THE FCE BLOG

FCE Listening Practice through Dictation

The word dictation probably brings to mind images of old, dull teaching practices. However, dictation has long been proven a learning device for foreign language students.

To mention but a few benefits, dictation can:
-help you obtain a list of words you usually misspell
-give you practice in note taking (FCE Listening Paper, part 2)
-foster thinking in the new language. Every learner's dream, isn't it?

Now, none of these benefits will happen unless you are motivated to practice dictation. If you choose how to practice it and try to vary the exercises, you'll focus more on its benefits rather than getting bored in a few minutes.

Here is a choice of websites to browse.

This site gives you three options of practice: jotting down the first letter of a word only, the whole word or a fill in the blanks with a bit of context to help you.
http://www.listen-and-write.com/
Here you will find dictations with real life English videos. British accent throughout.

Perhaps you'd like to try dictations from texts first. Then, the graded dictations at
http://www.fonetiks.org/dictations/ can be the place to start.

For a quick practice at the word level only, try
http://www.learnenglish.de/dictationpage.htm

How can this practice help me develop listening skills?
Many students complain that listening is one of the most difficult parts of the test. Indeed, English has an isochronous rhythm that languages like Spanish do not share. Dictation can help you at the level of the sentence, the words, the division of a chunk of speech into sensible units.

For the FCE level, however, all of that is taken for granted. You will be asked to make assumptions, establish connections and not simply recognizing sounds and words. So, if listening is your stumbling block, why not get some dictation practice to help you break such a big task into manageable portions?



Image source:

Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Set Texts 2012
We have talked before here on the blog about the tips for the preparation of the set book option in the writing paper.

The set books for FCE 2012 are:

-Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thakeray (Any edition)

-This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. (OUP)

Some useful links on Vanity Fair
  • The Wikipedia entry on Vanity Fair provides a succint plot and characters overview. The links at the bottom of the page are a good way to start some finer research on it.
  • The Cliff notes. Although they are not meant to prepare for the FCE exam, the character analysis and sample essays are debate worthy and a good introduction to writing for the set book option of the Writing Paper.

You can get the book online for free or download it in pdf format here or here.

-Is there a film based on the book? -You ask.
-Yes, there is.

Trailer (2004)


This Rough Magic is a book which is copyright protected. So you'll have to get yourself a copy. Here is a pdf with a short test + answers to help you with the book comprehension.

To end, I'd like to say that the links here are meant to help you get into a world of fiction and by no means replace reading the original book. Let me remind you of what Borges used to say about reading: it's supposed to be for pleasure and not just because your teacher told you to do it for homework.

Attitude to reading is up to you.


Related posts



Author : Claudia Ceraso

Cambridge First-The Speaking Test Updated for 2015

The Cambridge English TV Channel in YouTube keeps updating samples of FCE Speaking tests. As you know, the oral test will undergo a few changes. Pay attention to Part 3 of the test where the examiner asks the candidates to do something together. So far, that part has been of 3 minutes with visual prompts. As from 2015, it will take 2 minutes of discussion of written prompts and then the interlocutor will ask you to evaluate the options together for another minute.

In my opinion, this is much clearer for students, since time goes by faster or much slower when you are under the stress of a test and some students tend to hurry to conclusions way before the three minutes have expired.

So here it is. These are Florine and María





You can also read a pdf document that Cambridge issues to explain the candidates' performance part by part.

So, are you ready to sit for it?



Author : Claudia Ceraso

Grammar Exercises
Sometimes I wonder what visitors expect to find in this blog for First Certificate. I imagine them googling and landing here in search of learning, tips and practice.

Just think. All of those students alone with a computer searching for exercises to improve their English. Just like you. Now, isn't it a pity we don't share our findings?

This morning I woke up with world domination plans and thought it would be fantastic to pull the results of those searches and share them.

Like it?
OK. Let's take over the world!

The action plan
1) Create a delicious account. See this post about online bookmarks with delicious.
2) Save all of the practice exercises you do online. We are also looking for songs to illustrate grammar points.
2) Share away. Be sure to use the tag tagtastic for all bookmarks to be included in this grammar exercises project.

How fantagtastic!


Some help to get started
Where shall I start looking for exercises?
Here is a binder with some websites specialized in ESL or EFL exercises.
How do I find songs to help me learn grammar?
My students think of them all of the time in class. They make spontaneous associations while I teach grammar. If your memory is not so musical, you can try searching "example sentences" + lyrics + "your favourite band" in Google.


Thoughts? Questions? All welcome.


Related posts:


Author : Claudia Ceraso

Happy New Year
This blog has been hibernating for quite a while. I still bring up old (yet not dated) posts in my FCE course. They know the rules: this is not homework.

The  FCE course this year was such a good time. I remember the first class in March. Nobody knew, but it was my first day of work after a long leave of absence due to family health. Being back at the chalk-face (excuse the archaism) felt like my model class back in my pre-graduation days. 

Everyone in my class had the self-demanding, voracious learning vein already inbuilt. I did not have to foster it, rather the opposite: I had to make them see their results for what they are worth. Not sure I persuaded them. They will probably be convinced when they see their exam results in January.

My students made my job easy, fun. Martina, one of the students, gave me a warm hug the last day. Before saying goodbye she told me "I had fun and I learnt a lot this year".  Felt like success to me. It was also a bit of a relief, because I remember her glued to her phone screen most of the time. I feared she was a bit bored.

I learnt a lot too. Particularly from the freshness of the responses from teens. A reminder of how much I still enjoy this FCE class, which I started teaching when my current 2017 students were being born. 

(Wait a minute. I am re-reading that last sentence again).

Now as this year -as well as this post -is coming to an end, I am reminded of how much I enjoy blogging. With a twist this time. I am writing this on my mobile (wink for Martina) while I am on my fixed bike. That's some innovation for me.

Look forward to my students' messages next month. For those coming to this blog for tips,  I will be back to you soon.

Happy 2018 everyone! Long live the blog!

X0X0

Claudia




Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Set Texts 2011
The Cambridge set texts for the 2010 and 2011 FCE exam are:

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (Black Cat or any edition)
Michael Chrichton: Jurassic Park (Macmillan or any edition)

Both recommended texts are graded readers. You may read one or both. These books are not discussed in the oral exam at all. They are the basis to answer a choice of optional writing tasks in Part 2 of the Writing Paper.



The Woman in White
Fiona Joseph has a great ten-minute podcast to introduce you to the book The Woman in White. Her tips are spot on. You should be very well prepared to choose one of the set text writing options, which can be an essay, an article or a letter.


Jurassic Park
This book is still copyrighted and unavailable online. You can find chapter summaries and notes here or here.






The range of set books recommended by Cambridge for the FCE exam has been full of classic authors. Most of the books are read in their unabridged editon. If you are one of those students who loves reading and needs advice with titles to quench your reading thirst, here is a good reading list created by OM. They also provide free downloads with information about the authors as well as some of their most famous books.

One final thought...

Apart from the recommended abridged readers, I would advise you to include some original work in your personal reading list. But most importantly, choose books you like! If you find a novel or story never ending, perhaps it's time to go and discover other titles that confirm reading can be a great pleasure.


Related posts


Author : Claudia Ceraso

Spelling (Yeah, it\'s important)
Students are sometimes surprised to learn spelling mistakes count when you are an advanced student of English. They prefer to focus on more difficult structures as if they were the only important things. Spelling is a detail, right? Well, this is what studying for standard exams can do to your priorities. Remember it's not the exam, but your English what counts!

Let me put it this way:
If you write with fairly good structures and vocabulary, what does bad spelling say about you in that context? Probably carelessness. There are so many tools that will help you identify poor spelling with a red line underneath that not doing anything about it is plain lazy.

Now watch this (you may have received the sample text via email),



So, why does spelling matter?
Becuz badd spilleng is hrd two undstnd wen u reed it. Because when you write, you do so not just for yourself but for a reader. Good communication is not an intention, it is the real effect we make on another person. Little time to write or our haste to pass a message quickly are just excuses unless you are texting from a busy street. Bad spelling is communication noise.

OK. Let's get down to learning.

Google can be the first place you go to check if a word exists. We are assuming you already suspect you are mispelling it. Most of the times, we may be unaware of our mistakes, so you probably need a tool to help you with two things:
-identify the mistake
-suggestions for correcting it

You can try cutting and pasting your text here or here to get a report with suggestions. That's easy.

However, spell checking tools are not enough.


Homophones -words with the same pronunciation, but different spelling and meaning- escape the scrutininzing eyes of the tools. There are a lot! Check them out.

Mastering spelling takes time and patience. Somehow, you need to keep track of your frequently misspelled words. Boring, I know. Maybe it can be fun, too. I really like the way the people at SpellingCity.com help you to learn. You can create your own tests based on the words you have problems with. There's plenty to do in that site.

Do you make any of these frequent spelling mistakes (Hush, but native speakers also do!)?

Last, but not least. There are differences in spelling depending which side of the Atlantic Ocean you are at. With so many sources to read English, you are probably mixing British and American styles. Are you?

Happy spelling!











Author : Claudia Ceraso

Exam Day: The CIS
I've noticed that Cambridge past papers books bring sample answer sheets at the end. However, there is no sample copy of the CIS, which every candidate must complete before the start of most Cambridge Suite exams.

What is the CIS?
CIS stands for Candidate Information Sheet.

Is that a part of the exam?
No, it isn't. Actually, it is a survey about the exam candidates. Your answers in the CIS will not affect your marks.

What kind of questions does it include?
You'll be asked about the following:
  • age group and gender
  • reasons for taking the test
  • whether you are working or not
  • whether you have taken any international exam before
Turning over the page, there are two more questions:
-What's your country of origin?
-What is your mother tongue?

Do I have to write a lot?
You'll be given multiple choice options, so there is nothing you have to write. You simply choose as appropriate.

I do not have any copy of the CIS with me. This is all I remember after invigilating today. Have you taken the FCE recently?
Help me complete this post with your comments.

Thanks!

Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Oral Interview & ELT Pics

For part 2 of the FCE oral interview, it is necessary to practise comparing and contrasting photographs. If you have taken a look at the past paper examination books, you have probably discovered that the photos chosen are not always that telling of exact details of place and what the people in them are up to. My own students usually complain they do not know what else to say about them.

I usually point my students to Flickr for finding striking photos that will ignite their imaginations. I use some of my own photos in class too, but I try to encourage them to surf and find new images.

What to bear in mind when choosing photos:

-You aim at stretching yourselves to speak about a variety of topics.
-You can follow tags to find similar images to pair.

The idea is to get you to be fluent about any topic, not just your favourite ones. You should try to relate to the photos as well as guess and predict what's going on. This exam task is, in my opinion, a step before creating a story.

Think of the story setting or conflict and you get the picture!


The is a drawback. It is hard to find a pair of closely related photos to compare and contrast. Doing it on your own is time consuming.

How to solve this?

I've found this initiative that Sandy Millin explains in her blog. Several EFL teachers have been collecting photos for classroom use and organized them in sets according to topics. These are over 2,000 photos from all round the world and they cover the vocabulary range you need.




Ceri Jones has an idea about annotating the photos on an interactive whiteboard to enlarge your vocabulary. That gets interesting. But why not do it in Flickr? Students could choose themselves whether to click on further vocabulary or ideas for their description on a need-to-know basis.

See this example:




I think it's great that teachers can share these photo prompts online, but it would be wonderful to see students creating notes on them and sharing the learning!



Author : Claudia Ceraso

Breaking the ice

It is that time of the year again. I am about to start a new Cambridge English First couse and I am thinking of the first lesson. A plan for students I have not met yet. A quick search for pages to practice lead me to this article listing possible questions for the Oral exam Part one.

Take a look.
https://www.fceexamtips.com/articles/first-certificate-speaking-questions-part-1

Quite complete in my opinion. Now... what would your answers reveal about you and your new classmates?

Which questions would you ask your teacher? That would be an interesting scenario...

Toast to another year of learning from my students.


Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Speaking Paper: Useful Phrases
In our previous post on Speaking Paper Part 2, we discussed the content of this part of this exam:
-what kind of information to give
-what you are expected to do with it

Now I'd like to focus on a strictly linguistic aspect: the form. How to say it.  What words and phrases can you use to link what you say? The ideas of this post apply to all parts of the oral interview.

'How you say it', as opposed to how many structures and how much vocabulary you use, is technically called Discourse Management: to what extent can you give logical, well presented ideas.

Remember: no one is counting how many mistakes you've made to give you a pass or a fail. You will be awarded marks for everything you succeed in doing in terms of communication.

Ascención Villalba has shared this presentation which outlines and highlights the language you can use in FCE Speaking. I think it is quite complete and worth studying in detail:



Fce speaking part from Ascension Villalba
Source

What's the goal? To approximate to using the language in that presentation. Beware of memorizing or forcing the expressions in your speech. It's unnatural and not a mark of learning. Try these phrases on as it they were new clothes. Select what fits best; make sure you have enough to change for the sake of variety.

The blog where it was originally published has some posts with tips and links . Take a look at the links on the sidebar of Skills for FCE.

On a final note, I just want to say that I love bringing other teacher's goodness to my own students in my class. 

Author : Claudia Ceraso