Tag Archives: TOEFL

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.

Brevity is the soul of wit

But though this is brief, I’m unlikely to be witty.

Our start-of-term conference has been vacuuming up my time one way or another over the past three days. It hasn’t been completely pointless, but the extra day the English teachers had served no real purpose other than to overload us with information starting with SATs, which we won’t have to worry about until the second term. Yesterday, the excess continued with a 90-minute lecture which overran by about half an hour, which truncated lunch, and which was then followed by a (much briefer) Q&A session.

We had dinner at the Kempinski last night, which is where the out-of-towners have been staying. Won’t be rushing back because although it’s nice, a pint of beer was ¥58 (not including additional gratuitous charges) and a glass of Pinot Noir was ¥88, which I would rather not pay for a whole bottle of wine, let alone one glass.

But the weather has been foul, especially yesterday as we waited outside the school for a taxi to go to the hotel. Once again I ask, “Drainage, where is thy sting?”

I had thought we’d only have two English teachers, and a librarian (for the IB programme), but there are actually three of us just teaching English. We’ve been wondering how that’s going to work, but we won’t really know till Monday. My theory is that Mark and I will probably deal with the standard part of the programme, while Fred may be doing some business, and English-related matters.

And once we’re done, I have to go shopping. Bollocks!

Me: Let’s do TOEFL.

Class: Ugh!

When I went into 远东百贸 to buy some honey, I ran into three of my students, who revealed that they were off to TOEFL class. It’s bad enough that they’re doing this during the holidays, but it also means that when we have class, I’m rehashing what they’ve already done elsewhere, which is when they start ignoring me.

Probably they think of school as the place where they do their AS- and A-level subjects and New Oriental or English First as the place where they do English. Probably my classes are regarded as a little pointless even although the intentions of the programme are good.

I know that EFL is about linguistic competence rather than academic ability, but the longer I do this, the more I wish that the focus was on English as an academic subject. Of course, I know that that’s not going to happen for a very good reason: the results of an academically oriented English exam would be almost entirely abysmal. That’d mostly be a consequence of English being a foreign language, but it’d also be a consequence of English not being a robot subject like maths or physics. By doing English as an academic subject, students might get a better perspective of their own academic abilities because all but the most unutterable dunces can still get As in maths and physics. All that tells me is that they’re very good robots, but it’s in English where the wheat gets sorted from the chaff.

Anyway, I see that the big and little hands are on no numbers in particular, which means it must be time to, er, do something.


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.

Uncle Angel

The devil wears a halo.

I was heading home after the first class this morning and got collared by Tracy at the gate. She wanted me to come back to school the period after for some sort of photoshoot. When I got back to school, June took me over to the classroom where Todd and I pretended to be interviewing some Senior 3s while some photographer snapped away. We weren’t certain what the deal was, but suspected that it might be a little trickery on the part of the school to make it seem that the foreign teachers were still involved in the assessment of the Senior 3s. The real test is yet to come.

Anyway, the pupil I was supposedly interviewing was Gladys who’s one of the girls in the IELTS class. I asked her various questions in the pretence that this was the real deal and learnt that the IELTS kids call me Uncle Angel. This is because my hair is blonde and curly (although mouse brown with a lot of grey, and insane might be more accurate; yes, I have insane hair).

Honour according to the rights

I found a whole bunch (about 560) of (TOEFL –JH.) essay topics on line a few days ago and thought I might amuse myself by considering some of them. The first topic I looked at was

Explain what it means to be an honourable person

I concluded from what I was saying that it wasn’t a particularly interesting topic because it’s more interesting when someone’s code of honour encounters an event that forces a violation of that code; or to argue that rigid adherence to a code of honour is a character flaw because it renders a person incapable of responding to a situation with the necessary flexibility.

The other topic I’ve looked at was

“Human rights” is a term frequently used but seldom defined. What rights should belong to every human being? Discuss.

This is a ridiculously broad topic for an essay, but quite an interesting one when you start thinking about universal human rights, and the things that we regard as human rights, but are not universal and cannot be defined to cover all cases. For example, freedom of speech seems like a good idea, but must also include the expression of ideas which are often found unacceptable – anything from the overthrow of a government by armed struggle to racist abuse. The same can be said about crime and punishment. Those acts which are considered criminal differ from country to country, as do the punishments for them. The best we might say is that the justice system should be impartial and independent, and the process transparent.

All in all, the matter is a complicated one which the human brain fudges a bit so that we don’t all give ourselves headaches trying to resolve all the attendant ethical issues.