They used Spanish to Maria and their father and any other Spanish speaking visitors. In the beginning she was unable to follow their conversations and when she tried to join in they made fun of her accent and mistakes (they were 5 and 7). Gradually, however, she was able to follow most of their conversations and although they still considered her accent to be ‘strange’ they corrected her sentences less and less.

Breakthrough 3

About two years after Maria had arrived, she and her husband attended a large public meeting. Throughout the meeting Maria’s husband was giving her a quick summary in Spanish so that she could keep up with the proceedings. At the end of the meeting questions were invited from the floor. Maria put up her hand, her husband, with a look of horror, tried to persuade her not to stand up and ask her question afraid that she would embarrass herself and him! She ignored him and at the appointed time stood up and in good, accurate English asked her question and entered into a short discussion with the speaker. Her husband sat open mouthed and flabbergasted! As they always spoke Spanish at home he had no idea how good her English now was. He felt very proud of her and also admitted that he could not have done it.

Maria and her family stayed in London for 3.5 years before returning to South America. She was so keen to continue the English of her children that they decided to send them to a British school and with the help of  one of my colleagues fixed this up while still in the UK. Maria also continued her involvement with the English speaking community and when I was last in touch her English had gone from strength to strength.

Her language learning experience opened doors for her not just here in the UK but wherever else she and her family decide to live.

You might like to see my post on whether some people learn languages more easily than others.

November 3, 2009

Advanced students – case study 2

Here is my second case study in the series.  As with the previous story,  this is a student I worked with who had a particular goal for his English language.

(These case studies are real stories of success but they also illustrate the trials and tribulations of the journey the student and I took to reach their goal. The experience in each case was as rich and rewarding for me as it was for them.)

One of my teaching hats is that of IELTS coach. Basically, I work with IELTS students who need a specific banding (usually overall 7 / 8 or a 7 in each part) and who have not yet managed to attain that score. Some of my students have taken the test several times. At this stage they cannot really be helped in a class as their needs are very specific to them. (you can contact me via Gapfillers if you are in this position!)

Student 2 – Stepan

The first lesson

Stepan was a highly qualified anesthetist from the Ukraine. He had worked in a senior position and had come to the UK to gain experience in hospitals here. Due to his experience and status he was able to work in a hospital as long as he scored a band 7 in each paper on the IELTS exam. This is not an easy thing to do and Stepan had taken the exam twice and failed to achieve 7 in all parts.

The main problems for Stepan were speaking and writing. At the first lesson we completed an example of each of the papers and I was pleased to see that in the listening and reading sections he was consistently scoring 7. His speaking was, however, quite stilted although he had quite a wide vocabulary and the writing was achieving a band 6 or less.

Although Stepan was living in London, he shared a flat with other Ukrainians and didn’t speak English at home. He had a part-time job at night as a receptionist in a hotel which should have given him the chance to practise speaking but didn’t.  It appeared that he spent a lot of time at his books and didn’t take opportunities to speak to incoming guests.

His writing was mostly conceived in his own language and translated using a bi-lingual dictionary.

I suggested that he make more of his opportunities to speak and write his next essay without the aid of his dictionary. He seemed unconvinced as it was his belief that the language spoken out in the street was not formal enough for an exam. He also felt that his essays should be a showcase for his knowledge of English vocabulary. This, coupled with his rather ancient dictionary, caused his essays to sound rather like Victorian melodramas.

The course

I realised that I could call on Stepan’s application and dedication but I was not sure that he would be willing to take my advice.

I scouted around for old IELTS books that he would not have come across and tried to stretch his listening skills with more demanding examples (not only IELTS stuff). This way he could keep improving these areas and, I hoped, see the correlation between listening and speaking and reading and writing.

To address the speaking I decided to make these segments more ‘chatty’ and get him to talk a bit more about himself and his life.

The writing was the biggest challenge. I put him on a diet of  newspapers for models and said that we would read his essays out loud sentence by sentence and I would challenge everything that wasn’t clear and he would have to justify to me his choice of grammar, vocabulary or idea. I also forbade him to use his old bilingual dictionary.

Breakthrough one

Stepan realised the importance of speaking to people. He thought about moving flats but this wasn’t feasible so we set up some strategies for engaging in conversation with people who arrived at the hotel. Using some simple opening phrases he was able to start conversations and soon his speaking became less stilted. He began to enjoy the conversations themselves and saw them less as an exercise and soon his speaking became more spontaneous and fluent.

Breakthrough two

Although reading Stepan’s work sentence by sentence each lesson was very difficult for us both as I was worried about undermining Stepan’s confidence and he was depressed by the number of sentences that I questioned, we gradually began to get more cohesion into the essays and they became more fluid and meaningful. After a few weeks we were only stumbling over one or two sentences. The newspaper models helped him and gave him more vocabulary and greater agility in his use of structure. Finally he was producing good, well written, essays and now all we needed to do was add a gloss of sophistication in terms of vocabulary and set phrases.  (see my postings on writing for information on this:  7 virtues to help you write well7 deadly sins to avoid in writing and warning: mistakes cost marks)

A set-back

Stepan arrived one day for his lesson and told me that he had booked his IELTS exam. I wasn’t sure he was ready yet but he was keen to go ahead and try. This was in the days where you had to wait for 3 months before you could re-sit! We did as much as we could before the exam and he took it. Unfortunately, although his reading, speaking and listening got the 7,  his writing got 6.5 (better than his previous 5). He was, obviously, disappointed but resolved to apply again immediately and continue studying. It was coming up to Christmas so we agreed that we would meet again in the New Year.

Finally

Stepan didn’t contact me in the New Year. He had gone home to visit his family and was arranging for them to come to the UK.  He was also busy working and organising a hospital placement for when he was able to work.

He called me to ask one or two questions and then in February I received a letter telling me he had taken IELTS again and got his 7s (with an 8 in listening!).

Now he could begin work, bring his family to the UK and start a new and exciting phase of his life.

September 14, 2009

Advanced Students – A Case Study

It’s often a good idea to find out about the experiences of other students so I thought I’d post a few case studies selected from my own advanced students. Here is the first.

These are real stories of success but they also illustrate the trials and tribulations of the journey the student and I took to reach their goal. The experience in each case was as rich and rewarding for me as it was for them.

Student 1 – Mehmet

The first lesson

Mehmet was a civil engineer with a large UK construction company. The company approached RLI for English training to help Mehmet with his spoken English.

At the first lesson I was surprised to discover that Mehmet had been living and working in the UK for almost 25 years. He was Turkish and had come to the UK as a  graduate. I also discovered at that meeting that he was not happy about having been sent for English training. He spoke fluently with a high level of English and the only discernable problem was a strong accent. He had a very successful career which had not hitherto been affected by his English.  He had recently been promoted and was now required to lead meetings and give presentations he found this challenging but was not convinced that his English was at fault.

The course

I sensed some hostility and realised that my first task was to prove to Mehmet that I could actually be of use to him. I decided that we should work on his pronunciation. I identified areas for development and we began. It became clear when we tried some mini presentations and pronunciation drills that the real problem was one of confidence and being out of the comfort zone.

Out came the tape recorder:  I recorded me, I recorded him. I made tapes of stress pattern drills and samples of sentence stress, model sentences and mini presentations. He took the tapes and played them in the car listening and  repeating. It was ‘old-fashioned’, ‘no-frills’  drilling exercises but it worked. Gradually I gained Mehmet’s trust and gradually he gained confidence.

A series of breakthrough incidents then began to happen!

Breakthrough 1

While waiting outside a College to collect his daughter, Mehmet was listening to one of the tapes and practising some of the sounds – articulating them clearly. He was concentrating hard and didn’t notice a small crowd of students gathering around his windscreen. Once he spotted them he laughed and explained he was practising his pronunciation! Real confidence!

Breakthrough 2

Mehmet was a member of a Turkish cultural organisation and he was helping to organise an event. He was asked to step in and open the proceedings (in English) as the chairman was delayed. Hesitant at first , he finally agreed and his colleagues in the organisation were very impressed! He made a big impact that evening.

The lessons continued and Mehmet’s confidence grew. Colleagues at work were noticing his new found confidence. He was making presentations and leading meetings. He also assumed a more visible role in his cultural organisation.

Breakthrough 3

Shortly before our training sessions were completed Mehmet came to one lesson very excited. His organisation had been invited to send delegates to an International conference in Strasbourg and he had been asked to make a presentation to the delegates. He was beside himself with excitement and had absolutely no qualms about accepting the invitation!

We completed our lessons soon after this and I did not hear how the conference went. I know, however, that with a few pronunciation drills and his own meticulous practice, Mehmet went far beyond the goal set for him and it opened up a whole new world.

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