Give editing the attention it deserves

I decided to strike while the iron was hot and wrote a post based on my student’s guest post. In my post, I am talking about the editing part of writing.

Give editing the attention it deserves or the joy of collaborating with Nadya Borisova

This post is inspired by the guest post Nadya Borisova wrote for me “Academic IELTS without a degree in linguistics” (Part 1 and Part 2). She wrote the whole thing, while I got to comment and edit. Editing is a critical, yet underestimated part of writing. In this post, I want to give this part the attention it deserves and talk about how Nadya and I collaborated on editing her post.

The guest post idea.

Being a teacher, I write about exams and language learning from a teacher perspective (naturally). I claim to know the right thing to do and demand that my students do what I say. But my students don’t always do what I demand or recommend. One reason could be that, as a teacher, I am not always able to put myself in my students’ shoes and adequately assess their needs. Additionally, to be brutally honest, IELTS 9 (my score) is out of reach for most students, so my success story might not be particularly inspiring. At the same time, most test takers or potential test takers will relate to my students’ success stories. So I thought, “Why don’t I share them on my blog?” and offered my IELTS 8 student to describe her success story (in English, naturally).

She did!

The mere fact of a student writing 5(!) pages of original and meaningful material in English was already enough to make me go ecstatic. But I actually derived even more pleasure out of it – the pleasure of editing.

The editing procedure.

Stage 1. 

I read the whole piece to get the main idea. As I was reading it, I paid attention to the title, the sections, the way the informations was organized, and the length. I commented on those aspects and Nadezhda replied.

Stage 2.

I gave the piece a second read, paying attention to the content this time. I wanted to cut the piece by about 1 page and looked for things that could be sacrificed or expressed more concisely. I also tried to figure out whether the information was clear to the potential reader (people who have never taken IELTS or those who have but didn’t get the required score). I made some suggestions, which we discussed.

Stage 3.

When I was completely satisfied with the content and the organization, I turned my attention to the language. I tried to keep Nadya’’s piece as “hers” as possible and did not correct all of the mistakes or inappropriacies. In terms of grammar, I mostly corrected articles, prepositions, and tense use a couple of times. We fixed some sentence structures. The vocabulary is mostly untouched, I didn’t want to mess it up. Here are some examples of Nadya’s vocabulary use that I liked:

  • You have to keep in mind that you cannot achieve overnight success in learning a language.
  • But hey, IELTS is a language test after all!
  • Remember, you’re on a tight schedule.
  • All teachers always say: planning is a must.

By the way, these examples show that Nadya learned English from authentic resources and didn’t use a Russian-English dictionary when writing her post. How? Well, this fascinating topic actually deserves a post of its own. Let’s continue with our story now.

Stage 4.

Nadya and I each gave the document a final read, resolving any final comments and edits.

The time it all took.

The work was thorough on both sides and therefore time-consuming. I first messaged Nadezhda on 28 December, I received the first draft on 9 January and we finished editing on 22 January. Choosing the title took the longest and looked like this:

The title that we decided to stick to with was the version that Nadezhda came up with 1 day before we published the post, completely out of the blue.

The joy and power of collaboration.

Here is why I enjoyed working with Nadya immensely.

First and foremost, she met the challenge fearlessly and responsibly.

Additionally, Nadya was open to my suggestions and didn’t take offence at my edits. Nor she didn’t expect me to just correct or rewrite her sentences (which many students do, but no, I don’t rewrite students’ works). I actually wrote all of my suggestions in the comment boxes and she corrected everything herself.

Finally, we were both invested in this post and both worked consistently to improve it. The end result is more concise, understandable, and relatable.

The takeaway.

I know there are a lot of you out there who face writing university or grant applications every once in a while. My advice to you is:

If you write something long and important, give it a month, have somebody else read it, take their suggestions into account and be ready to rewrite your piece multiple times. Give editing the attention it deserves!

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Academic IELTS 8 without a degree in linguistics. Part 2.

This is the second part of the guest post by my student Nadya Borisova. This time she is going to talk about Writing and Speaking, as well as share online IELTS preparation resources.

Part 2. Writing and Speaking. Resources.

In Part 1, I talked about my background, preparation time, reading and listening skills. Now I want to talk about the active sections, Writing and Speaking.

Writing

Here comes the tough one. Last time I got 7.0 for Writing. I used Irina’s help, and I can’t stress it enough, you need a look from another person to tell you what you do right and wrong.

In Task 1 the hardest thing for me was to decide what’s important and what’s not. I practiced a lot with Irina, and now I feel more comfortable with distinguishing meaningful information from the less important on the graph or pie chart.

The best tip I got for Task 2 is the way you brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I got a topic and I was stuck as I didn’t know what to say. IELTS essay questions are in a formal style, so I tried to think about my arguments and reasons academically, which is, of course, not easy. But then I read about “the cafe technique”. The point is, imagine yourself in a cafe with a friend talking about this topic. What are you going to tell them? I’m pretty sure, you’ll come up with a couple of ideas fast enough. Now the only thing left is to structure your ideas and write them down.

And here goes the most important part: planning. All teachers always say planning is a must. If you’ve made a plan, you’ve made the whole essay, and all you have to do is to write down your sentences. Some are afraid that if they waste five minutes on planning, they will not be able to finish the actual writing in the given time. You don’t need to worry about being late. Let’s count:

You are supposed to spend 40 minutes on Task 2 and write 250+ words. You also need to check your writing in the end. Say, you spend ten minutes on planning and five on checking. This leaves you with 25 minutes to write 250 words, which means you have one minute to write ten words, six seconds for each one. That’s a lot of time, really. Don’t take my word for it, just try to see how much time you need to write a sentence.

Speaking

I didn’t do very well in the first exam, I panicked and really couldn’t say a word, even though I practiced hard. The second time was easier, I got 7.5 for Speaking in 2016. Actually I think I could have got 8.0, but in the middle of Part 2, when I was talking about Andy Weir’s The Martian, I forgot the English word for “эксперименты”. Happens :).

The examiners are not your enemies, nor do they want to give you a lower score. Their job is to evaluate your performance, nothing more. So look at them as friends or neighbors you’re talking to on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Speaking’s all about you, your passion and emotions. One of my friends got a topic about travelling. In Part 2 he was asked to talk about an auto or moto trip he had been on. And in real life he’s a hopeless motorcycle lover. Guess what? He got 8.0 for Speaking. I know that his grammar is not quite perfect, but I can imagine the passion he talked with.

And TED Talks again. You know, many times you get a topic like “climate change” and you have absolutely no idea what to say. Now, with TED Talks you can learn something new on topics that are common in IELTS in an easy way, because the info in talks is easy to digest, compared to reading an encyclopedia. For example, here is an inspiring talk by Al Gore on climate change.

Do you need to insert a phrasal verb, proverb or a fancy expression into every sentence you say? No. Definitely no. Your speech would sound unnatural, meaning you’re not actually able to command the language properly. If you want proof, go talk to your friend in a cafe and try to saturate your speech in your native language with proverbs and fancy expressions. The look on your friend’s face will tell you everything.

To sum up

Practice. Practice. And practice a little bit more. You can do tremendous work on your own. You probably don’t need help to prepare for Listening and Reading, but in Writing and Speaking you do. I suggest you have a teacher to help you with these two sections.

Top 5 free resources to prepare for IELTS

BBC radio — several online radio stations. And yes, they speak proper British English.

engvid.com — about 1,000 videos on how to take IELTS, how to master grammar and enlarge your vocabulary. My favorite teacher is Adam.

eslpod — podcasts brought to you from beautiful Los Angeles, California. The host explains new vocab as well as tells stories about american history and famous people.

TED Talks — short inspiring talks on various topics: culture, climate, equal rights, arts and everything else.

IELTS Advantage with Chris Pell — free lessons and paid classes from an experienced teacher.

That’s my IELTS journey. Please feel free to ask questions, if you have any, as I love sharing IELTS tips and can talk about the test for ages. You can contact me on VK or Facebook

This was a guest post from my student Nadya Borisova, which I think she did a tremendous job on! Kudos and thanks, Nadya!

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Academic IELTS 8 without a degree in linguistics. Part 1.

I am thrilled to present a guest post by my student Nadezhda Borisova, in which she shares her IELTS journey to Band Score 8 (Academic). In the first part, she is going to talk about her background, preparation time, listening and reading skills.

Part 1. Background and Preparation time. Listening and Reading.

Hi there, my name is Nadya Borisova, and I’d like to share my experience in getting 8.0 in IELTS Academic as well as my list of top-5 resources for preparation. My first attempt was in 2014, with the second one following two years later.

My background

Two years ago I worked as an IT recruiter, now I’m a copywriter. I don’t have a university degree in languages, nor did I go to the school focused on English language. I went to an ordinary school with two hours of English a week. Most of the learning after that, I did on my own.

I took my first exam not because I needed a certain band score to enrol to a university. I just wanted a clear understanding of my level. I wanted to know exactly where I was. So I tried a mock IELTS test with no preparation at all, got Overall 5.0, and decided to get better results in a real one.

Preparation time

I think setting a clear deadline is crucial. You can prepare for an exam forever, but you need the result by some point in time, right?

I personally gave myself three months to prepare both times. For me it’s ideal timing. More makes me lazy, every day I think, “I still have a lot of time, I’ll start tomorrow”. Less, I may not have enough time to actually improve my scores significantly. For you timing might work differently, but still, I suggest you give yourself enough time and set the exact test date. Booking your place in advance might be a good idea.

You have to keep in mind that you cannot achieve overnight success in learning a language. Like in a gym, you have to grow your language muscles by working out every day. The process is not easy, nor is it quick. There’s no magic, only hard work… and a little bit of luck at the test. A significant part of your score is how familiar you are with the test, how well you know the techniques and approaches. But hey, IELTS is a language test after all!

Listening

I got 9.0 for Listening last time, and to be honest, I was surprised. I knew I was good at listening, but I thought I actually made a couple of mistakes.

There are lots of online radio stations and podcasts available that are helpful in IELTS prep. I listened to BBC Radio. Tried CNN, but didn’t really like it. I also listened to TED Talks, and I must say that gave me a huge improvement. Not only did I learn to understand different accents from all over the world, but I also got lots of valuable information for speaking topics.

One more tip is to learn to move on if you missed some answer. This is a must. You missed an answer — go ahead.

Lastly, don’t be surprised or distracted if you’ve answered the last question in the section and the recording still goes on. Such situations are common, so nothing to worry about. Focus on the next task instead of trying to find where you’ve done something wrong. Remember, you’re on a tight schedule.

Reading

One more 9.0, which was not a surprise for me. I like to read, and by the time of the exam I was reading in English just as easily as in Russian. So I can advise reading books you like, no matter what genre. Every time I needed to learn something, say, related to my work, I opened Wikipedia and — yes! — read this article in English.

A good idea is to learn how to scan a text for dates, names and other keywords, which makes some questions really easy to answer and gives you more time to focus on harder ones.

Finally, a small thing which is not related to the language knowledge at all, but which improved my scores in Listening and Reading significantly. I often made mistakes while transferring answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet. Even when I circled answer B in the booklet, somehow in my answer sheet I put C or D. So I started not only to circle the right answer, but actually write down the letter in the booklet near the question. Believe it or not, this improved my mark at least by 0.5.

To sum up

You can prepare for Listening and Reading on your own. Truth is, you need to work hard. You need to surround yourself with English, which will help you to get high marks in Listening and Reading sections. You can prepare for free as there are lots of online resources.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where Nadya is going to talk about Speaking and Writing.

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All my applications or the value of failure

In this post, I am looking at my successes and failures. The failures have taught me valuable lessons though, which I am also sharing.

If you are one of my students, you probably have heard me say, “There are lot of grants and competitions out there. Apply for everything you see. Apply, apply, apply.”  Well, do I practice what I preach?

In this post, I want you to take a look at my applications/ submissions / competitions and analyze the success to failure ratio. I also want to tell you what I learned from my failures. I certainly hope that my story serves as an inspiration to persist and try, try, try again.

Here is my application history over the last years:

2013 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Communicative Assessment course by British Council – failed

2014 Russian Language Assistant program in the UK – failed

2014 Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship – failed

2014 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Essay Contest “Inspiring Teachers” – partly succeeded (Didn’t win, but was shortlisted as a finalist, got a certificate, a book, and my essay was published in a serous journal.)

2015 Guest blog post submission on OUP ELT Global Blog – succeeded (My post was published.)

2015 Essay Contest “My Inspiring Summer” – failed

2014-2015 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program – succeeded!

Here is what learned from my failures:

Lesson 1: Creating a relevant, powerful, and unique piece of writing takes me 2-4 weeks. The next time I decide to apply for something important, I will start well in advance.

Lesson 2: Producing a linguistically excellent, but purely informational 500-word essay takes me 1-2 hours. I can write fast in order to meet a deadline. What I write fast might have little value. 

Lesson 3: The more applications I write, the easier it is for me to write them. Having written a lot of applications in the sphere of teaching, I have a lot of ready-to-use ideas, which makes writing each new application easier. (That said, I don’t write the same thing in all my applications. But before I write each new one, I do a lot of brainstorming, which is where I have all my ideas from.)

Lesson 4: Failing at one thing doesn’t mean failing at all things. Failing one time doesn’t mean failing all the time. Having failed so often, I am not discouraged by the possibility of failure. In the end, I have not only failed, I have succeeded as well.

Lesson 5: Failure is a sign that I didn’t do my utmost or my utmost is not what the world needs. So I learned and am still learning not to focus on myself and the way I see the world. I learned and am still learning to be open to new ideas, to explore, to move forward, to look at other people’s points of view, to look at my points of views from a different angle. I learned and am still learning to think outside the box.

 

When I won the Fulbright grant, my friends and students supported me, saying “This is a remarkable achievement! You have been selected out of hundreds of participants!” It’s true. Participating in Fulbright FLTA program really is a remarkable achievement and my proudest success story. But behind this success story, there are numerous failures that people don’t know about. What these failures have taught me is not to give up, but to try, try, try again.

I am going to persist and keep applying, submitting, competing. So should you. Don’t give up, but apply, apply, apply!

P.S. Here is a quote about success and failure I like by Michael Jordan. I have no connection to basketball whatsoever, by the way, I just like the quote =).

FailureQuoteMJordan

http://quotesgram.com/img/michael-jordan-famous-failure-quotes/9437344/ 

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Living in an English-speaking country and your English level

In this post, I am explaining why living in an English-speaking country might not lead to fluency in English and what to do so that it does.

Why living in an English-speaking country doesn’t automatically improve your English level and how to make sure it does

First, I want to clarify a couple of things.

  • This post is about non-native speakers who go abroad for a longer period than an ordinary tourist trip, for example, to work or study.
  • This post serves to bust the myth that “Learning English in your home country isn’t effective anyway. As soon as I get to an English-speaking country, my English level will skyrocket in the blink of an eye.”
  • This post is based on personal experience of living in the USA for a year, so I am going to use English and Russian but the ideas are probably true for other languages and countries too.

So why doesn’t it?

– You are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of language you are exposed to. When you arrive, you are instantaneously immersed in English. You speak English to your colleagues, bus drivers, cashiers, and bankers. You read pages of contracts and manuals. You come across massive amounts of new language and familiar language used in unfamiliar ways. And you aren’t able to absorb all of it fast just because it’s too much. In the end, the more you learn in your home country, the less overwhelmed you are and the more new language you can absorb.

– Learning English is not your priority. Before you worry about the improvement of your English level, you worry about everyday things like, renting an apartment, getting settled at your job, setting up a bank account, buying health insurance etc. You are happy that you found an apartment, there is furniture in it and everything works. You sigh with relief and forget about learning all the new words you came across along the way. When you learn a language in your home country, on the other hand, you focus on it. Teachers and course books make you practice certain language material, which makes learning more effective.

– You keep using your native language regularly. Voluntarily. You speak Russian with your friends and family on Skype; you probably keep reading Russian news and watch Russian television; you find Russian speakers in your area and spend time with them. People underestimate how hard it is to speak a foreign language 24/7 and how stressful it is not to speak your native language. But now it’s possible – and very tempting – to be completely immersed in Russian even while living in an English-speaking country. I’d say this point is by far the largest obstacle on your way to significant improvement of your English level!

– Native speakers you are communicating with don’t correct your mistakes. Of course, they don’t. Error correction breaks the flow of the conversation and exchange of ideas. Your mistakes might remain mistakes.

– Language, just like everything else, doesn’t improve magically. You have to put effort into improving it regardless of whether you are in Russia or in the USA. You have to put effort into learning new vocabulary, you have to pay attention to the phrases people use in different social situations, you have to look after your grammar.

So how do you make sure it does?

– Keep your ears open and pay special attention to the way people speak. Otherwise you will keep speaking the way you have spoken before, which might not have been perfect.

– Take notes. Take notes of any new language you come across on your phone, laptop, and on paper. “I will remember this” is an illusion.

– If you find yourself being exposed to more Russian than English, go out and do stuff. Go to public lectures, workshops, on guided tours; join a club, join a group class at the gym; volunteer.

– If you find yourself spending all your time with Russians and speaking Russian, one thing you can do is make sure there is always at least one person with you who doesn’t speak Russian. It’ll stop you from speaking Russian even with Russians (speaking your native language in front of people who don’t speak it is extremely impolite). At the same time, it’s not weird (while speaking English with Russians for no other purpose than ‘for practice’ often is).

Be active and get out of your comfort zone. For example, if you are lost, ask a police office or a passer-by for directions rather than use a map on your phone. Using a map on your phone feels more comfortable, but is less beneficial to your speaking skills.

To conclude, of course living in an English-speaking country does help you to improve your English level. But it won’t work unless you do.

nothingwillwork2

http://www.designlovefest.com/2015/01/dress-your-tech-78/

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The benefits of being a Fulbrighter

In this post, I am elaborating on what makes participating in Fulbright FLTA program an experience of a lifetime.

The benefits of being a Fulbrighter (based on personal experience)

The benefits of participating in Fulbright FLTA program are numerous and I am only giving a small portion here. (If you need some background on my participation in the program, read this and this.) Here goes:

– You meet lots of great people.

Before you even leave for the USA, you meet your fellow FLTAs from your own country. Applicants go through a rigorous selection process, so the ones that do get selected are intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and a lot of fun. Then you meet your fellow FLTAs from all over the world. Again, you meet intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and fun people, but this time there is an added benefit of meeting people from other cultures (around 50 countries all told). You get a chance to see these people dance national dances, wear national clothes, and try authentic home-cooked national foods. The experience just opens your eyes to how fascinating and diverse the world is.

– You get first-hand experience of American education from two perspectives: as a teacher and as a student.

I did all the mundane things students do – I took notes in classes, did homework, wrote quizzes, sat exams, worried about my grades, checking blackboard 3 times a day, just like an average American student.

At the same time, I did all the mundane things teachers do – I graded homework, assessed exams, filled in online attendance after every class and so on. Fortunately, I got a lot of guidance and support from Professor Daria Kirjanov, who not only shared all her materials with me, but also gave me insights into what to expect from students and how to deal with any issues that arose.

– You get first-hand experience of American life.

Let me give you just some examples of things I got first-hand experience of. In the USA, everything is well-organized and made convenient for people. Everything starts and finishes exactly on time. Mass transit is not very well-developed (at least compared to Russia) because people don’t need it because they go everywhere by cars. When you get on the bus, you have to have exact change because tickets machines or drivers don’t give change. You get a grocery store discount even if you don’t have the store card. People hold doors and give up their places in lines for you. Everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities, is included and respected.

– You improve your English skills significantly.

First and foremost, living in an English-speaking country for a year definitely boosts your fluency and breaks down the speaking barrier that most learners of English have even if they have been learning English for 10 years. Additionally, you learn real-life and natural language that you don’t always find in books. I don’t think any book I’ve ever used to learn or teach English introduced the phrase Have a good one! (which means “Have a nice day” or simply “Bye”). Or, Are you all set? (which means something like “Do you need anything?” or “Can I help you?”). Or, I’m good. (which means, “I don’t need anything, thank you.”). All these phrases are ubiquitous in the USA, yet they aren’t usually taught in books.

– You develop professionally in the direction you like without the pressure of completing a degree or graduating.

 Since I write a blog, I wanted to improve my writing skills and took “Speaking and Writing for Professionals” and “Introduction to Creative Writing”. Since I was not very confident about my speaking skills, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take “Introduction to Public Speaking and Group Discussion”. And I did it just for me, just because I wanted to.


– You can travel the country more cheaply and effectively.

Fulbrighters are scattered all over the country. So when you travel, you can stay at their places saving money on hotels and time on researching what to see in the area. I might never have visited Oregon, if it wasn’t for an FLTA there.

– This is just my personal benefit: I did everything I had on my bucket list during my Fulbright year!

There were only two things though: 1. See whales (which I did on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean!); 2. See Mayan pyramids (which I did because a fellow FLTA suggested going to Mexico during the winter break!).

To cut a long story short, there are myriads of benefits of being a Fulbright FLTA on many levels, definitely more than I’ve described. Feel free to expand my list in the comments!

Lutsenko_benefits

Some of my Fulbright memories. 
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My Fulbright year: what, where, when

In this post, I am going into detail about my participation in Fulbright FLTA program.

And now I’m back, with a backpack of new experiences, inspiration, knowledge, and ready to write, write, write!

I went to the USA for my Fulbright FLTA experience on 8 August 2015 and returned on 4 June 2016. The experience was great, fantastic, eye-opening, mind-blowing, developmental and many other positive adjectives. But first, some facts: where exactly did I go and what exactly did I do?

Good news: On 30 April 2015, I got an email, which made me jump and yell triumphantly. It started,“Congratulations! You have been selected for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program.” In August, I went to teach Russian and study at University of New Haven (West haven, Connecticut, USA). (More about my Fulbright application).

University: University of New Haven (UNH for short) has a student body of 5,000-10,000 students. Most of the people taking Russian at UNH have one of (or both of) these two majors: criminal justice and national security.

Location: UNH is located in a small town of West Haven, which is very conveniently located and has good transport links. New York City is only a 2-hour train ride away and Yale is only a 10-minute bus ride away.

Lutsenko_map_unh

Housing: I lived in university housing, in a two-floor shared house. My roommate* had some kind of office job at the university. The house was a 30-minute walking distance from the university or a 10-minute bus/car ride. There was a university shuttle service and I was also provided with a free local bus pass. (Although I didn’t have to walk, I often did.)

*(In the USA, they use the word “roommate” to mean someone who shares accommodation with you, not necessarily a room. Me and my roommate had our own separate bedrooms).

Teaching: I was a primary teacher at beginner level, teaching 3 times a week at 8 am. Additionally, I had office hours (6 hours a week), Russian tables (2 hours a week) and in spring semester I taught a “language lab” on Russian émigré writers and poets of the 20th century (which I absolutely loved!). I also took part in and / or helped organize film and culture festivals as a representative of Russian culture.

Studying:  As part of the program, we were required to take at least 2 courses per semester, one of which had to be in US Studies and the other three had to be related to our professional development as teachers of English. I took all 4 courses on credit basis, which means I did all coursework, took exams and was assessed on the same basis as every other student enrolled in the course. The courses I took and the grades I got: Speaking and Writing for Professionals (A+), Public Speaking and Group Discussion (A -), Introduction to Creative Writing (A+), American History since 1607 (A).

Finances: The grant covered everything: housing, meals, university tuition, travel to and from host institution, and a medical insurance. I also got a monthly stipend, which wasn’t large, but given that everything else was provided, I could save up for traveling.

I think that pretty much covers the everyday specifics of my Fulbright year. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. The next post will be on the benefits of being a Fulbrighter, stay tuned!

Disclaimer: Every Fulbrighter has a different story to tell. This is just my personal experience and the details of my participation in the program. 

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My Fulbright application or a teachable moment on essay writing

In this post, I want to share two excerpts from my Fulbright application essay and give you some tips on essay writing.

I did it on 30 May 2014. I submitted my Fulbright application. Now, 1 year and 2 months later I am going to the USA as a proud Fulbrighter! Yay!

The program I am participating in is called Foreign Language Teaching Assistant or FLTA for short. As a participant of this program I will be teaching Russian and studying at an American university for an academic year.

When my students heard the news, they asked, “What did it take to get this grant?” And I replied, “Well, there were several stages. First, I had to write a lot of text. Then, I …” And one student said, “I am curious to read what you wrote.” I suppose many are, so I am going to let you in on one of my application essays.

One of the essays I wrote is called “Objectives and motivations”. What I wrote is too long to upload here (1274 words, no less!), so I am only going to show you my introduction and conclusion. Oh, and I see a teachable moment here, which I just can’t help using. Ok, let’s get cracking!

Here is my introduction:

lutsenko_fulbright_intro

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my introduction:

1. I start with a quote. (Admittedly, starting an essay with a quote is a bit of a cliché. But it’s still not a bad way to start. To avoid sounding too clichéd, I expand the quote and add a personal touch.)

2. I explain what my job is and what I am like.

3. I speak about my main objective.

Here is my conclusion:

Lutsenko_fulbright_conclusion

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my conclusion:

1. I repeat what my job is and what I am like (point 2 from the introduction).

2. I repeat my main objective (point 3 from the introduction).

3. I connect all the information to the quote and my addition to it (point 1 from the introduction).

And here is the teachable moment:

– Make your essay personal and unique.

– Address the topic directly and clearly.

– Organize your ideas logically.

– Be consistent.

– Unite the ideas.

Essay writing aside, I want to emphasize that everything I wrote is absolutely true. They are not beautiful words I wanted to impress the readers with. I do want to keep moving, but stay focused.

So, students, don’t be sad I’m going away for so long. You now know why I’m doing it. I’ll return.

I’ll return and do what I do at a new level and with a new mind. See you in a year!

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Paraphrasing made easy!

In this post, I am exploring paraphrasing as it is an essential skill for international exams in English.

With English being the language of international communication, there are now plenty of tests of English for non-native speakers  – IELTS, TOEFL, KET-CPE, to name but a few. Seemingly different, such tests often assess pretty much the same skills and abilities. Paraphrasing is one of them. The ability to paraphrase is vital in Speaking and Writing parts of any test of English. Why? Because it shows that you actually understand the information you are given and, more importantly, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of English! Many people struggle with paraphrasing. Yet, it’s not rocket science and in this post I am going to talk about very simple paraphrasing techniques. Bear with me…

First, a word of warning: Don’t get too obsessed! There are words you don’t have to and shouldn’t paraphrase! There is no need to say conventional words in a different way, like chair or passport. Nor should you try to rephrase specialized or scientific vocabulary, like genetically-modified food or greenhouse gases.

When you do need to paraphrase, here are the techniques that will help you:

1 Use synonyms.

It will have a negative effect on the economy. / It will have a harmful effect on the economy.

This looks pretty straightforward. However, you have to be careful and keep in mind that very few words in a language are completely interchangeable and the synonym you find might not suit your sentence as well as you think.

2 Use antonyms.

It is hard. / It is not easy. It’s the cheapest. / It’s the least expensive.

3 Explain a word.

Violators will be ticketed. / People who break the law will receive a ticket.

Obviously, it only works with words that can be explained in a short way.

4 Change word forms.

Many words have several grammatical forms, for example, compete (v) – competition (n) – competitor (n) –competitive (adj) – competitively (adv). Use a different one when you paraphrase.

Competition for quality jobs at postgraduate level is fierce. / Postgraduate students have to compete hard for quality jobs.

This approach is useful not only because it helps to avoid copying the original word, but also because it involves changing sentence structure and thus helps you to create a completely different sentence.

5 Change sentence structure.

This one includes several sub-techniques:

– Change the grammar.

Active / Passive: Trained scientists performed this research. / This research was performed by trained scientists.

Infinitive / Gerund: It’s easy to use it. / Using it is easy.

Subject + verb / Participle: After he left the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths. / After leaving the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths.

– Change sentence connectors.

Although the scientist spent years studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise her.

Despite years spent studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise the scientist.

/ The scientist spent years studying gorillas; however, their behavior would still surprise her.

– Change the order of ideas.

The spread of GM trials led to a series of protests. / A series of protests resulted from the spread of GM trials.

Ideally, in order to create top-notch paraphrases, you should use a variety of techniques and combine them.

Now let me try a little paraphrasing. Here is an essay topic (IELTS Writing Task 2) and below is my introduction for this essay.

Lutsenko_paraprasing

At present there is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to people’s health and causes a range of diseases, including terminal. In an effort to reduce the harmful effects of this bad habit, some countries have prohibited smoking in public places. Some people believe that this approach should be implemented worldwide. I completely agree with this opinion and shall argue that smoking should not be allowed anywhere on public premises except a number of designated areas.

You see, paraphrasing is a piece of cake. By the way, which techniques did I use?

Before I finish another word of warning: Don’t get too excited and don’t forget that your sentence must retain its original meaning!

Now paraphrase to your heart’s content.

 

Main sources used to write this post:
The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test
Oxford Grammar for EAP
Express to the TOEFL iBT Test

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10,000 hours of English

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. The course books are really engaging these days (hats off to the authors!) and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I want to give you an example of one such train.

Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful and what factors contribute to their success. Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:

I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours – but the theory makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on a wonderful journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher (after all, it’s a qualified and experienced professional) and the course book (after all, it was written by a team of qualified and experienced professionals). Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

(Oh, don’t give me the old excuse of having very little free time. It’s lame. And you know it.)

I now want to talk about how you can (and should) effortlessly increase the amount of time you spend on English.

We’ll need to do a little math here. Let’s say you have English classes 2 times a week and each class is 1,5 hours long. That’s 3 hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just 3 for you. However, you can (and should) do the following:

  • Do your homework. That’s at least 1 hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least 1-2 hours more. Add: 3 hours.

When I say 1 hour, I mean doing the bare minimum – your workbook exercises. The ‘enormous’ homework I give usually involves learning things by heart, retelling, preparing talks and/or writing.

  • Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around 2 hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: 2 hours. 

TED talks are great, I love them. They are short, professional and there are a myriad of them on any topic. All of them are downloadable and are accompanied by an interactive transcript. I share links to my favorite talks on my social media profiles: facebookgoogle+ and vk

  • Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: 5 hours. 

At this point you might be itching to say that reading books in English is hard. But you are in luck – it doesn’t have to be! There are literary hundreds of abridged books for all levels – from Beginner to Advanced. All major publishers of educational materials for ELT have such series – MacmillanOxford, Longman. All of these books are accompanied by CDs. You see, reading in English can be easy and enjoyable. 

  • Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20 minutes long, but let’s say you pause from time to time to check vocabulary, so it’s 30 minutes. One episode each day multiplied by 5 working days gives you 2,5 hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: 4,5 hours. 

Again, if you are itching to say that watching films in the original is challenging, I have a couple of counter-arguments at hand. First off, most films and series show everyday life and are therefore quite simple. If they are not, start from watching them with subtitles (English, of course) and move on to switching them off later. Or, watch something you’ve already seen in your own language. This way you won’t have to focus on understanding what’s happening and will be able to concentrate on the language. 

  • Do a little extra speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add:1,5 hours.

There are plenty of websites that give you an opportunity to find teachers and learners of English from all over the world. Some of my students allocate time to speaking English with their friends just for extra practice. As for Speaking Clubs, finding one to join won’t be a problem as most language schools have them nowadays. 

  • Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: 1 hour.

Let’s add all the hours now, shall we? 17 additional hours of English! Plus 3 hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total 20 hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in 20 hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just 3. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands – work wonders!

This concludes my train of thought. I hope you inevitably drew some inspiration from it!

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