Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

March 14, 2012

My four Ps for polished performance in English language.

The idea for this post came out of a text chat discussion we had on Gapfillers a little while ago when, we came up with a formula for improving  performance and skills in English.

The title of the discussion was ‘How to get my English to a high level’ and the first three Ps to emerge (they all just happened to start with P) were:

Patience, Perseverance and Performance

and then the fourth and equally important Practice.

With this Posse of  Ps it’s hard not to reach your English goal (and hard to keep away from P-words too :-)! )

So let’s expand on them and see how they can help you to achieve your dream in English.

Patience.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your English. If things take time to sink in, make sense or execute don’t worry. If you keep on at a steady pace then you will, almost without realising it, achieve the milestone that you are aiming for. One day you will suddenly realise that you know something, really know it in your muscles, that you have been struggling to master for a while. Remember that language learning goes in a series of plateaux and is not a straight, onwards and upwards, line. You may feel that you are not making any progress for what seems like a long time and then suddenly, almost overnight, you get it! With patience these steps will happen and you will see and feel them. This will give you even more confidence to keep going!

Perseverance

This attribute helps you to pick yourself up, even after you have had a setback, and push forwards. It is easy to give up. It is easy to say I’ll never do this. Let’s say you took an exam and didn’t get the result you wanted you can shrug your shoulders and say that you’re not ever going to get the grade you need or you can learn from the experience and get back on track. Sometimes when you have this experience you need someone to support you and help you to keep going and find out where you went wrong.  A mentor, however, can only show you the way and encourage you. At the end of the day YOU are the one who needs to draw on your inner strength and focus on your dream again and take action to move closer to it.

Performance

By performance here I mean actually using your language. Speaking and writing as much as you can and making sure that you have an audience to receive this performance and sometimes even rate you on it! I speak to English learners every day and many of them tell me how they don’t have opportunities to speak or they can’t find anybody to look at their writing. Then I speak to others who have found themselves language buddies online and they speak every day and assess each other’s writing! You have to try to create opportunities for yourself and it’s so much easier today with the internet.

Be brave if you can’t find a group then why not start one yourself!

The fact of the matter is that languages improve with use and so if you need to improve, then you have to use them. You cannot rely on your books alone you MUST get out there and speak and write.

The more you perform the better (especially if you have good feedback) your performance will get.

Practice

The difference between practice and performance is that one is ‘real’ and the other is preparation for real. If you speak then your purpose is often other than the words and sentences  – it is to communicate something to someone. When you write it is to convey and message, or information, or get an assessment in an exam. On the other hand when you practise you are trying to perfect your skills for the performance. It’s rather like training in sport or rehearsing in music. It is in the practice where you can experiment with new words and phrases or a new style or new ideas. Practice is the focused way in which you get your skills to performance level. It is here that you can try things out, experiment with new words and phrases or new approaches to writing. You can ask people if you are right or gauge someone’s reaction to your new style or new vocabulary. Try and test, test and try, and you will broaden your language for the ‘real’ times.

But both practice and performance work together to get you those high level skills that you desire.

So, here you are; the 4P approach to getting your language skills to shine and achieving your goals in language whatever they may be.

And in case you are interested, here is the ‘warts and all’ transcript from that PPPP chat!!

GapChat

9/02/2011

How can I get my English to a really high level?

Welcome to live chat.
09:02 Berni: Don’t forget GapChat at 13.00 GMT today! See you then 🙂

12:51 Berni: Hello and welcome to today’s GapChat. How can I get my English to a really high level? I’m very excited about this topic as I think Gapfillers is a perfect way to start!

12:59 Berni: Add your comments in the box and press send. Don’t worry about just watching what others

are doing. Add your comments when you feel ready.

13:00 Berni: Hi Blanca I hope you manage to stay with us today!

13:00 Blanca Morales: Hi Berni, I´m sure you have the clue to get my English to a really high level?

13:01 Berni: I was hoping you would give us your advice as your English is at a very high level already!

13:01 Blanca Morales: It seems to be working at the moment.

13:02 Berni: I think one point about you Blanca is that you keep going and always look for areas of your English to work on – this is very important!

13:03 Berni: Three words that I think are very important (and they all begin with P) are Patience, Perseverance and Performance

13:04 Berni: HI Cee welcome – any nuggets for today’s chat?

13:04 Cee: Hi. Just getting my brain into gear!!

13:05 Blanca Morales: It is but it´s true my commitment to keep it going is high, that´s part of my life but when you´re just a learner is more difficult.

13:05 Cee: Would you add a further p – practise

13:05 Berni: Great idiom Cee! It means to get ready for action.

13:06 jay: Hi Friends..

13:06 Blanca Morales: I agree with these 4 P principles you two have just mentioned.

13:07 Berni: I agree Cee practice and performance go hand in hand you need to take opportunities to perform and then depending on the outcome go back and practise (note 2 spellings pof practice/practise noun/verb).

13:07 Berni: pof obviously? = of Lol!

13:08 rosamund: Hi, everyone! I’ll butt in when I have an idea – you seem to have got off to a flying start!

13:09 Berni: HI Jay welcome we are exploring what you should do to get your English to a high level and have come up the the 4P process! Pretty cool!

13:09 rosamund: butt in = interrupt, cut in. i suppose it’s a bit informal

13:09 Berni: Wow we’re producing great idioms today! Hello Ros welcome.

13:10 Berni: By the way cut in was our word of the day earlier in the week.

13:11 jay: This is first time chattting with you guys am new..Could you tell me about this use of chat..

13:11 Berni: So, how can we really use this process of patience, perseverence, practice and performance to push our skills?

13:12 Cee: Do you think getting your English to a high level is a staged process? – read, listen, speak. So that, in stages your confidence builds along with your ability?

13:12 rosamund: Hello, Jay – nice to meet you! What are your ideas about getting your English up to a high level? I think it’s important not to overlook the little opportunities that crop up (= occur) in your everyday routine. A friend of mine learned Polish while he was travelling to work on the metro eveyr day. It was the only free time he had, but he made use of it with a notebook, a list of vocabulary and sometimes headphones!

13:13 Berni: Jay we meet and chat each Wednesday about a topic on online English language learning

13:13 rosamund: Oops! typoe = I meant every

13:13 rosamund: typo – oh dear

13:14 Berni: The topic is voted for by Gapfillers members and then we discuss and look at ways we can use Gapfillers (and other things) to improve English skills

13:14 Cee: Great idea Ros. I have heard of people learning a language by listening to the radio – song lyrics as well as conversation.

13:15 Berni: We are looking at how to really make a difference to English language skills. I think to do something every day (even 5 or 10 minutes) will help.

13:16 Berni: The important things you have in thes example Cee is that this is authentic, real English and so is a good model.

13:17 Berni: The negative side of just listening to songs or radio is that in some way you need to convert this into an active skill – speaking or writing

13:17 Blanca Morales: Once you have reached an advanced level if you want to overcome that plateau level you feel at, you really need a professional to make your English progress. There I come to sth o learnt from Berni, which is brilliant: language auditing -is the spelling right?-

13:18 Berni: Yes, Blanca I agree you have to have someone chack that you are correct and that you don’t keep making the same mistakes – language auditing is a way of assessing your own language for the mistakes you make over and over

13:19 rosamund: Yes, Berni, i agree – what’s ideal is to be able to make the most of the time you have – the word of the day doesn’t take long for people to absorb – and the grammar exercises here on Gapfillers are also short. Some people like to make their own notes on reading or listening exercises to reinforce what they’ve covered – it depends on how your brain works, really. This can be a way of making the learning more active, to take your point, Berni. it’s not active active, but it’s not just passive – you’re taking sth and doing sth with it.

13:19 rosamund: did you mean ‘check’ Berni? My dictionary doesn’t have ‘chack’. (ho, ho!)

13:19 Berni: Jay what is your opinion on getting your English to a really good level?

13:20 Berni: Oh Ros Lol!

13:20 Blanca Morales: Can you see what I´m saying?

13:21 Berni: Yes Blanca – have you faded again?

13:23 jay: Berni..Actually i have a habit to improve my english skills.i used to find new word from dictonary and write it a pice of paper..i will read number of times whenever getting time on whole day…like traving ,roaming and somtimes while do bathing..!!!!

13:23 Berni: If you really want to improve your skills then you have to kep an eye on what ‘real’ speakers do – I find some students get to a reasonable level and then just go round in circles.

13:24 Blanca Morales: In fact, practice and awareness are important to boost the learning process.

13:24 jay: ‘real’ speakers means….native speakers?

13:24 Berni: This is a great idea Jay if you keep looking at the word and using it you will remember it! Make sure you look, listen, speak or write even a little every day.

13:25 Berni: Yes that’s right or very good speakers (they may not be native) I think having a good model is important that way you don’t ‘learn’ mistakes

13:25 rosamund: Yes, Jay – that’s a good idea. Do you ever put the word on a post-it? They’re little bits of sticky paper that you can stick on the fridge, or the bathroom mirror, so you look at them regularly. I have different colours, as i find even that can help words to stick (= sink in = become absorbed / learned).

13:26 jay: but whenever iam trying to speak in english ..iam always used to form sentence in my monther lang..then iam transalate it…some times i cant trsnalate what am thinking..

13:27 Berni: So to summmarise – we need to be patient and persevere, we need to practise and perform as much as possible, we need to have good language models and finally we need to expose ourselves to some English every day

13:27 Cee: Ha ha – some of the English used in the media is really quite poor!

13:28 Berni: Aha Jay now this is important – try not to do this as it rarely comes out right – use what you already know in English and start with simple sentences – what do you think Blanca?

13:28 Berni: I agree Cee it can be awful but there is still enough that is good to use I feel.

13:28 jay: Yes…Rosamund..used to stick papers on my walls,TV and bike!!!

13:29 Berni: Jay, you sound as though you are already doing everything you need to do to improve your English! Now try and ‘think’ in English!

13:30 Berni: Right so how can Gapfillers help?

13:30 Cee: Jay , my friend had a rule when learning French – If I wish to speak in French I must think it French too! She said it was very useful.

13:31 Cee: Whoops, ‘Think IN French’, not it -another typo

13:31 rosamund: It’s a much better idea to simplify what you’re thinking in your own language and base what you say on sth you know is right. It’s always interesting wondering how you would actually say sth in your own language – often it would be really difficult, so better not to translate too much of the time, just occasionally. It’s essential to vary your different types of learning, too. You can get bored and stop taking things in.

13:32 jay: sth means?

13:33 Berni: it means something (an abbreviation often used by teachers!)

13:33 Cee: Sth is an abbreviation of the word- something

13:33 jay: Fine

13:33 rosamund: sth = something – sorry, Jay. sb = somebody so = someone. You’re talking to someone who has spent too much of her life in different dictionaries.

13:34 rosamund: That’s why i know how much time you save doing work on this site and not having to look things up! I’ve been there and done that! (= That has been my own experience.)

13:34 Berni: I love the picture of you living in a dictionary Ros! I am sure this would improve language skills a lot!!

13:35 Berni: Jay, where are you joining us from today?

13:35 jay: From India

13:36 Berni: I’m in cold wet UK!

13:36 Berni: How often do you use English actively?

13:36 rosamund: Wow! Do your friends and family all call you Jay – or is that short for another name?

13:37 jay: Actually we used to speak in english in office hours..

13:37 Berni: Is that a rule or just your habit in your office?

13:37 rosamund: Was that for fun, or because you had to, for work purposes?

13:38 jay: because in india more than 500 native language is there..so English is gobal language for Indians.

13:38 rosamund: The idea of 500 native languages makes my head spin!

13:39 Berni: I think English has been a common language in India for a very long time – how do you feel it compares with English in the UK?

13:39 Cee: Wow, 500 native languages!

13:40 rosamund: In a typical secondary school in the UK we might have 12 – 15 different native languages – only in some would there be more than that – but I can’t imagine there being 500!Top of Form

13:41 jay: Berni..We used to follow UK English only

13:41 Cee: Jay, do you have to speak some English before you start employment, or do you learn it whilst you are working?

13:43 rosamund: What sort of English do you usually need – presumably social English, and also some sort of work-type English, vocabulary and phrases to do with meetings, correspondence, pay and conditions?

13:43 jay: from working environment only…Actually here lot of pepole good in English…

13:44 Berni: Good question Ros – it does depend also on what you need/want to learn – you can plan your programme to reach this goal.

13:45 rosamund: We have a lot of material on the site which should be useful in a work context, Jay.

13:45 jay: I want both !!!! Social as well as Work-type

13:45 Berni: Jay, this is the best answer – everything! can I ask you how you use the Gapfillers site to help youo improve your English skills

13:45 rosamund: Yes, we always laught when people who haven’t learned a language say they want ‘telephone English’. i mean, what do you want to say on the telephone?!!

13:46 jay: Because its makes bore if you speaks only work-type english with friends..Am i right?

13:46 rosamund: laugh – sorry!

13:46 rosamund: I agree, it is boring – and you can be a bit of a bore, too.

13:47 Berni: I think you are right Jay the more widely you use English the better it will become – is there a P word for this?

13:47 Berni: Also, doing things that are not work-related will keep you interested and often you learn more because you are enjoying the topic!

13:48 Berni: Lol Ros, especially if people can only talk about their jobs!!

13:49 rosamund: Shall we invent a term for using Englihs as widely as you can, over as many areas and fields as possible – what about calling it ‘parachuting’?! Jay, Blanca, I’m being silly here, just ignore me.

13:50 rosamund: English – I meant to type

13:50 Berni: Actually parachuting could just work!

13:50 Berni: So, Jay how did you find out about Gapfillers?

13:50 Cee: I can see Potential for some typing lessons here, people!! We are all making lots of typos!

13:51 rosamund: Folks, I’m sorry, but I have to go. Good to chat – thanks for your ideas – I’m going to go and have another think about some of this. have a good week, everyone.

13:52 Cee: I like the term ‘parachuting’, Ros.

13:52 Berni: Bye Ros and thank you for your ideas and thoughts – see you next time!

13:52 Cee: Bye Ros.

13:53 jay: Its really good!

13:53 jay: Got some new word from here

13:54 Berni: I think you are doing the right thing with your practice Jay – maybe you can formalise it a bit more so that you have an idea about the progress you are making. Do you get the word of the day?

13:55 Cee: That’s the good thing about coming onto Gapchat – you see people using everyday, ‘real’ English including idioms, slang and abbraviations. It’s all very useful!

13:55 jay: yes..

13:55 Berni: Which area of your language do you think you need to improve the most?

13:55 Cee: AAghh, abbrEviations! Sorry

13:56 Berni: Lol Cee!

13:57 jay: Simple sentence format and vacabulary

13:57 Berni: In speaking or writing?

13:58 jay: both

13:59 Cee: I have to leave, now. Nice to ‘see’ here today Jay. Thanks again Berni. See you all next week.

13:59 Berni: I see – how much listening practice do you do?

13:59 jay: Bye Cee….

13:59 Berni: Bye Cee thank you for all your input it was very helpful. See you soon 🙂

14:00 jay: i have no extra listening proctice! just i will intract with my co-workers and friends ..nothing else

14:02 Berni: I think this is something you can do to improve – try to find some listening exercises on Gapfillers (or another site you use) make sure there are some exercises so you can test yourself but this will help you to get exposed to good English models in different topics.

14:03 Berni: As you hear more of these examples you can use them in your own speaking and writing and this shoudl help you with your word order and grammar – but be patient it won’t happen overnight.
14:13 jay: Thank you so much for your support..

14:14 jay: Have a great time..Bye

14:16 Berni: It is my pleasure – see you soon! Bye 🙂

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 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

February 15, 2012

My IELTS Speaking Test is tomorrow – Can you help me TODAY?

This is a cry that I get often.  I really don’t understand why people leave it so late. Going over the exam procedure, making sure that you know what to do and when things are happening, checking the times etc.. is one thing you should do the night before, but trying to address the whole speaking test the night before or even in the days before the exam begs the question – should you even be doing the exam?

In actual fact my advice to students the night before their exam is (when they have checked the points mentioned above) to relax, watch a movie, read a book or magazine (in English) and go to bed early!

Frankly I would not be prepared to give this kind of last-minute coaching for two reasons. Firstly it wouldn’t be helpful and I don’t want anybody investing their time and money in something that isn’t going to help them to succeed and secondly, I have a feeling that if the result wasn’t the one wanted then I’d probably get the blame! So, my BIG message to all IELTS students in this post is please, please don’t leave things to the last-minute.

If you take a driving test do you get into the car the day before for the first time? Language is a skill the more you practice the better you get generally. Speaking is the most fundamental part of a language and you just need to find opportunities to practice. If you can’t speak well how on earth will you manage in your new country, your new job, or your new study? That’s what the IELTS is testing! Do you have the right level of English to succeed in the venture that you are embarking upon?

Your approach to preparation in the IELTS tells me a lot about how you will succeed. I meet students who are organised, who have a plan and who create a process for their learning and their preparation. They balance their general English practice with their IELTS test practice and know that it is impossible to get a good band without both. They are usually successful. I also meet students who keep on just ‘having a go’. This approach to the IELTS exam is VERY EXPENSIVE and will not guarantee you success. If you do not get exposure to English except via the Cambridge practice tests then getting a high band score is going to take a VERY long time and in some cases where a student’s English is not of a high level it will be impossible.

There are no short cuts. Either you have the language or not and no amount of IELTS practice can make up for a lack of good English language skills just as really great language may still not get you your score if you don’t prepare well for the exam itself.

So, particularly in the speaking, make sure you give yourself the best chance and start to practice as soon as you can and way before you go into the exam.

When it comes to speaking there is no substitute for actually doing it, getting out into the world and creating opportunities to use English with other people. These don’t have to be English native speakers – you can practice with other people who speak well or with other IELTS candidates who are looking for the same band score as you.

Yesterday I was speaking to Zakir from Pakistan. He is taking his test this week and he told me how in the last test he only scored a low score but wanted to get a 6 or 6.5 this time. His strategy for improving his score is to speak every day with a friend who is about the same level and they go through the test pretending one of them is the examiner and the other the IELTS candidate. They choose lots of topics and ask and answer the questions as if it were the real exam. They also take some time to chat as well. I was amazed at his level of fluency and confidence through using this simple technique to improve his speaking.  If you don’t have the chance to speak to a teacher, join a class or converse with English speakers then a simple arrangement like this will really help you to get some fluency and use your English.

On my Gapfillers site I encourage members to find speaking buddies – other members who are on the same IELTS journey who they can connect with on Skype in order to practise the speaking. I also run speaking workshops where we practise the test and talk about how to approach the speaking using practice exercises to improve performance. The speaking may only be a short part of the test but I really feel that it is one in which you can have a lot of influence over your score so it’s really worth making that extra effort to make it good!

So, here are some tips to improve your speaking:

  • Find speaking buddies to practise with
  • Record yourself – it’s good to hear how you sound and this will help you to hear where you hesitate or where your speaking might not be clear
  • Take any opportunity you can to speak – join a local English club or start one yourself! Look for an online one or start one yourself
  • Choose some topics write them on bits of paper, fold these up, put them in a container – everyday choose one at random and speak about it non-stop for 1 minute (then extend to 2 minutes) Choose some ‘silly’ topics like oranges or purple shoes etc.. if you can manage 2 minutes on this then the IELTS Part Two will not be a problem
  • Don’t stick to IELTS books go beyond this and just get out into the world to found opportunities if you have a wider experience then you will have much more to say in the IELTS exam
  • For pronunciation find recordings of poems or other short pieces and try to imitate the speakers – record yourself and compare

Finally, look at the video at the top of this post. There is a question at the very end. Make sure that YOUR answer is YES!

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

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

November 29, 2011

What should you do if you don’t get the IELTS score you need?

 Sometimes it happens, you study hard, you know you have ”all your ducks in a row’, you are really prepared, motivated and ready for the exam but somehow, for some reason you don’t get the result you need and it’s a BIG BLOW.

Some of my own students have experienced this and I shared the disappointment with them, especially as I really knew that they had everything they needed at their fingertips to pass with the band they wanted. Something had gone wrong on the day and the task in hand now would be to do a post-mortem and then decide on a way forward.

So here’s my plan of action that you can put in place when your exam doesn’t give you the score you want.

1. Firstly, be assured that you HAVE NOT FAILED, you haven’t quite got your target score but if you have scored 6.5 instead of 7 then that is a VERY good score! Allow yourself to feel disappointed, angry, despairing, whatever emotion you feel – go through this – you have to get over the disappointment before you can move on. Talk to whoever you feel you need to talk to or hide in your room for 3 days if that’s what you need to do – get it out of your system!

2.  After the initial hurt has passed you should feel more inclined to think about the exam – what happened? I think this stage is important as unless you address where you made the mistakes it’s very difficult to move on in a positive way. Ask yourself these questions:

  • was I really ready for the exam (did my teacher advise me against taking it, for example?), be honest
  • what happened in each paper; did you finish, did you say enough in the speaking, did you do something new or different, how much guessing did you do, were you too anxious, or even too confident – try to get an overview of the day
  • how did you feel about the questions were they straightforward, were they difficult,
  • how were you on the day – did you feel rushed, were you confident, too nervous, petrified etc..
  • try to get a picture

3. Now it’s time to ‘get back on your bike’ and try again – but with the knowledge and experience you have gained from this last experience.

4. From your analysis of your exam you should have an idea where you might have performed less than your best and this is what you must address while not allowing the other areas to drop.

  • work on these ‘problem’ areas in more detail
  • put a study plan in place
  • if you need only revise one area and the score was close, set a provisional (or actual) date for your next exam
  • if you had more than one lower score then you may need to go back to the drawing board and find out what is going wrong – perhaps get some professional help
  • if this keeps happening then you will have to change the way you are approaching your preparation – it could be that you are becoming an expert at a particular score and you need to ‘up your game’ to move away from this

5. Maybe you can’t work out what went wrong and you came away from the exam feeling very confident that it had all gone really well. It can be dangerous to be over-confident and it might be worth checking with a teacher that you really have the skills at the level you want. If this is confirmed then it was probably a fluke and you should keep up the practise but go back and take it as soon as possible (this is especially the case if all scores were very high except one e.g. if you got 3x band 8 and a 6.5 which was unexpected). If, on the other hand, your teacher thinks that your English level is below your desired band score then you need to get more English language practice and you MUST address this first.

6. Finally ‘don’t give up’. This is a setback and if you are on-track for the score you need you WILL get it. Keep focused, keep improving your skills and keep motivated. Every day you will be improving and IELTS is only the starting point for your future so none of the preparation you do will be wasted, it will all help you when you need to use the language day in, day out on your course or in your job.

Here are some other posts that might help you when you are feeling fed up and want to give up your IELTS dream:

 How to keep motivated in language learning

 Setting SMART goals for your English language learning

 Is learning English becoming overwhelming?

Check out the IELTS category (on right of this page) for more posts on IELTS 

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

November 18, 2011

6 things to remember when writing IELTS tasks

1. The purpose of the IELTS writing is to demonstrate YOUR ability to write coherently in ENGLISH on a given topic

It is very important to bear this in mind when preparing for the exam. This is one of your chances in the IELTS exam to take control (the other being in the speaking) and demonstrate your great ability in English and to write good English so don’t waste it! 

Make sure that you give a lot of preparation time to this and, if possible, get a teacher to help you especially if you are looking at bands 7 and 8. The teacher will not only mark your essays but will also help you to improve it by showing you how to develop your writing to ensure that you get the band you want.

2. The key to IELTS writing is effective preparation and practice.

I know that many IELTS students work VERY hard on their IELTS but I have also met many who, despite this hard work have not been able to achieve their goal. Your practice has to be effective to work for YOU.

If you need to get band 7 you HAVE to understand what a band 7 essay looks like, what it contains and how it feels to write one. You need to know this in your muscle!  To do this you need to produce one and this may take 2 or 3 hours but it doesn’t matter, once you have it then you will not go back to your old way of writing again.

Less is more with writing – quantity does NOT necessarily produce quality. It is better to work for a long time on ONE essay than produce 4 at once. If you have an IELTS teacher or coach then they will tell you when you have managed to get your band 7 essay down. If not then you will have to rely on models. Model essays are YOUR key to great writing and don’t rely simply on the good essays of your friends, they will have mistakes. Look at what you are reading for the IELTS reading – here are great models! You can find model essays for IELTS everywhere;  study them and really go deep and find out what a band 7 truly is!

Don’t try to second-guess what the examiner is looking for.

Your job in the writing is to say “Look at my great writing ability at band 7. See how I have managed to express this topic really well and given you lots of good language to assess” it isn’t to think “I wonder what the examiner would like to see in this paragraph”.

The exam is not about the examiner, it’s about you. I can tell you that all examiners want you to do well. I know this because I have been an examiner myself and I really wanted every essay to be good and to get whatever band the candidate required. It’s sad when you see essays that have lots of silly mistakes, or weren’t planned properly or are too short or aren’t finished. Sometimes you can see that the person really has ability but they haven’t demonstrated it.

See the exam as an opportunity to demonstrate your great English rather than a ‘test’ and you’ll be much more confident.

3. Please Plan, don’t just dive in!

“There isn’t enough time to plan” I hear this all the time, yet planning well actually ‘saves’ you time! With a good plan the essay almost writes itself  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using. Without a plan you are trying not only to make sure you use good English, the right vocabulary, great structure and not too many mistakes, but also the ideas you want to express as well, all as you go along and all in about 20 or 30 minutes – that’s a lot to ask!!

A good plan will give direction to your essay and state the points you want to make  leaving you to concentrate on the language you are using to express these ideas on paper.

4. Think in English

When I was learning French at school a teacher told me “If you don’t know it don’t use it!” This is very good advice – translating from your own language most often fails and you will end up with English which can at best sound ‘odd’ and at worst be gibberish thus losing you many marks in the process.

If  the idea in your head is only in your own language and you don’t know the word or expression in English then either come up with another idea or think of words you DO know that you can use to express this. I understand that you can express things in a very erudite and confident way in your own language and that you want to come across in your writing as an educated and knowledgable person BUT look at point 1 here – it’s your ability in English that is the most important thing in this exam NOT your knowledge!

In fact, if you can train yourself to think in English then your chances of producing great writing are better.

The way to do this is to immerse yourself as much as possible in English as you prepare for the exam. Read newspapers, journals, books. Listen to radio programmes, watch films and documentaries. Develop a deep and meaningful relationship with English and great things will start to happen. Firstly you will learn a lot of things using English as a vehicle and secondly you will begin to absorb the language naturally as your exposure to it increases and soon you will be thinking about ideas and topics straight into English and NOT via your own language.

Wow, this sounds like a lot of work and IELTS preparation on top too! Well, yes it is a lot of work but isn’t it worth it to get what you need? Why are you taking the IELTS anyway? Isn’t it to get you somewhere where you will be working or studying in ENGLISH every day? IELTS is simply your gateway, once you arrive at your destination you are going to need FAR MORE English than the IELTS needs so get started in this way and ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

( see my post  – Thinking in English – How to make it happen)

5. Try things out during your preparation period

In order to produce a wonderful piece of writing you need to experiment a little. All writers create several drafts of their work before they publish. This blog post has taken me quite a long time to produce as I have been revising and adding things. Obviously in the exam you have only one chance but if your preparation has really prepared you for that one chance then you’ll have no problem. On the day of your test you should know how you are going to tackle the questions, whatever they are – there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises!

The time for experimenting is in your preparation time and to get a good band you really should,try and do this. From your reading and studying of model essays and other texts you will find a host of new vocabulary and sentence types. You should choose the ones that you like or the ones that impress you and use them in your own writing. Be creative, test things see how they fit, see what the result is and then ask someone to check and see if they have worked.

Questions I always ask my students when they give me writing to check is ‘Are you writing in the same way as you did before?’ and ‘Has the way you approach your writing changed?’ I always expect the answer ‘yes’. There wouldn’t be any point in working with me and then doing the same old things. I am always pleased with the ‘yes’ answer because it shows me that their work is growing and developing and getting better and that’s what should happen. I also love it when students try things new, even if they don’t work – you have to fail to grow and when better to do this than with a supportive and experienced person to help you to use these words and phrases in the correct way.

6. Timing comes towards the exam date

Many IELTS students I meet are worried about getting their writing tasks done in the time allowed (1 hour) and spend much of their preparation time racing against the clock, doing essay after essay as fast as possible. This is putting the cart before the horse! My daughter learns the piano and her teacher keeps telling her to get it right first and then speed up. This is my advice for you also. Once you know exactly what you are doing you can easily get this done in the time and even faster leaving you extra time to check. This is what you are aiming for. So make sure you start with the content and quality of your writing and don’t worry about the time – that will come when you are ready with your perfect band 7 essay every time!

Writing is the part of the exam that most people struggle with but with some disciplined and effective practice it will soon become a joy to you to write these tasks and when you are looking forward to it then you have achieved what you need.

Here are some other posts that might help with writing:

10 Ways to increase your vocabulary

Warning! Mistakes cost marks

7  Deadly sins to avoid in your writing

7  Great virtues to help you write well in English

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

November 1, 2011

25th Edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival – November 2011.

I am thrilled to be holding the 25th EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival here this month (November 2011).

The theme for this carnival is:

The Most Popular Posts on your Blog

 

I have received so many fantastic entries that it really is an amazing feast of  great, great posts!

 

I asked people to search through their archives, dust off the post that got  the most visitors, comments, retweets and show us what EFL/ESL/ELL blog readers are most looking for!

As teachers we don’t often get a chance to ‘show off’ or ‘brag’ about our achievements so here is your opportunity to take out your most celebrated piece of  writing and showcase it again for us all to admire!

 

This carnival is simply the best of the best!

Enjoy the feast!!

I’ll begin with my own top post:

 10 Top Tips for Improving IELTS Scores

It is not a particularly momentous post but it keeps getting visitors and comments!

Everybody can paint! 

Sabrina’s Weblog – by Sabrina  De Vita

I will start this post by thanking my students for having inspired me to write it, and I would like especially to thank Gisela for being so generous as to share pieces of her life with us every class.

10 Most Common Questions From English Language Learners

English and Culture | Notes on Life and Language in the United States – Lindsay McMahon

This article covers the 10 most common questions that I have received from English language learners including grammar points and strategies for learning English.

It’s not onlyabout errors

4C – Tyson Seburn

I admit it. I’m a slacker with regards to actively participating in Shelly Terrell’ #30goals.  It’s certainly not because I think they aren’t worth my time or not applicable to my teaching, but for one reason or another, they’ve been put on the sidelines this February, along with active blogging and commenting on others’ blogs. 

Tools for the 21st-Century Teacher

Sandy Millin – Sandy Millin

This is far and away the most popular post on my blog, largely thanks to Ann Foreman and the British Council Teaching English facebook group. thanks Ann!

Post-it notes 

(Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas – Sandy Millin

My second blog is designed to crowdsource ideas for how to use different ‘prompts’ in class. Post-it notes have proved the most popular. Can you add any other ideas?

INTEGRATING TECHNOLOGY: “Strange Animals” class project

The machine goes onDaniela Tomatis

We’ve just finished a class project which involved 12-year-old Middle School students.

VOCABULARY CHALLENGE: 5 WAYS TO STORE WORDS 

The machine goes on – Daniela Tomatis

I love words.

What about your concept questions? The famous CCQ’s

TEFL Matters – Marisa Constantinides

I thought my most popular post was going to be the one on Word Clouds, but, no, it looks like teachers have searched for and read different posts most.

According to google analytics, the most visited post in the past year has been is “What about your Concept Questions? The famous CCQ’s”

But according to Edublogs stats in my dashboard ,

The Power of Play for Education and Language Development  is the one.
The wandrous whiteboard challenge

English Raven – Jason Renshaw

Here’s a new challenge for teachers out there interested in trying things out and sharing the results!

Opening your classroom door to the world

My Integrating Technology journey – Jennifer Verschoor

If you would like to heighten your students’ cultural awareness, consider Opening your classroom door to the world.

Songs in EFL Classroom

A Journey in TEFL – Eva Buyuksimkesyan

I have written many times that I really enjoy using songs in the classroom. I know how effective these real songs can be.

The Best Websites To Help Beginning Readers

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

I thought it was time for another list of Websites Of The Year.  This series of “The Best of…” posts will be continuing off-and-on until I run out of useful topics.

For English Teachers – Angoltanároknak: ELT Rap

 For English Teachers – Angoltanároknak  – Erika Osváth

Although this is a post I’ve put up fairly recently, it has become very popular in a very short period. I’m guessing, because apart from it being fun, it gives teachers – and maybe teacher trainers too – ideas about exploiting rap songs in teaching EFL.

Building your own PLN with Twitter

Te@ch Me – Hakan Senturk

A practical guide to build your own personal learning network (PLN).

Teaching English through songs in the digital age (part 1 of 4): Background readings and resources

Educational Technology in ELT – Vicky Saumell

In case you didn´t know, I´m an avid tweeter, especially for Professional Development and networking with colleagues all over the world.

Visualising Ideas – Notes for teachers on “How To Steal Like An Artist” By Austin Kleon

Visualising Ideas – Naomi Epstein

A visual and humorous look at why and how teachers should collaborate

Prezi vs Powerpoint « Classroom201X

Classroom201X – Pil Bird

I do quite like this post… but I’ve never quite got why it gets so many more hits than the rest of my posts, but it does and there’s a good stream of comments there as well…

Very Funny Ads

TeflTecher : Tasks, Videos and Opinions for Tefl Teachers – Ian James

I love using adverts in my teaching. If you ignore the fact that they’re trying to flog you something and focus on their narrative structure, they can provide you with an endless supply of mini-stories for “retelling” activities.

A close up on translation | close up

close up – Ceri Jones

what a great choice for a blog carnival -so easy to choose – just let the stats do it for you 😉 and nice to look back at an old forgotten post and all its comments too.

Love Them Before You Know Them

About a Teacher  – Greta Sandler

I can still remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was my first day at a new school and my first year as an elementary teacher. My lifetime dream was coming true. So special was this day that everything around me was inspiring.

Teachers and Learners – Roles That Complement Each Other

Vicky Loras’s Blog – Vicky Loras

Teachers should share their enthusiasm with students. In the process of learning, there are numerous things that play a significant role towards making it a smooth, pleasurable and constructive process.

10 Tech Tools for Teacher Training Courses

Nik’s Learning Technology Blog – Nik Peachey

….this course took place in a computer room with 1 Internet connected computer per teacher.

What follows below is a brief outline of the tools I used to achieve this and how I used each tool.

Introduction for free #edtech20 project gateway to knowledge in #education20 in the New Age of #Curation #leadershipday11

#edtech20 #socialmedia #curation project gateway to knowledge central.ly/web20education/  – DUMA CORNEL LUCIAN

I present this project in #mmvc11 because 2011 is the beginning of New Age of Curation

Chiew Pang Interviews Shelly Terrell

iAskU  – Chiew Pang

Shelly Terrell’s interview just managed to edge Chia Suan Chong’s by a few visits.

Daily Routines Tagging Game

a cLiL to cLiMB – Chiew Pang

Not an article as such, but it’s proven to be rather popular.

C1 Lesson Plan – Reading: Facebook, more harm than good « A Muse Amuses

A Muse Amuses – Neil McMahon

I’m on a roll today – another tweet (can’t remember who from I’n afraid – if you know, let me know) tipped me off to this article on facebook so I’n gonna use it as a springboard

Restaurant | English Advantage

English Advantage – Walton

My most popular post is actually a lesson plan for a restaurant role play. I guess it’s so popular because I tried to include a lot of materials like specific role cards and even notes for the waiter to make the role play as realistic and also as adaptable as possible. I’m also fairly proud of my restaurant discussion questions which focus on problems at restaurants, something fairly common that isn’t always covered in textbooks.

Should teachers be encouraging the use of ?English? names in our classrooms?

Teaching the Teacher – Stephanie

Because using ‘English’ names as a replacement to a child’s name really, really bothers me.

Focusing Curriculum Around Skills « Core4All

 Core4All – Alan Matan

This is a blog focusing on the Common Core State Standards as a way to drive ELL curriculum.

12 Angry Men: A Dramatic Activity Plan

So Where Did It Go Wrong?  – Gordon Scruton

One of my more popular posts on my teachers’ blog, based on my love of old movies.

What is Cohesion & Coherence? (Cambridge Testing Explained)

Understanding How We Learn  – Gordon Scruton

Reverse reading comprehension – lesson activity

www.mikejharrison.comMike Harrison

This lesson idea proved a hit, with 1,300 views! Still amazed it struck a chord with so many!

10 contemporary motivation theories and how they explain why your students just aren’t ‘into it’ « one year

one year – Adam Simpson

My most successful post in terms of comments, hits, retweets, you name it!

Don’t Make These 7 Mistakes Teaching English Abroad

TripbaseKatie Sorene

7 most commonly made mistakes made by English teachers working overseas such as over-emphasizing pronunciation rather than communication, overdoing the grammar and missing home too much! Helpful tips to prevent English teachers who venture abroad from falling into these traps.

Blog challenge: compare and contrast photo

A journée in languageBrad Patterson

Anne Hodgson posted a quick pic post yesterday and its humor got the ball rolling on a fun idea.  We sent a few tweets back and forth and decided to challenge you to choose two photos to “compare and contrast” something similar but different.

Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs

everythingESL.net – Judie Haynes 

In Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010), Debbie Zacarian and I listed seven teaching strategies for mainstream teachers of ELLs.

The giant is no longer asleep

ELT Bakery –  Eduardo Santos

This post is about the current economic situation of Brazil, part of the BRIC, and a very interesting ad done by Johnnie Walker. This post let to great discussions about the current economic situation in some countries from my PLN.

Educators’ News – August 22-26, 2011

Educators’ News – Steve Wood

Let Sleeping “Cat” Lie

Janet’s Abruzzo EdublogJanet Bianchini

This post has been one of the most popular ones I have ever written and it is also one of my favourites. 

Looking forward to the next carnival?

The 26th edition of EFL/ESL/ELL Blog Carnival will be held on January 1st 2012 and hosted by David Deubelbeiss  – use the submission form to submit your entries. 

The Carnival welcomes any blog posts, including examples of student work, that are related to teaching or learning English. You can contribute a post to it by using this easy submission form. If the form does not work for some reason, you can send the link to Larry Ferlazzo via his Contact Form. Let Larry Ferlazzo know if you might be interested in hosting future editions.

You can see all the previous editions of the ESL/EFL/ELL Blog Carnival here.

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

August 20, 2011

IELTS Myths

I have worked with IELTS students for many years and over this time students have told me many things about the IELTS exam that I term ‘myths’.

The reason I consider them to be mythology is because they are mostly not true and secondly they can become a huge distraction to students who are preparing for the exam. At best they are harmless pieces of  ‘folklore’ but sometimes they can actually be detrimental and act against good performance in the exam.

So here are 10 IELTS Myths (there are plenty more) all of which have been said to me by my students quite recently. I want to explain to you why you should ignore these and stick to the real work of preparing successfully for your exam!

In this post I would like to explode some of these myths and explain why IELTS candidates should ignore them.

 

 

So here are my top 10 myths:

  • You can get a higher band at X centre

When I was an IELTS examiner in London some years ago,  this belief used to amuse me. I often examined with other examiners who attended various different centers. We would meet each other at different centres and so wherever students went for their IELTS exam the same examiners would be there! There are many more centres nowadays but examiners do still move around.

Secondly, examining the IELTS  is standardised and all examiners do a lot of training to ensure that they are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ i.e. all giving a standardised result. Wherever you take the exam you will get the same experience and chance.

  • Some examiners are stricter than others

If you take on board what I’ve said above then this cannot be true. All examiners have to give all candidates the same experience and they train rigorously for this.

All examiners want you to be successful and get a good score but they can only score what you give them on the day!

  • Only x number of candidates will get a high band at each centre

Every IELTS candidate has the same chance and if you perform well enough to achieve a high band then you will get a high band.

The way to make sure that you get the band you want is to prepare well, make sure that your English is at the right level and not waste time worrying about these things.

  • If I pause for more than 10 seconds in the speaking I can’t get a high band

This could be a very dangerous thing to believe because it means that you are counting time instead of thinking about how you perform in the speaking test.

I am quite sure that the examiner is not checking the length of your pauses. If they were doing that they would not be paying attention to what you say and then they would not be able to score you at all! If you think about this it is ridiculous.

It is true that if you hesitate too much then your speaking will not be fluent and that will affect your score. Instead of counting pauses though, make sure that you can answer the questions fluently. Counting the length of your pauses can only interfere with your communication and I am sure that it will end up being stilted.

  • Certain centres will not give high bands to candidates from x country

This is a new one on me. Examiners only check passports to see that you are the person you say you are. Their role is to test your English performance and not to make judgements about your nationality. IELTS examiners have no control or influence over visas – they are simply assessing your English.

  • I have to include these words (usually a list) in my task two or I won’t get a high band

Sadly I have seen essays that are ‘word-packed’ and often the communication is lost. The most important thing about the essay is that you answer the questions in a communicative and convincing way. You are at liberty to use any words and phrases you wish and,of course, if you use a range of good vocabulary that will hep you with your final score but throwing words at the essay just because you think they will impress the examiner is a dangerous thing to do. Using words appropriately and sensibly to give your essay some sophistication will get you marks but throwing words at your essay willy-nilly because you think they will earn you marks won’t help you at all.

It’s better to spend your time broadening your overall vocabulary and perfecting your writing style so that you are able to use new words in the right way.

  •  I have to keep practising the IELTS practice test to get a good band score

This can be a very boring and limiting way of preparing for the test. While it is important to prepare for the IELTS and understand what is expected in each part of the test, you need to remember that this is a test of English and the better your English, the better your chances of doing well. Don’t limit yourself to IELTS tests use the great wealth of English language material on the internet to help you too.

  •  IELTS is the most difficult English exam

IELTS is actually a very straightforward exam – there are no tricks. It tests your ability to use English in certain tasks at a certain level and that is all. There are many tests of English for many different purposes and if you are well prepared and have the right English level (this is very important – you need to be band 7 to get band 7) then IELTS is no more difficult than any other exam.

  • If the examiner doesn’t like my opinion I won’t get a high band

The examiner’s job in the writing and speaking is to see if you are able to present ideas and arguments in good English and to test that those ideas are plausible and backed up so that they are convincing. At no time will the examiner judge your ideas (as long as they are sensible and fit in with the question).

You are in control of your speaking and writing not the examiner. You should use this position to demonstrate your excellent use of English. If you are waiting for the examiner then you will not perform as well. Take the lead and convince the examiner of your opinions.

  • I have to give the examiner the answer they want in the speaking

This tallies with the above myth. The examiner has a list of questions that they will ask you but it is your job to take those questions and use them to demonstrate your English. The examiner has no idea what your answers will be and they also have no idea in their head of  an answer that they want – that is your job. They will simply listen and mark you according to how you managed to respond.

 

So my advice is not to listen to these myths they will not help you. You should concentrate on what will help you and that is sustained, regular practice in both your English language and the IELTS exam preparation.

 

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

May 19, 2010

Preparing for language exams

I’ve just been helping my 11 year-old daughter prepare for an end of term French test. I was ironing and she was at her books. We practised some short dialogues about the weather, transport, time etc.. did some drilling on pronunciation, new words and word order and then the usual recitation of irregular verbs. Two weeks ago another daughter took her GCSE French oral exam. This was a little more involved, we practised dialogues on given topics and I sent her a couple of questions in French during the day as text messages and she responded. Our big area of grammar was tenses.

My reason for describing this is not to give you an insight into domestic bliss in our household or to boast about my dedication to my children’s education. In fact I have two older daughters, now working, neither of whom speak any language other than English (cobblers’ children and all that). No, in fact it got me thinking about language exams and approaches to language exams and what activities might be most productive when facing a language exam.

I’d like to explore first what language exams are. In my opinion, they are simply benchmarks showing staging posts along a journey of developing and enhancing skills. They show that at some stage a particular level of skill was reached. That doesn’t mean to say that someone is still able to demonstrate that level and herein lies the rub! Skills can get rusty if you don’t keep practising them. I don’t see a language as an academic pursuit (the literature and other studies around language such as linguistics, philology etc.. are excluded here). To me it is akin to learning to drive, or playing a musical instrument or even achieving a certain level of physical fitness.  Language development starts small and then grows. See how any baby develops language and you will see this. It is ‘additive’ in its nature. You cannot enter at Upper Intermediate level and expect to perform well (let me know if this has happened!). We start with a foundation (however you choose to learn) and then build on this. The more you build the better you get just the like the more you drive the better you become.

(see my post ‘Are some people better at learning languages than others?‘)

OK  so how is this important for exams? It is important because language exams in my opinion need a different approach – I don’t believe you can ‘revise’ for a language exam in the same way that you would revise for a history or a medical exam. You need to practise for a language exam and the more practice you get the better you will be. OK this is trite stuff you may think – it’s obvious.  If so, then why do I see time and time again students going over and over practice tests instead of getting out and about in the language! Practice tests are more about exam technique than they are about language proficiency. Why do students have a slot in their revision timetable for ‘English’/’French’/’German’ revision? Why do my students, when I return their corrected writing to them, put it carefully in their folders where it never sees the light of day again and why am I told when I set about the present perfect tense for the umpteenth time, ‘we’ve already learned this!’ – been there, done that. The truth is you need to keep going there and doing that and each time you do, push your usage a bit further forwards. If you are guilty of some of these then take heed – you could be making the process far more difficult than it needs to be!

So, some top tips for preparing for language exams:

  1. Don’t make the exam the be all and end all of your language learning.  In fact, I think you should be thinking something like “I’ve really made good progress here, perhaps I’ll consider taking an exam.” –  rather than -“I need to get FCE, CPE etc.. when can I take the exam!”
  2. Don’t leave your exam preparation until the last minute – make sure you go over areas that you are not sure about immediately after your lesson/online session.
  3. Make sure you do something each day (it’s like learning the piano or improving your fitness level – 10 minutes per day is better than 30 minutes once a week). Try something like Gapfillers word of the day or daily practice.
  4. Do things you enjoy – all language learned is relevant it really doesn’t matter if it didn’t come up as an IELTS topic last year! In your speaking and writing tests YOU ARE IN CHARGE  use any language you like as long as you address the topic (and remember it doesn’t have to be true!)
  5. Be critical of yourself – don’t accept mediocre, if you are not sure ask or test it out.
  6. Jump in and try using phrases, words and new grammar the feedback will tell you if you’re on the right track – best to find out now before you use it in your exam!
  7. Use the internet – no excuses now for not having enough exposure. Listen to videos on your favourite subjects (that way you’ll be involved in something you enjoy too). Read, watch, listen, find grammar and vocabulary exercises – bookmark the ones you find useful so you can come back again.
  8. Try and think in your target language – do this during your short daily practice (see my post on Thinking in English – how to make it happen)
  9. Make sure you are a bit better than the exam requires you to be that way you’ll be more relaxed when you take it.
  10. You should use the exam to demonstrate your ability – make sure you have things to say/write. Make sure you learn language that can be adapted to different topics and scenarios

With as much exposure to and practice in the language as possible and an approach to your study that is both systematic and enjoyable, you should pass the exam with flying colours!

January 25, 2010

Improving IELTS Scores – part 3

Speaking and Listening

In my last 2 posts on IELTS I looked at ways in which you could improve your overall English language performance and more specifically Reading and Writing  in preparation for the IELTS examination.

Now I want to turn attention to the Speaking and Listening tasks on the exam. As with reading and writing, these two skills are linked. You can use language from your listening practice to help with your speaking. The more you practice the speaking the more you will be able to pick up on the listening.

  • Can you share examples of issues you have with either of these skills?
  • How have you been preparing for these papers?

If you have any suggestions, questions or problems then please share them.

Whenever you are listening to English if you find useful expressions and words write them down so that you can use them in your speaking.  Don’t restrict your practice to text books, IELTS or otherwise ,what you really need is exposure to authentic language.

  • Use what is around you- radio, music, TV
  • Eavesdropping on other people’s conversations (preferably people you don’t know, on the bus etc.. or use the internet) can be very useful – but make sure you do it surreptitiously!
  • Try to listen to a range of different topics and types of speaking (groups, interviews, talks etc..) this will help you with the different listening types in the exam and also give you information about topics for the speaking.

Approaches to the listening task

The thing you MUST do in the listening (and speaking) papers is concentrate. It is very easy to allow your mind to wander and drift away and thus miss an answer or main point.

  • Prepare ‘markers’  by going through the questions for the listening very carefully and underline keywords.
  • Use the information in the questions to anticipate what the content of the listening will be.
  • The keywords will help you locate the answers.
  • Listening for the keywords you have underlined will also tell you if you have missed a question.
  • Use the time given between tasks to prepare the next section – don’t go over questions you have missed!
  • If you miss a question go back at the end and use information you now have + common sense to choose an answer
  • Still don’t know? Then guess; you won’t lose anything and you might be right! 

During your practice don’t make everything a timed exercise. If you are good at spotting the correct answers you can easily practice speeding up the process. The important thing is to make sure your listening skills are good. Believe me even the most advanced students often produce bizarre answers which, when they consider with common sense, couldn’t possibly be right – skills first, speed later!!

See my post on improving listening skills

Try this listening exercise – You’re no-one of you’re not on twitter (a bit if fun)

Listen to this very short interview

Top Tip: use both common sense and instinct in selecting the answers – don’t spend too long making your choice.

Approaches to speaking:

The speaking test is completely under your control. The examiner will give you the topics and guidelines but you will drive the test.

  • Make sure you know what is expected – it isn’t just a chat.
  • Your preparation for the other papers should give you a wide range of topics with plenty of ideas and information that you can use in potential speaking topics.
  • Remember speed does not = fluency. Speak clearly and as accurately as you can you don’t need to rush (I am a native speaker but I speak quite slowly).
  • We don’t learn about these topics in my country isn’t a good excuse, you’re expected to have read about them in English – use the internet and read the news sites regularly.
  • As with your writing, give evidence for your statements and back this up with examples. Your answers need to be ’rounded’.
  • Go through lists of possible topics and ask yourself – Can I talk about this? If not then find out about it.

Practice is the key with everything and get as much exposure as you can. Find people you can practise with. Give each other feedback.

Read this case-study about one of my students and how he improved his speaking skills.

Top Tip: become an ‘English’ chatterbox!

So, preparation is the key element in improving your IELTS scores along with making sure that you concentrate on your language skills and not just the test!

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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