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TOEFL Tip #210: Paraphrasing Out Of Order Is Easier

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 29, 2013

As we’ve noted before, paraphrasing is an essential skill on the TOEFL exam. You need to be able to rephrase ideas you read and hear on the exam to avoid repetition and to demonstrate your mastery of English.

Today’s post focuses on word order when you are paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is not only about replacing one word with another in the same sentence structure. Good paraphrasing preserves the meaning of the sentence while also rearranging and changing its grammar.

Paraphrasing is easier if you can separate the parts of the sentence and recombine them. Try thinking of the elements in a sentence like playing cards that can be shuffled:

1. Identify the KEY WORDS in a sentence (verbs, negatives, subjects, and direct objects). Do not focus on grammar elements (prepositions, articles, suffixes, etc).

2. Write each keyword on separate pieces of paper.

3. On the back side of each piece of paper, write a synonym for that word.

4. Shuffle your papers with the key words, and lay them out in a random new order with the synonym side facing up.

5. Try to write a sentence using this new order and conveying the same meaning.

6. Shuffle the papers again and make a second paraphrase.

 Here’s an example from the beeoasis.com article, “Simplifying Complexity.”

“We’re discovering in nature that simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity.”

1. The key words are “we,” “discovering,” “nature,” “simplicity,” “often,” “lies,” “other side,” “complexity.”

2. Index cards are great for this exercise, but any small pieces of paper will do.

3. Synonyms could be “scientists,” “finding out,” “natural world,” “simple” “frequent” “exists” “opposite side” “complex”

4. New shuffled order, using the synonyms:  natural world frequent finding out scientists simple exist complex opposite

5. A paraphrase based on this new order: “In the natural world, a frequent finding by scientists is that simple things exist as complex things’ opposite side.”  (Notice that the verb “finding out” has been switched to the noun “finding,” so that the sentence is grammatically correct.)

6. Shuffle again, and a second paraphrase: complex simple natural world scientists frequent finding out opposite side exists

“The difference between something that is complex and something that is simple in the natural world, scientists are frequently finding out, is that these are opposite sides of existence.” (Again, notice that the form of “exists” changes to suit the new sentence.)

 

Shuffling the synonyms and making a new sentence with the words in a new order will challenge your grammar, and will strengthen your ability to think of several ways to express one idea. How many different paraphrases can you make with one sentence? Give us your examples in the comments!

TOEFL Tip #209: Compare The English in Different News Stories on the Same Topic

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 22, 2013

 

Strictly English is a strong proponent of using news sources to improve your English. You can improve your listening and reading skills by reading the news. The more you immerse yourself in English, the more thoroughly English will become your second language.

 

This post expands on an idea mentioned in our discussion of using 360 Research to improve your English. As you read about one news story in a variety of sources, observe the level of formality for the English used in each source. A story in The New York Times, for example, will use formal English, but someone’s blog post will likely more causal. Twitter or Facebook are even more causal.

 

How can you know if a writer or speaker is using English formally or informally?

 Look at the grammar and word choice. Formal English doesn’t use contractions or slang expressions; sentences are always complete, and the vocabulary is sophisticated. Informal English often uses contractions, text-speak abbreviations (LOL), and other slang phrases. Sentences may not be complete, and vocabulary is often simple.

 

Also, context is often useful for understanding how formally or informally someone is speaking or writing. Writing a blog that your friends will read is different from writing a newspaper story for the general public. The blog might make jokes, or exaggerate a particular aspect of the story, or use colorful vocabulary; the newspaper story doesn’t. Understanding the differences between those two audiences will help you to notice the different levels of English.

 

This is important for the TOEFL exam because you should be using a fairly formal level of English in your written and spoken answers. This shows stronger mastery of English, and an ability to choose the right level of English for the right audience.

 

So, as you are reading and listening to various sources of English, be sure to take note of how the writers and speakers differ from each other.

TOEFL TIP #208: Crossword Puzzles Improve Your Vocabulary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 14, 2013

Crossword puzzles are great tools for building your active vocabulary. A crossword puzzle is a grid with blank spaces to fill in words across (left to right) and down (top to bottom). Each word has a clue, and as you fill in the crossword, the letters from one word help you to fill in another word that intersects with it.

 The daily crossword puzzle in The New York Times is well-known, and Monday’s puzzle is the easiest. By contrast, the Sunday Times puzzle is famous for its difficulty! With the following rules, a student with intermediate-level English can do a New York Times Monday puzzle. Practice vocabulary with a crossword puzzle to vary your study routine!

 1. Know the crossword puzzle rules:

  • Answers are the same grammatical form as the clues. A plural clue will have a plural answer, so you can put an “S” in the answer’s last box.
  • Similarly, tenses must match, so a past tense clue must have a past tense answer.
  • Remember phrasal verbs, so a clue for “dispersed” could have the answer “handed out.”
  • Abbreviations in clues means the answer is an abbreviation, so a clue of “Headed the CIA” would be “JEH” for J. Edgar Hoover.

2.  When it’s just a fact – especially a person’s name – use Google!  So a clue, “Won the swimming gold in 2012″ can be found in Google, and that will help you fill in some letters for words that “cross” the Olympics answer.

3. Look at word patterns instead of the clue. The clue “gregarious” may not help you very much, but if you have some letters already filled in, then you might figure out the answer. For example, this answer might be partially filled in as:

t a _ k _ t i v _

and we know that TALK is a common word in English, and we know that TIVE is a common suffix in English. And we know that the letter between the “K” and the “T” has to be a VOWEL (a, e, i, o, u).

The best part is that the New York Times repeats words often, so you see them again days later, which helps you to remember them!  For example, you’ll see ALOE at least 5 times within the first month of doing crosswords, so you’ll be sure to remember what it means!

 

 

TOEFL Tip #207: Active vs. Passive Vocabulary

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on June 7, 2013

 Whether you speak only your native language, or have learned a second (or third, or fourth …) language, most people know a lot of words.

  But the real question is, how well do you know them?

 The words that you recognize in context when you read or hear them are your passive vocabulary. You understand what these words mean, and can follow what’s being written or said. Whether you’ve seen and heard these words a few times or repeatedly, the words in your passive vocabulary are familiar when other people use them, but you yourself don’t use them.

 The words that you use in your own speaking and writing are your active vocabulary. You not only understand these words, but you can also call them up from memory and use them accurately. Most people have a larger passive vocabulary than active vocabulary, and use somewhat different sets of words when speaking or when writing.

 Here’s an example of passive vs. active vocabulary. When you read a newspaper item or listen to a radio report, you’re probably using your passive vocabulary. You can follow the news item because you recognize the words in context. When you tell someone else about the same news item, you use your active vocabulary. For example, if the news item is about a natural disaster in which people died, your passive vocabulary would make it possible to understand “devastation” and “death toll;” you would then use your active vocabulary to refer to the “large amount of damage” and “number of people who died” when you talk about the event with someone else.

 One goal of learning a new language (or improving your skill in your first language) is to convert as many words as possible from passive into active vocabulary. You can do this by studying the vocabulary you recognize, and making a specific effort to use it in conversation. In the above example, you would say “devastation” and “death toll” as you talked about the natural disaster. You might struggle to remember the correct words at first, but the more you do it, the more words you will add to your active vocabulary.

 Next week, we’ll talk about another technique for converting words from passive to active vocabulary: crossword puzzles.