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TOEFL Tip #205: Translation vs. Transliteration

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 25, 2013

For non-native speakers of English who are studying for the TOEFL exam, the gold standard is being able to think and communicate entirely in English, without reference to your first language. But that’s really something that only fluent English speakers can do. For most non-fluent English speakers, ideas start in their head in their own language, and then the speaker / writer goes through a process of turning those thoughts from the native language, say Japanese, into English.

Turning thoughts in native language into English can happen in two ways: through transliteration, and through translation.

Transliteration involves one-to-one substitution between two languages. The most common form of transliteration is to substitute letters of the Latin alphabet – the alphabet used for English – in place of non-Latin letters, such as Russian’s Cyrillic alphabet. More generally, transliteration switches between languages word by word. Some common problems with this technique include leaving out articles necessary in English when transliterating from a language that doesn’t use articles, such as Japanese or Russian; redundant doubling of nouns and pronouns in English when transliterating from a language that uses pronouns in combination with verbs, such as Spanish or Italian; and misplaced adverbs of frequency (such as hourly, monthly, sometimes, often) when translating from German and related languages.

Translation, on the other hand, takes the non-English sentence and reinvents it in English, using English grammar while reproducing the meaning of the original sentence as closely as possible. Translation requires creativity, since idioms, slang, and other language variations often do not have exact parallels in other languages. Capturing the meaning of the original sentence when translating it into English may result in using words that aren’t in the original sentence but whose English meanings are closer to that original idea.

The difference between transliteration and translation has a significant effect on TOEFL Speaking and Writing scores. Transliteration results in English-language sentences that are based on a non-English grammar system. Such writing and speech can be difficult to understand and do not display mastery of English. Translation often expresses ideas with more polish because these writers and speakers are paying close attention to grammar as well as to the content of what they’re writing or saying. TOEFL-takers who transliterate receive low scores in the Writing and Speaking sections, and those who translate receive higher scores.

The more you can translate your ideas into English, the better.

TOEFL Tip #204: Using Double Translation As A Study Tool

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 17, 2013

We’ve written before about the pitfalls of using translation software as your main study tool for the TOEFL exam. If you are depending on the translation program to help you figure out difficult passages in English, you will not be practicing the skills you need for the exam. When we first wrote this piece, we noted that translation software can be inaccurate, and if you don’t already have a sense of the English meaning for the words you want translated, you won’t know whether the translation is accurate. We’re happy to note that translation programs have gotten much better since that original post, although we stand by our advice against using them instead of practicing reading and comprehending in English.

However, translation software IS useful for checking your own translations, as part of building your skills in reading longer passages in English. Using the software can help to identify areas where your translation is not accurate.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to use this technique:

1. Read an English article from beeoasis.com.
2. Translate the article into your language. Do this yourself; do not use translation software for this step.
3. Leave your translation alone for one week. Do not look at it during this week. This will help you to forget the original article, so when you do the next step, you are actively translating, rather than remembering.
4. Translate the version of the article that you wrote in your language back into English. Again, do this part yourself.
5. Compare your translation back into English with the original on beeoasis.com

6. This is where the translation software comes is. Compare your double translation with one from Google Translate by doing the following:

A. Use translate.google.com to translate the English beeoasis.com article in your language
B. Copy and paste Google’s translation back into Google Translate and have it translate your language’s version of the beeoasis.com article back into English.
C. Compare Google’s translation with yours and also with the original.
D. Do you notice any weird English? Using a dictionary and other resources, figure out if the problem is with your translation, or with the version from Google Translate.

Practicing double translation in this way will not only strengthen your skills, but this method will also boost your confidence as your translations get better.

TOEFL Tip #203: More Ways to Immerse Yourself In English

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 11, 2013

One of the most effective things you can do to prepare for the TOEFL exam is to immerse yourself in English. As we’ve noted before (here, here, and here), seeing and hearing English as part of your daily life will improve your skill in the language. The more you have internalized the rhythms and vocabulary of English, the more you can focus on the specific content of the TOEFL rather than worrying about the basics.

Here are some more ways to increase the amount of English you encounter every day, especially if you are living in a country where most people speak a language other than English:

1. Change the language setting to English on all of your technology devices (laptop, smart phone, tablet). Use English for all of your applications, as well. That way, you’ll learn English computer words like SAVE, DELETE, TRASH, RESTART, DESKTOP, etc.

2. Chose English when using an ATM. Typically, most people don’t really read the ATM screen because we all use them so often that we just know what to push. So now that you know what buttons to use, slow down and read the screen. Then you’ll learn the words like WITHDRAWAL, or SAVINGS ACCOUNT, or ENTER or PRESS.

3. Ask for an English-language menu when you go to a restaurant. If you live in a big city that has a lot of tourism, they probably have an English menu. Use it to learn words like BROILED, or SNOW PEAS.

4. Turn off the subtitles in your language on your TV so you only hear English.

5. Find an English-only radio station, or download podcasts of English-language podcasts from National Public Radio.

What are your suggestions for incorporating more English into every day? Share them in the comments section!

TOEFL Tip #202: Speak (Just A Little Bit) More Slowly

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 5, 2013

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Think before you speak.” For most situations, this is great advice. Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, pause and consider whether you should say it, and whether there’s a different, better way to say the same thing. Only when your thought is complete do you say what’s on your mind. Slowing down to think helps you to follow another maxim, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

But slowing down is hard to do on the TOEFL exam. Not only does the clock remind you that time is passing while you think, but the rater could think your silence is due to trouble with English rather than a strategy for the Speaking Section. Without nonverbal cues such as facial expressions to clarify why you are being silent for a few moments, the rater could interpret your silence to mean the opposite of what’s really happening, which could affect your score.

And yet, slowing down is really important for the Speaking Section. Too many TOEFL-takers rush their answers, often because they are either nervous or are trying to fit in as much detail as possible, or both. The resulting answer is typically not as strong as it could be, and likely has a lot of stuttering and filler sounds like, “um.” A rushed answer often illustrates why “haste makes waste.”

If you can’t wait in silence until you think of your complete answer, and you shouldn’t rush to say as much as possible, what can you do on the Speaking Section, which requires you to think and talk simultaneously?

Try slowing down your speaking just a little bit. Don’t add significant pauses to your answer, and don’t speak so slowly that you sound as if you’re not sure of what you’re saying. The goal here is to have your brain working about a quarter-second faster than your mouth. This may not seem like enough time to make a difference, but it can. If you can slow your speaking by just a fraction of a second, you’ll be able to shape your thoughts into a more coherent answer, and you’ll know what to say next. Your slightly slower pacing will sound better to the rater, as well.

Remember: quality matters more than quantity.

TOEFL Tip #193: Talk For 30 Minutes Before The TOEFL

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on March 2, 2013

Imagine running a marathon without warming-up first. You walk up to the starting line, and simply begin running. Your muscles are stiff, your breathing is uneven, and you take several miles to find a comfortable pace.

If you approached a marathon this way, would you win? Of course not. Your body needs to prepare for the longer effort of a marathon by doing smaller stretches first. By warming up before the marathon, your body is ready for peak performance.

Just like stretching your legs before running a marathon, you need to warm up your brain before taking the TOEFL exam.

To do this, speak – in English – for 30 minutes before taking the TOEFL.

Ideally, you should talk about a wide range of academic topics with a native English speaker. This way, you are warming up your voice for the Speaking section, practicing your English grammar for the Writing and Speaking sections, and thinking about the kinds of topics that are likely to be on all sections of the TOEFL exam. A native speaker is more likely to use standard academic English, and may be able to give you some last-minute feedback.

Even if you can’t arrange to have a conversation like this before the exam, you can still use this technique. Bring a textbook from one of your classes or a newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, and read sections of it out loud. Talk about something in the news with your family members. Anything you can do to focus your mind on speaking in English before the exam is going to help you be at your best when the TOEFL begins.

TOEFL Tip #189: Take Advantage Of TOEFL’s New 21 Day Waiting Period

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on February 2, 2013

 

ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day waiting period between TOEFL exams has been in effect for a month, and everyone is getting used to this adjusted timetable. We have seen some test-takers schedule their TOEFL exam well before application deadlines so they can retake it if necessary. Others are only scheduling their TOEFL exam when they’re confident that they’ll get the score they need. Both of these are good strategies.

 

But what if you’re not sure whether you’ve earned the score that you need? What if you’re just a few points lower than the score required for your application?

 

Use the 21 day waiting period to your advantage! Take a course or two with Strictly English to target your specific trouble areas.

 

You can find out your iBT scores approximately 10 days after your exam (for ETS’s list of estimated dates for viewing your iBT scores online, click here). That leaves nearly 2 weeks for improving your skills before your next exam. Or, if you know that you didn’t perform well on one section of the test, contact us right away to schedule some tutoring sessions during the full 3 week period.

 

Strictly English has a variety of courses to suit your needs. Do you need to fine-tune your skills in one particular area, such as one Speaking task, or one type of Listening question? We can help you improve in as little as 2 hours. Do you need a better set of strategies for a task on the TOEFL, such as the Integrated essay? Work with us for 4 hours. Do you need to boost your overall performance for an entire section of the TOEFL? That’s just 8 hours. Although everyone’s pace of learning varies, we have found that many students improve substantially within these time frames.

 

As you can see, the 21 day wait period provides enough time to tweak your skills between exams. Instead of chafing against this restriction, view instead as an opportunity to focus intensely on improving your TOEFL performance. By looking at this in a positive light, you will be more likely to produce the change that you want to see. Contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #188: Poor Grammar Can Limit Your Job Opportunities

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 25, 2013

At Strictly English, we sometimes hear students talk about having to learn the rules of English grammar “for the TOEFL.” These students seem to see mastery of English grammar as a stepping stone to the TOEFL exam, rather than as a skill that they will continue to use throughout their careers.

Kyle Wiens has a simple answer to the question of whether good grammar REALLY matters in the “real world” beyond college, “Yes, it does.”

In fact, good grammar is so important to Wiens that his companies, iFixit and Dozuki, require all job applicants to take a grammar test, even for jobs that are not primarily about writing. Those who don’t do well on the exam are not hired, even if they are otherwise excellent candidates. The grammar test helps his companies maintain a high standard of professionalism.

In July 2012, Wiens explained his views about the link between good grammar and good job performance in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review. For Wiens, “Good grammar makes good business sense.” Wiens’ experience shows that people who make the effort to use correct grammar are also careful about other aspects of their job performance. Similarly, Wiens says, “Applicants who don’t think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren’t important.” Wiens also insists that his companies are not alone in valuing good grammar, “I guarantee that even if other companies aren’t issuing grammar tests, they pay attention to sloppy mistakes on résumés.”

How is this related to preparing for the TOEFL? Think of mastering English grammar as a long-term investment in your future career, not as something you need to do “just” for the TOEFL exam.

TOEFL Tip #187: Answers To Your Questions

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on January 18, 2013

We love getting comments on the Strictly English blog! We want to hear how your experience compares with a situation described in a post, or suggestions for future posts. Did you find a particular post especially helpful? Let us know!

Lately, readers have also asked a number of questions in the comment section. Because these are questions that we think a lot of people might have, we wanted to answer them in a post, rather than just respond directly to the original question.

Question #1: Scheduled exams and the new 21 day policy

ETS’s new policy requiring a 21 day wait between exams is causing some anxiety. One reader said that he has two TOEFL exams scheduled within 21 days of each other in January. He scheduled the exams in 2012, but is worried that he won’t be allowed to take the second exam because of the new policy. He asked whether these two test dates are a problem, and what he can do about it.

The new policy started as of January 1, 2013, regarding scheduling exams after that date. As far as we know, this does not affect close-together exams that were scheduled in 2012, but which now violate the new policy. If you are in this position and want to make sure that you can still take the second-scheduled exam, contact ETS and ask for clarification.

Question #2: How to answer the Speaking section questions

Another question asked what format to use when answering the prompts for the Speaking section. The reader wanted to know if Speaking Section answers were more like a response to a teacher’s question in a classroom, or more like a spoken essay with a thesis, support, and a conclusion.

The answer is – some of both (depending on what your classroom is like, of course!). There are 6 Speaking tasks. Some of them ask for your opinion on a topic, and those answers should have a main idea that answers the question, and supporting details for that main idea. Other sections will require you to read and/or listen to a passage, and answer a question based on information from the passage. That might be more like a classroom answer, where you are repeating key points from the passage rather than giving your own opinion. There are lots of resources for practicing the speaking section and getting a better feel for how to answer the prompts. For a quick example, see this page.

Question #3: Retaking the TOEFL to get the score you need

A reader has the total score that he or she needs, but the score in one section does not meet the minimum required by the program to which he or she is applying. The question is, does the reader need to retake the TOEFL to boost his or her score in the section that is too low, knowing that he or she would miss the application deadline by taking the exam again?

We don’t know – this depends on the policy at each school or program to which you are applying. We have found that policies vary quite a lot, so it is not wise to assume anything about a program’s requirements. Call the program, ask to speak to an admissions counselor (or other staff person who knows the school’s policies well), and explain your situation. Do this as soon as possible in order to have the greatest number of options for addressing your issue.

Got a question? Leave it in the comments!

TOEFL Tip #181: Use Appropriate, Vivid Details

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on December 9, 2012

Vision is most people’s dominant sense. We take in more information by seeing than we do by hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching. That’s why there are so many aphorisms about sight: “A picture is worth a thousand words,” “Seeing is believing,” “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Keep this in mind as you prepare for the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL exam. For the rater, hearing and reading your words is not enough. He or she needs to SEE the images that your words create in his or her own mind. When you create a visual image with your words, you are using language in a more sophisticated way, which can have a positive effect on your score.

Here’s an example to clarify the different between an answer that paints a picture and one that does not. One friend tells you that she had “a big meal,” but a second friend tells you that he had a “huge medium rare steak, with a big baked potato and a side of green beans with tons of butter on them.” Which dinner do you see in your head? A generic “big meal,” or steak and vegetables?

Of course you see the second friend’s dinner.

This example might make you think that you just need to pack your answer full of details to get a good score. This is partly true; detailed answers are stronger than general ones. However, not all details have the same effect, and if you string a lot of details together, the list itself might become the answer’s main focus. That will not create the CORRECT image in the rater’s head. For example, a long list of food on your plate might make the rater see only a shopping list in his or her mind, instead of seeing you at dinner with your friends, enjoying a rich dessert while music plays in the background.

You need the art of using appropriate details that will work to your benefit. Like too much food piled on a flimsy paper plate, too many details piled onto a weak narrative will cause your whole answer to fall on the floor. Once that happens, you can’t put it back together.

We at Strictly English can teach you how to have the RIGHT amount of APPROPRIATE details to score over a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL. Contact us today!

TOEFL Tip #178: Tips For Better Performance On TOEFL Speaking Section

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on November 16, 2012

For many students, the Speaking section of the TOEFL is the hardest. Not only do you have to show mastery of spoken English, but you also need to perform well. If you’re not used to speaking in front of an audience, or if you’re generally shy or soft-spoken, the performance aspect of your oral answers can affect your score significantly.

Why does this happen?

Inexperienced public speakers aren’t used to calibrating their voice and speed. They may mumble, speak too quickly or in a monotone, or insert filler phrases like “um” when uncertain of what to say next. Without the feedback of an audience, such speakers don’t realize that the WAY they’re speaking is creating a negative impression about WHAT they’re saying.

How can you avoid these pitfalls?

Create opportunities for public speaking, if you can. Volunteer to lead a group presentation, or teach a group of friends how to do something that you know well. Read a newspaper item out loud to your family. If you can’t practice in front of an audience, you should still practice speaking out loud to an empty room. The goal is to get used to projecting your voice, speaking clearly, and pacing yourself.

Here are some additional tips for good public speaking:

Breathe. Students often try to say as much as possible in their answers. This causes their words to blur together, and makes the rater’s job harder. Slow down by taking a breath at the end of each sentence. This will also give you a moment to organize your thoughts.

Sit up in your chair. Or even better, stand. Projecting your voice is difficult if you’re slouched into a chair. Whether sitting or standing, have your back straight and your head up. Breathe slowly and deeply.

Avoid caffeine and dairy products. Caffeine dehydrates. Since nervousness alone can cause dry mouth, you don’t want to make the situation worse by drinking caffeinated beverages before the TOEFL exam. Similarly, dairy products create the sensation of needing to clear your throat. Drink water instead.

Warm up your voice. Try a few tongue twisters or other brief speaking exercises to warm up your voice. This will help you to enunciate clearly.

Even though you can’t practice answers for the content of the Speaking section, you can practice your performance skills. By improving the performance aspect of your answer on the Speaking section, you might raise your score by two or more points!

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