Proudly presenting my student’s essay

In this post, I am presenting an IELTS essay my student wrote in response to an article we discussed. He did such a great job that I couldn’t help sharing.

 

Remember last week I wrote a post about how I tried walking in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework? Well, the student did his homework (which I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt he would). In this post, I want to share it with you.

First, let me introduce the student. His name is Nikita Videnkov, he is a 21-year old engineering student, who has been having one-to-one classes with me for about 3-4 years. His primary purpose is to improve his language skills, but he is also thinking of taking IELTS, so we do IELTS-format tasks on a regular basis.

Second, to those of you who aren’t my students I have to explain that my homework worded “write an essay” is usually followed by homework worded “rewrite your essay.” I believe that writing is 90% rewriting and make my students rewrite their work.

Third, let me give you some context. We were discussing the article called “Phoney war” (New Scientist, 25 January 2017), which deals with end-to-end encryption and its importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with the following essay topic for Nikita: “Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

Finally, I am proudly presenting two versions of Nikita’s essay in this post:

1) Version 1 – ‘as is,’ completely intact; I have highlighted the parts I wanted him to edit.

2) Version 2 – revised based on my comments; I have highlighted the edited parts.

You are now all set to read the essays.

Version 1

Some people claim that total privacy of communications must be provided for every user, while others believe that such freedom compromises public security and private data should be accessible for authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their secrets safe. It results in people’s desire to use services with encryption, which keep data safe during transmission. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net where others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases, when terrorists used messengers with end-to-end encryption which resulted in many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent it since they didn’t have back-doors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks provoked reasonable discussion between authorities on mandating companies to lessen the encryption level and to give the government the access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, I believe that every person has a right to keep their personal information secured. To fulfill that right government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, the government has to provide public safety, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to crack data of any suspicious person to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

266 words

Version 2

Some people claim that every user must be guaranteed total privacy of communications, while others believe that such guarantee compromises public security and private data should be accessible to authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their personal information safe, which results in people’s desire to use services with encryption that keep data hidden from third party. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net because others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases of terrorists using messengers with end-to-end encryption to organize attacks, which caused many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent those since they did not have backdoors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks initiated the discussion between authorities and software companies about mandating the latter to lessen the encryption level and to give the government access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, every person has the right to keep their personal information secured. To protect that right, the government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, I believe that public safety is more important, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to circumvent the encryption to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

269 words

Nikita did a great job on both versions, didn’t he? If you have any questions for him, you can contact him on Facebook or Vkontakte.

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I try walking in my student’s shoes and write an IELTS essay

In this post, I am sharing an essay I wrote in IELTS format. I make my students write a lot of essays, but I myself don’t often practice what I preach. So I decided to walk in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework.

I have a question to all the teachers out there – how often do you write essays in English? I mean essays in IELTS / TOEFL / GRE or any similar format. (Please message me – I’d love some kind of statistics). I have to confess, I don’t*. But I make my students write a lot. Which might be a little unfair, don’t you think?

That’s what I thought when I was on a bus from my home town back to St Petersburg yesterday (a 4-hour journey). I had nothing to do, so my mind began to wander until suddenly it stumbled upon the essay topic I gave my student on Thursday.

We were discussing the article called Phoney war (New Scientist, 25 January 2017). The articles deals with the questions of end-to-end encryption and it’s importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with an essay topic for my student (a very diligent, Advanced level student who is going to take IELTS in the future).

Anyway, my mind stumbled upon this topic and started working frantically. Since I had nothing to do on the bus, not only did I decide to write this essay, I actually went through with it. The result is just a couple of lines below.

The essay is in ‘as is’ condition, which means I haven’t edited it since I got off the bus. Neither did I use dictionaries, Google or other resource outside my brain when writing it. Honestly.

“Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

It is commonly believed that people must have the right to unlimited privacy of communications. However, it can also be argued that exercising this right can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of public safety and officials must therefore be granted access to all online communications. In this essay, I shall discuss both these views and give my own opinion.

On the one hand, expectation of privacy is intrinsic to different spheres of people’s life, including online communication. Whenever people send private messages, they expect them to be read by the recipient only. Private messages are a safe environment, in which people feel free to express the views that they might not feel comfortable expressing publicly for reasons such as fear of discrimination or political oppression. If people do not resort to means of public communication, they must be granted the right to keep their communications secret.

On the other hand, authorities take a dim view of not being able to read private communications as it prevents them from ensuring public safety. The reasoning behind this view is compelling since end-to-end encrypted messages open up a range of opportunities for terrorists to plan and execute terrorist attacks. Having access to messages of terrorists or crime suspects would enable law enforcement to prevent crime and save people’s lives. Privacy can therefore be sacrificed for the sake of security.

To conclude, both approaches in the ‘privacy versus security’ debate are valid. While granting the authorities keys to open any communications would violate people’s rights, not doing so might result in deaths of innocent people. In my opinion, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the responsibility of evaluating each case lying with the court.

286 words

Disclaimer: This essay was written as a response to a task and does not fully represent my personal opinion.

I now have two questions:

How did I do?

How often do you think teachers should write essays?

*In my defense, I write a blog in English and I actually wrote a lot of essays one week before each IELTS / TOEFL test I took.

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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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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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The Beast or how to write essays

When I was on holiday this summer, I went to my hometown to visit my parents. They asked me to sort out my old papers and books and get rid of the ones that I didn’t use any more. As I was doing that, I found one great picture illustrating the core of essay writing. It’s from a writing workshop I took part in about 10 years ago when I was working at school. Here it is:

the-beast

This picture, called “The Beast,” shows the structure and the essential parts of an essay in a very simple way. Now, this cute beast has 3 parts – the head, the body, and the tail. Similarly, any essay has 3 parts – the introduction, the main body and the conclusion.

The introduction leads the reader into the topic and has a clear thesis statement. A thesis is the main idea or opinion of the speaker or writer who then attempts to prove it. Just like this cute beast has a very visible blue horn, your introduction must have a very clear and direct statement of what you are going to talk about in your essay.

The main body of an essay, which is usually 2-4 paragraphs long, explains and proves your thesis. Just like the body of this cute beast is separated into segments, the body of an essay must be separated into paragraphs.  And just like this cute beast’s body has smaller yellow horns, each of your paragraphs must have a clear topic sentence. The topic sentence, as its name implies, introduces the topic of the paragraph, which you then develop / explain and exemplify.

The conclusion goes over the same ground as the whole essay. In your conclusion you must restate your thesis and summarize your main points.

Ok, that’s theory. Now look at how I put it into practice. This is an essay I wrote one week before I took IELTS last year and got 8.5 for Writing. It’s on one of my pet topics =).

languages_task

Lutsenko_languages_essay

This is an essay I wrote for IELTS that’s why it only has 2 body paragraphs. I usually write 2 body paragraphs for IELTS and 3 for TOEFL. The word count is 259 words. I try not to go more than 10-30 words over the word limit.

Now that you have “The Beast” and my essay, essay writing should be easy-peasy!

Oh, by the way, it’s totally wrong about 70 words for “snow”, but I didn’t know it at the time of writing this essay. The truth is in this Wikipedia article.

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How public speaking is similar to essay writing

The world is full of opportunities to learn.

During the winter holiday, when I had a lot of free time, I discovered an incredible learning tool called MOOC, which stands for “massive open online course”. It turned out, to my surprise, that nowadays many leading universities offer their courses online free of charge. They do it on different platforms; the one I started from is edx.org.

In an amazing stroke of luck, the very first time I opened the “courses” page, the very first course I saw was Introduction to Public Speaking which, coincidentally, was to start in a week! I thought “Great! It never hurts to practice speaking!” and registered. I’m now glad I did! The course turned out to be excellent. It would take me a lot of time and effort to write about how useful the course was, so I’m not going to do it. Just take the course, I promise, you won’t regret it. There is, however, one task we did which I simply have to tell you about.

In this course we studied and prepared different types of speeches – Introductory, Impromptu, Informative,Persuasive. All of them fascinating and useful, but the most valuable one for those who are preparing for international exams is the impromptu speech.

Impromptu means “not planned or prepared”. So the impromptu speech is a type of speech you must be able to make without preparing beforehand. And the goal the teacher set for us went like this “My main goal for this speech is that you are able to quickly arrange and deliver a clear and well-supported argument. Your speech must be clear, which requires you to include previews, reviews, and transitions. Your speech needs to have, at its heart, a well-organized and solid argument.” What’s so special about this goal? Well, the thing is, it is almost word-for-word one of the assessment criteria for essays in all international exams!

Now look at the structure of the impromptu speech

What does it look like? Correct. It looks like an essay structure.
Or, in more detail:

Introduction

State your thesis

Preview of your main points

First main point

Statement of your first main point

Provide and explain two pieces of support illustrating the first main point

Conclude your first main point

Second main point

Statement of your second main point

Provide and explain two pieces of support illustrating the second main point

Conclude your second main point

Conclusion

Restate the your thesis statement and review your two main points

Conclude your speech

This structure helps you to quickly and spontaneously generate and express your ideas in a way that makes it easy for the listener / reader (for example, the examiner) to understand what you are trying to get across and why. Of course, you can change this structure a little and adapt it to your needs and time frame, but on the whole, it’s a great foundation not only for a speech, but also for an essay.

On top of all that, the instructor – Matt McGarrity – is outstanding! If you ever see this MOOC on any platform, register immediately!

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