Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cohesive devices: when too much is just too much

I know I have just finished with suggestions on improving lexical resources with collocations but I would like to point out in this post the virtues of a little restraint, especially in the speaking portion of all ESL exams.  By the time you take your Cambridge CPE, Michigan ECPE or IELTS exam, you know furthermore, additionally, what is more and moreover like the back of your hand. 

I am going to share a little secret with you:  native speakers never use those words.  Really.   Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little.  Furthermore and additionally certainly have their place in academic writing but I can assure you that unless you are a member of Parliament or the Queen, the word moreover has no place in your arsenal of spoken language.  It's just too much.  And it certainly doesn't sound natural.  For some reason however, this is the word that has come to haunt me over the years. 

My advice:  just try to replace it with something more authentic sounding.  "Also,"  works wonders. "Besides" and "on top of that"  would also do nicely. 

when a little extra work is..... colossal

In my last post I mentioned lexical resources and I used synonyms for big as an example of how to use a wider range of vocabulary.  After I wrote the post, I kept thinking about the word, "colossal."  Yeah, that would have been a good one to suggest.  Then I started thinking about collocations with colossal because it is one thing to know a good word but it is quite another to know how to use it correctly.  So, I basically did something I think every ESL student should do, if he or she doesn't do it already:  I googled colossal definition.  One thing that dictionaries are good for apart from definitions, is telling you how the word is used.  So Merriam Webster gives us "colossal failure," Oxford tells us about "colossal mistakes,"  and The Free Dictionary gives us "a colossal increase in price." is another great site to see how words are used in sentences.  So, for all the words you learn, or all the "good words" you know, work with them,  see how they are used and jot them down somewhere.  Experiment a little.   If you are not sure if something you've written is a collocation, google that, too.  Who knows, it might just make the difference between a 6 and a 7.  And I think we all know that that is colossal.  :)

Friday, March 7, 2014

IELTS Writing: What does it all mean?

Lots of people approach me saying they need a 7 in IELTS.  My advice is always the same:   know what that means.  It's easy to see what a 7 translates to in Reading and Listening but sometimes people don't know what a 7 means for speaking and writing.  Google this:  IELTS speaking band descriptors  as well as IELTS writing band descriptors.   The descriptors are available on PDF all over the Internet.  Familiarize yourself with them and what they mean. 

A 7 in writing means you will need to do lots of things. In terms of task response, first, you'll need to address all parts of the task. So, if there are two questions, you will answer those two questions.  Advantages/ Disadvantages?   Talk about them both.  Your position will need to be clear throughout, so yes, say what your position is in your introduction.   Lastly, back up your main ideas with support, support, support. An 8 tells us that you have to develop your response with EXTENDED support, so after every sentence you write ask yourself, "how, why, what, who?"  If you can give an answer, then perhaps that answer should go in your essay. 

Coherence and cohesion tell us that your essay needs to have a logical order & progression.  Cohesive devices are necessary but they are more than just Firstly, Secondly, thirdly.   Even pronouns and words like this and that can link your ideas together.  So, use a variety.   Another warning would be not to OVERUSE cohesive devices.  So, sentences should be linked together but more seamlessly. 

As for lexical resource, why use "big" when you can say enormous, monumental, substantial or vast???  You want to be as precise as possible.  You could say, "air pollution is a big problem in our society," or you could say, "air pollution is a problem of monumental proportions in our society."    And I know that spelling in English is no easy task but it counts, so do be careful. 

Grammatical range means use more grammar than just Subject + Verb + Object.  Use subordinate clauses.  Use advanced grammar like inversion,  subjunctive, participle clauses, conditionals, relative clauses.  If you are not sure what these things are, open an advanced grammar book or Google them.
In an 8 essay, the majority of sentences are error-free.  That is your goal.  

If you keep in mind what an 8 is and have that as a goal, then you are more likely to get the 7 you actually need. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

For mini-posts, links I like, etc....

.... you may want to check out my page on Facebook.  I try to post things that I find from sites I like that I think ESL students, especially those studying for IELTS, ECPE and Cambridge ESOL, might find helpful.  I also occasionally post something original that doesn't really warrant a whole blog post.  If interested, check it out: