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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Voice Sample

I require a voice sample from applicants to my classes in order to check your pronunciation.

If your voice isn't intelligible, my strategies won't help you. In this case, it's better for you to spend your money on a speech therapist or accent reduction coach.

Some people don't want to hear that they need to work on their pronunciation. They seem to think that if they just improve their speaking strategies, they will get a high score. That doesn't work.

Your pronunciation doesn't have to be perfect, of course. There are some pronunciation points that I teach in class. But if you have severe pronunciation problems, you need to work on those with a trained specialist.

Please use English well!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

必要・要る and Need

Here's a mistake I hear in class sometimes (like this afternoon):
  • It needs time to develop typing skills
  • It needs money for R&D expenses.
The problem is that the subject (主語) of "to need" has to be animate (alive):
  • The dog needs food & water.
  • Men need a few good friends.
  • I need a few more points on the TOEFL test.
 You can probably use "take" for most of the inanimate subjects:
  • It takes time to develop typing skills.
  • It takes a lot of money to develop a new product.
Or you can use be-verbs:
  • Typing skills are time-consuming to develop.
  • R&D is expensive.
 Please use English well!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Become and なる

成る is usually "become," but there are important exceptions. Please remember that "become" is usually transitive (他動詞).  So sentences like the following (all from in-class student errors) are mistakes:
  1. I became to like English.
  2. My golf score became from 150 to 100.
So how do we fix this? One way is to change the verb to a more specific verb that implies change.
  1. I started to like English.
  2. My golf score improved from 150 to 100.
How about this one:
  • I became able to eat pasta.
The idea this speaker is trying to express seems to be "I'm Japanese so I couldn't eat pasta, and then I became able to eat it." Having seen one year old Japanese babies gobbling down pasta, I know that being Japanese has nothing to do with the ability to eat pasta. The idea you are trying to express is that you did something for the first time, so try this:
  • I ate pasta for the first time.
Finally, there are cases where "become" functions as a copula (連結詞):
  • They became able to play soccer.
And in these cases, I think the predicate has to start with an adjective (形容詞):
  • They became better at soccer.
Please use English well!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Two ways to improve your TOEFL essays

Several students have recently asked me how to improve their TOEFL writing scores. Here are two pieces of advice:

  1. Learn from your grammar mistakes and don't repeat them. Making a grammar mistake once is good, because it's an opportunity to learn. But I've seen many students repeat errors again and again.
  2. Use more examples and details. A student recently asked me to look at an essay that had this in it:

First, television gives me topics to talk about with my friends and family. Television provides lots of programs, such as news, movies, documentaries, etc. I like to talk about the programs I watched with my friends and family. 

There are NO examples of news, movies, or documentaries in this. It would be easy to add: "My friends and I like to watch baseball games together and talk about our favorite teams and athletes."

If you are using a copy & paste writing template, you are going to need around 500 words to get a top score because the copied & pasted words don't count. But if you don't use a template, like my strategy, 370 words is fine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

7/31 TOEFL Results

As I mentioned, I took TOEFL on July 31. My score was 119 (30, 29, 30, 30). Here's what we learned:
  1. Reading: I deliberately missed one question and still got 30.
  2. Listening: I deliberately missed one question and got 29. I might have missed more, but I don't think so.
  3. Speaking: once again, my strategies worked perfectly. Of course! My Integrated Speaking answers were 40~51 seconds long. You do NOT have to use the entire 60 seconds, but you do have to provide complete and accurate answers.
  4. Integrated Writing: We had to use 助動詞 to answer this task. I think this is why several students dropped from GOOD to FAIR. If you used a template and wrote: "The professor argues/insists that ~," then you made a mistake. This professor did NOT argue or insist. I wrote about this in a different blog post.
  5. Independent Writing: 370 words, no template, all simple sentences (重文なし) and simple vocabulary.  Some writing instructors say don't use "And" at the start of a sentence. I used "And," "But," and "So" at the start of sentences and did not use more academic transitions like "However," "On the other hand," etc. Here's more on my Independent writing strategy.

Please use English well!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pronunciation Video for you!

I hope everyone is enjoying their TOEFL journey. Rebecca Linquist made an accent reduction video for you. She's worked successfully with many of my students in the past 18 months, and I think her way of teaching the American accent can help just about all Japanese speakers of English.

She's going to make another video covering other aspects of the American accent soon.

Please use English well!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Testing the TOEFL test

I took TOEFL on July 31, and I did several tests on it:

  1. I deliberately missed one reading and one listening question to see if I can get 30 without getting every question correct.
  2. I ignored the dummy questions (choose the top answer choice for each).
  3. I used between 40 and 51 seconds for all 4 INT SP questions.
  4. I am sure I got 5.0 on INT WR, so I tested the IND question by writing a short (370 word) essay with very simple grammar and word choice. I used my TOEFL Writing strategies for both.
Let's see what my score is next week!