Tag Archives: IELTS

What am I going to do now?

I ought to be doing something.

I’m wondering what to do. I have my quiz for AS3; I did all today’s planning yesterday; I have nothing to mark and no Learner Diaries to deal with. Perhaps I should just amuse myself because we’ve got tests at the end of the week, which will mean an interminable pile of tedious marking. Tomorrow will be self-study class, which means there’s no need for me to do any planning until the end of the week.

Oh, there is, of course, the IELTS and SAT training at the end of the week. Why IELTS? I’m not even doing IELTS, which I’ve taught in the past anyway. SAT training would be more useful, but the book makes me cringe with its ridiculous advice about writing English.

Reliance on the verb to be in any of its eight parts… makes your writing sluggish and unclear. (The Official SAT Study Guide, p. 108)

But the example sentence, which is (Oops! Mr Bamboo said “is”) clumsy and dreadful, contains one instance of the verb to be, and it’s (Damn! Mr Bamboo did it again) obligatory. The sentence is (My apologies) poorly controlled, but it’s (I hope you didn’t see that) not as bad as the driveltastic (it’s [Oh dear] a word) advice which subsequently follows it.

Actually, for my little darlings, such advice (no passives; mind those abstract nouns; death to the prepositional phrase) isn’t of much use. They still struggle with coherence and cohesion, and the right tone. They still struggle with the idea of originality because they rely on knowing the right cliché for the right occasion. They still cannot grasp that they really need to plan what they write and that they need to focus on that plan.

In truth, they aren’t at that level anyway. Most of them are intermediate level users of English and thus lack adequate competence in the language. Even the best of them, who have got 7.0+ in IELTS or 100+ in TOEFL, make fools of themselves as readily as the rest.

I’m more inclined to give them stuff from a book called Reading Techniques, which is for upper intermediate learners, or Academic Vocabulary: Academic Words, although I’m already using Advanced Vocabulary in Context. I’m still looking for that third thing in the AS classes now that I’ve abandoned TOEFL. After the training, I might make it SAT English in spite of my better judgement.

Anyway, I have teaching all afternoon (bah!) and want to go off a little early so that my lunch can be a little more leisurely.


Maths challenges are one thing

But what about an English Challenge?

I’m kind of passing through after being reticent for the past few days. I’ve thought about adding an entry, but I haven’t been feeling inclined, or other things have been claiming my attention. In local news, John the Maths Teacher had 121 students line up in front of the clock at school so that he could get a picture of them at 11.11am on 11.11.11.

That’s one of the few dates which the Americans don’t mess up. A whole bunch were all excited recently about 11.1.11 even although that happened months ago.

One of the amusements for our little darlings has been the UK Maths Challenge, which got me thinking about some sort of English challenge which I could post on this website of ours. I was thinking of something like paraphrasing a sonnet (AS) or answering some reading comprehension questions about one (PAL). I want a text which is short and self-contained and which require intelligent thought to comprehend. It’s an idea that’s been bobbing about in my mind for the past couple of days and will almost certainly be as popular with the little darlings as a birthday made from turd; but it may get some sort of response from some of the students who think that the sun of the English language shines out of their arses.

More likely, it won’t get any response at all because they don’t want to face up to reality, viz. the inferiority of their language skills even when they get 110+ in TOEFL.

As I’ve said before, A*s in maths are so common here that they’re meaningless as a measure of the academic prowess of students. The list of students who did well in the UK Maths Challenge also included the names of some complete nitwits whose English is appalling.

Of course, their English might not be that bad, but if they behave like little bastards in class, it’s hard not to conclude that I’m dealing with some imbecile because I have no positive interaction with the halfwit in question.

We are trying to do something about improving the attitudes of students as they progress. The A2s have continued the tradition of absolute arrogance, which has them doing what they please without so much as a proverbial by-your-leave, and quite a lot of this term has included Adrian or Fred coming into the office after class and reporting how few students they had in class. Students can only pull this sort of stunt with the permission of their Chinese tutors and our approval. It’s not an issue for PAL, but there have been one or two instances of AS students disappearing.

I’ve still been wondering about what to do with the AS classes. I’ve more or less abandoned TOEFL, but I am keeping Advanced Vocabulary in Use and Listen to Learn. I need something for reading and writing, but I’m not sure what. The problem with TOEFL is that the AS classes have been getting it from elsewhere (in school and outside), or they’ve done with it and I’ve been wasting my time doing it. I was led to believe that it’s what they’d want even although I didn’t want to teach TOEFL myself.

Ironically, we have some TOEFL and IELTS training coming up, but I just don’t see the point. With any luck, we can drop IELTS and TOEFL altogether next year and deal with something different in class so that we’re not always an also-ran in the proficiency exam race.

New books. Where are the new books?

And the old ones are obsolete. Damn.

What’s a boy to do this time? PAL’s not much of a problem this Thursday because things more or less stay the same, but I forgot that for AS things change quite a bit. We’re still using NorthStar, but a different book in that series, and Listen to Learn has been cut in half (Book 1 for PAL; Book 2 for AS). Some of the book I’ve been using still survives in both parts, but not really enough to be able to continue using it.

I’ll be seeing AS4 first thing on Thursday, and since they’re the new AS class, I suppose I have to do some sort of introductory spiel, which will include revealing just how little I know about what we’ll be doing this year. Not having seen one book and having a hunch-backed mutant for the other, I can’t really say anything much beyond, “TOEFL. It’s, er… The dog’s bollocks!”

Actually, I don’t really give a damn about TOEFL. Or IELTS. A whole term of this stuff? Yes, there does need to be some objective means of measuring the proficiency of non-native speakers of English, but if the aim is to see some improvement in the language, then learning English would help far more than learning how to do the exam.

So, if you’re a non-native speaker of English and the words “IELTS” and “TOEFL” washed you up on the shores of my island, you should spend your time learning English instead of wasting it on exam preparation, which won’t make a significant difference. There’s no quick and easy way of improving your proficiency in another language, and exam preparation, which can be left until the last minute, impedes your improvement.

But people who know nothing about languages and learning languages always know best, and that’s why I have to waste whole terms on something which barely helps. I think you’d better go because there are internal rumblings which are making me think last night’s tea is still having its terrible revenge.


Well, “rain” just isn’t enough.

When I noticed late yesterday afternoon that the clouds had gathered, I wondered whether we were in for a little rain. We were – last night –, but this morning, that turned to RAIN, which got so heavy around 7.00am that I could hear it rushing down the drainpipe outside the window. It’s got worse again in the past half hour and is now garnished with a little thunder.

When I got to school this morning, I had early intelligence of some change to the programme, but didn’t realise that that include the AS classes. I gave AS 1 a copy of newsademic 130, which I had a stack of, only find later in the class that they’d done it long ago. Two classes must’ve missed out, but I’m damned if I know which two. Anyway, the morning became one long session of babysitting, and that would seem to be what I’ll be doing for the next three weeks.

Whether we should’ve known this was going to happen or there was a lack of communication, I don’t know. It may have been one of those things which got mentioned months ago and then completely slipped off the radar because our immediate concern over the past month has been the exams.

The Guardian has an article, Cyclists’ grand designs, about some trend to build custom-made bikes. Ah, if only I could indulge. I’d have a city bike with a carbon fibre frame and aluminium other bits for a start. Has to have a comfortable seat, though. Gears? Three. I don’t want a plethora of cogs which never get used, but I would want something where the gear changing is smooth and doesn’t involve the chain going chik-chik-chik while I wonder whether the gears are working properly. If I want second gear, I’ve got it and I’m not having to fiddle with the lever to get it just right. 26 inch alloy rims and medium gauge tyres. I don’t want racing-bike gauge tyres nor fat, blobby mountain-bike tyres. Disc brakes. In car terms, the result would be a Porsche Cayman S. Brrm! Brrm!

Here endeth May

Grey, dull and unchanging.

What has happened to spring this year? Here we are at the end of May after a month which has largely been characterised by autumnal greyness. In addition to today’s livid sky, we have had smoke from somewhere, which has enveloped the city in a medium dense haze. I don’t know if the peasants are burning stubble, but unlike the usual grey miasma, this can be smelt. Since I started writing this entry, the smoke has got thick enough to start hiding the 红豆 Building, and it’s been raining.

It’s ironic because when I went to Baidu to see what the weather was meant to be doing today, I found that the doodle (an original idea; not copying Google at all) was celebrating, er, No Smoking Day. But it’ll be like those considerate people [Considerate people? Oh, I get it, Sarcasm again. –ed.] in this building who get into a lift with a lit cigarette and think this is sufficient adherence to the prohibition on smoking in lifts. There was probably smoking at the editorial meeting which decided on the doodle.

Your foreign EFL teacher will know or have been told that IELTS and TOEFL classes are boring. They will not be impressed when you complain that the classes are boring. Your foreign EFL teacher may even know that a whole term of such classes is no substitute for learning English, and that exam prep classes are pretty much a complete and utter waste of time anything more than a month ahead of the exam. Your foreign EFL teacher probably suspects that you’re off at New Oriental or English First, where you’re also doing prep for IELTS and TOEFL, and guesses that this is why you treat your classes with a certain degree of disdain.

The Irony Awards

“And the award for Most Ironic Book Purchase goes to…”

With the sports days starting this afternoon, I thought I’d use the free time to go DVD shopping. Actually, I was only shopping for one DVD, but because I only had ¥100 notes on me,[1] I bought several besides.

I also went to the Foreign Languages Bookshop at the north end of 科华北路 [in Chengdu] because I was trying to find an English dictionary of the normal variety. I know I can use English dictionaries online. Firefox comes with a link to Chambers, but I’m not always online or necessarily in a pos­i­t­ion to go there. Perhaps I’m just being nostalgic for the days when my copy of the Concise Oxford was handy on the bookshelf for those occasions when I’d forgotten how to spell a word. Yes, such occasions exist in my world.

But I didn’t find a suitable dictionary. Those which are of the common or garden variety are usually learner’s dictionaries of a sort – beginner; inter­mediate; advanced. There are, after that, few choices for native speakers, and having surveyed the dictionaries, I went and had a look through the IELTS section where I spotted Mark Morgan’s Writing Skills for the IELTS Test.

When I first started teaching IELTS about four years ago, I had his IELTS reading book, which was definitely the best book of its kind I had. But his writing book was out of print, and in spite of periodic searches, I’ve never seen it in all this time – until today. I bought it because I may have a use for it in the future, but I probably won’t during the course of this academic year; hence, the purchase was ironic if, as it seems, I’m not going to be working for the programme beyond June next year. Also ironic was the absence of Morgan’s IELTS reading book from the shelves. I bet it’s out of print.

I also went to the other Foreign Languages Bookshop, but their selection of dictionaries was even more limited than the first place. I did buy The Collected Short Stories of Saki by H.H. Munro as some light relief from all the horror I’ve read recently, and I continue to note the inflated prices of some of the Wordsworth Classics volumes. ¥60 (£5.45) for a volume as thin as Thomas More’s Utopia is utterly ridiculous at a time when the exchange rate is just below ¥11 to £1.


1. That hasn’t happened to me in a while, but it’s annoying when it does. You either have ¥100 notes or mere 角 and nothing in between for minor purchases.

Being vague in 250 words

Writing Task 2.

Some people believe that only pupils of similar interests should be given admissions in schools. Others are of the opinion that schools should be open to all children with varied interests. How far you agree or disagree with the above views. Give your opinion in not less than 250 words.

Now that it’s the IELTS season again, I find my thoughts turning to the essay again, although as usual, I doubt whether I’ll get as far as teaching Writing Task 2 this term. I don’t think I’ve managed to teach it in depth yet, although I know I’ve outlined the general principles of how to approach it to more than one class, and I know their response has been to ignore my advice.

I was poking around online earlier today (perhaps at about the time Green Bamboo had its 18000th hit [Worst number dropping evah. –ed.]) when I came across a page of 40 topics for IELTS Writing Task 2. The first of them (slightly edited for typos) is given above.

I’m a little puzzled about this topic. The phrase “similar interests” seems to be some sort of euphemism. In this case, the word the examiners are trying not to mention is directly is probably “religion”, or perhaps “social class” or “academic excellence”. Since Writing Task 2 is often about some issue which has been subject to much debate, I assume that this particular topic was inspired by the whole fiasco that school admissions have become. The only way to answer the question is to decide what “interest” means and be consistent throughout the discussion about it.

I could interpret “interest” to mean “things I like to do” so that I might say how much I would’ve enjoyed being at a school where everyone shared my interests in reading and making model aeroplanes. Such an answer would not be wrong so long as I could demonstrate what the examiners were looking for.

“Interest”, a word whose emptiness I’ve mentioned in a post on an earlier occasion, is open to interpretation. It’s a poor choice of word when “background” would be a better one in this context. I don’t know if this is a topic from an actual IELTS exam or whether it’s some topic someone has created for the purposes of practising Writing Task 2; regardless, I’d change “interest” to “background”, thus sparing myself the pain of many puzzling answers revolving around people’s hobbies.

16.04.08. I was having a closer look at the list of topics which, from the various minor errors riddling them, were the work of a non-native speaker of English, hence, no doubt, the problem with the topic above.

IELTS is so popular

Please, sir, can I go to the other class?

The kids in Class 16 are all right, but not the brightest bunch in the world. When we were dividing the classes into IELTS and General English, only a third ended met the criterion for the IELTS class, which prompted the Dowager Empress Cixi to ask us to even out the numbers. We did that by transferring the ten best 4.5s to the IELTS class.

What happened at the end of class this morning?

Ten kids (not all necessarily 4.5s) asked to move to the General English class. I don’t know how Cixi is going to react to this, but the whole idea of IELTS classes is a Bad Idea™. Our kids will benefit more from general English than from techniques in doing the IELTS exam because in the latter the learning of English is only incidental. We’re not trying to teach them (advanced) English to raise their level for the IELTS exam. Besides, we don’t have the time in the space of one term. I don’t know whether any of them are planning to do the official IELTS exam.

The reason why we do IELTS classes is, really, all about image. IELTS is a proficiency exam, but it seems typically regarded as a university entrance exam where the pass mark is 6, even although there’s no passing and no failing. But because the English in the IELTS exam is meant to represent that of an educated native English speaker, the associated tasks are regarded as academically more demanding than the usual sort of thing. Thus if our kids are doing IELTS classes, it makes the school look good regardless of reality which is, in my mind, that IELTS is pretty much a waste of time until you’ve completed at least one degree at university.

I’ve thought once or twice recently that teen IELTS might be better for younger learners of English if parents and schools want something like it. It’d test them on their knowledge of txt; or their ability to talk about a subject as if they’re experts on it and their views count, but are, in fact, too dim to know they’re not and they don’t (try to untangle that sentence ^_^); or their inability to listen to any sort of authority figures (don’t circle the correct answer; and don’t listen to instructions); or their incompetence in using punctuation (marks deducted for adhering to generally accepted standards) and writing coherent sentences (run-on sentences, good; clearly defined sentence boundaries, bad).

Give the kids a chance, I say.

The English Lesson

How to avoid concussion.

This is for all you Chinese people learning English. Pay attention. Don’t make me repeat myself.

In the main, the verb talk can be transitive or intransitive, but it is more usually the latter than the former which tends to occur in idiomatic phrases.

Harry was talking to Hermione about Ron.
Ron was talking with Fred and George.
Hermione was talking about Dumbledore.
Neville talked around the subject.
Parvati had to talk on unicorns for a minute.
Snape talked on and on.
Professor McGonagall talked endlessly.
Hagrid was talking off the top of his head.
Tony Blair talked Gordon Brown into a corner.
David Cameron talked Iain Dale out of buying a Skoda.
Gordon Brown could talk the legs off a donkey.
The politicians were talking nonsense.

When you are discussing a topic, you talk on or about it. There is nothing more irritating than the inane Chinglishism *talk something. Here’s how the conversation should go:

“Hello, is it OK if I practise my English with you?”
All right. Besides, I’m looking for a girlfriend.
“Huh? We can talk about something.”
Such good grammar. I’m definitely marrying you.

Here’s how it doesn’t go:

“Hello, laowai. You practise English with me.”
Er, maybe.
“We can talk something about English.”
I don’t think so. Bye bye.

Yeah, I’m fed up with hearing *talk something. And by the way, foreigners do have lives outside of work, so don’t assume they have nothing better to do in their spare time.

IELTS again.

Since we’re talking about learning English, I saw that I’d had a whole bunch of hits from someone in Sri Lanka looking for information about IELTS. I’ve also had hits from Nepal and the Arab Emirates for it. I don’t really have anything to say about it, but apart from practising your speaking, listening, reading and writing, there isn’t any other means of improving your IELTS score. Yeah, you can exploit prepare for the content of the exam, but that’s not really going to help.

10.03.07 I see that since I added this entry last night, someone came looking for info on IELTS scores. The four bands – speaking, listening, reading, writing – are scored on a nine point scale. 0 means that you missed the bus/didn’t get out of bed that morning/got abducted by aliens and 8 or 9 is (allegedly) equivalent to educated adult native speaker level. IELTS measures your proficiency in English. It’s not a test you can pass or fail.

The alleged minimum score for getting into a Western university is 6.0, but many universities demand a higher level with riders such as “with not less than 6.0 in any one band”. In reality, if you’re not on 7.0 close to 8.0 overall, you’re not up to attending a Western university or coping with life in an English speaking country. If you’re struggling to understand my writing beyond the usual difficulties posed by opaque idioms, your English isn’t good enough yet.

[06.08.14. On the amount of time that my pupils seem to spend preparing for IELTS or TOEFL, I’ll make the observation that they’re wasting their time. For all the work they put into such classes, I find it hard to imagine that more than a tiny minority actually manage to move from one band to another on the basis of knowing how to approach the test. Ultimately, the whole process is self-deluding, a vast waste of time and money, and injurious to pupils’ knowledge of the English language because they often get taught utter, bollocking nonsense.]

Why did they think it was right?

The necessity of a close reading.

This afternoon I was getting the IELTS class to practise multiple choice questions. One of the questions was “What did Darwin discover?”. The answer which the class chose was A. “Human beings were a unique creation of God”. That stunned me a little, particularly because of the obsession with science in China. Pictures of famous scientists, including Darwin, seem to be a feature of Chinese high schools, and you’re not going to find creationism or intelligent design as part of the science curriculum.

The sentence which beguiled the IELTS class was “The Darwinian revolution removed us from our position as a unique creation of God.” Clearly they’d spotted the phrase in the answer and decided that A. must be right without bothering to read the rest of the sentence. It also suggests that they didn’t bother thinking about the answer because it should be contrary to what they’ve been taught. But there’s something else as well.

As regular readers [Ah, there’s wishful thinking. –ed.] will know, I like to deride hacks and their sub-editors now and then for their failure to think first and write/edit later. Think about the sentence from the text. It should say something like “The Darwinian revolution dispelled the belief that humans were created by a divine being”. The sentence implies to me that before Darwin belief in this was fact. In truth, it was never anything but belief.

It should be said that quite a few of the texts that are to be found in IELTS textbooks in China are pretty dreadful when you look closely at them. They’re good for a single, unconsidered reading, but beyond that, their flaws are often all too obvious.

If you’re wondering why I’m getting wound up about this [No, but don’t let the indifference of the rest of humanity stop you. –ed.], it’s because I’ve seen a number of advertisements in the past for jobs writing for websites. In many cases, I’ve thought that it’s a job I could do, but one of the requirements is a background in journalism, as if that makes some journalist competent to write in the first place. I’ve probably dropped a few clangers here in my time, but I don’t believe that I’m any less competent at scribbling than some Grub Street hack.