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.
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.
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.
Speaking Paper- Part 2 In Part 2 of the Speaking Paper, you are given a couple of pictures you will have to discuss on your own for about a minute. This is the long-turn. It is not a dialogue and you are expected to give an extended answer to one question.
I'd like to share with you some of the frequent doubts my students have on Part 2.
Should I describe the two pictures?
As you will have to start speaking as soon as you see the pictures, you most probably will describe what you see first. This is good to get a general idea, to place yourself and to avoid saying "in picture one" or "in the first picture", which are vague and poor ways to refer to them. Forget about merely pointing at them with your finger. Instead, you could give the pictures a title, something descriptive such as, "the picture with the elderly woman" or "the picture which shows a doctor", etc. That gives you a change to use more precise language, which suits your B2 level.
-Should I answer the question right at the beginning or towards the end of the minute? Throughout.Everything you say must have relevance to the question. That goes back to the first issue, you're not supposed to describe just because. You are not asked to have right answers, just ideas. So what you will do is constantly speculate about possible answers. The question the examiner reads at the beginning is printed on top of the set of pictures. This is there to help you. Make sure all your ideas are pointing to it.
-My problem is that I run out of ideas. I don't know what to say. Students who say this do not like talking about small topics. They like important ideas. Hey, you are not presenting at a conference! This is not a creativity contest. This is just a snapshot of casual conversation. Your ideas are good just because they are yours. Show us you want to communicate them and that you want to be understood by detailing and expanding on what you mean. There are no wrong answers. There are probably wrong attitudes towards the task. I know it's hard to do when you get nervous in the middle of the exam, but an attitude of someone interested in having a conversation and honestly sharing what you think is the path to success.
Sometimes students run dry because they assume the question is to have only one answer. That's not true. There may be several possible answers and you give your hypothesis. The important thing is you address the question, not that you arrive to the most definite reason why. That would leave you with nothing else to say in 30 seconds. Instead, be ready to discuss alternatives.
-How can I practise for this part? What this task requires the most is confidence. This takes practice. You do not need any specific exam materials to do this. Any photograph which includes people will do. At first you can just time yourself while you describe any photo. Once you are at ease with filling the minute, try to answer one of these questions:
Why are these people in these pictures?
How are they probably feeling?
What do you think these people enjoy about ...(whatever they are doing)?
-Where do I get pictures? Google images will do. The syntax could be something like this: "people + holidays", or +jobs +memories +sports +home. You name it. If you run out of search terms, go to your coursebook and use the title of the units as a guide. They refer to the vocabulary and themes you are to talk about with fluency at the FCE level.
This is just a start. Yet a key step. Practise frequently!
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.
Do you ever get to see the test and your mistakes?
My answer in plain English:
No. You have to bear in mind that you are sitting for a test at the end of a school course. Although you may be doing a specific course or studying at your school to sit for First for Schools, this is a certification process. You have chosen a university to confirm you possess some knowledge of the language. The tests belong to the assessment body now. They will most probably be used for research purposes.
So, what do you get as a feedback? Every student sitting for the test is issued with a Statement of Results, which looks like this:
Whether you pass or not, you will access this statement of results online. If you pass, you will receive a paper certificate at you examining centre. That certificate is valid for life. Do remember to go and pick it up. It is issued only once. If you lose it, I guess you will need to sit for the test again!
Every school year is a new beginning. New faces. I am trying to remember all of your names. A lot of ideas I would like to share with you. Precisely sharing is what this blog is all about.
We have known each other for a month now and I must say I am inspired by your presence. I really enjoy your willingness to participate, your curiosity and positive attitude. Be sure us teachers need that kind of inspiration like food. It keeps us going.
I am also pleasantly surprised to find a lot of you are interested in art. Some of you also speak Italian, which I am struggling to learn. One of you mentioned enjoying art museums. There are music lovers who also play music. This is just a start. We will certainly discover more amazing things as we get along.
Standardised exams do not sound like a lot of fun. I know. The interesting thing is that to certify your knowledge is outside your school or job requirements and everyone is learning here in my class out of their own will. I believe that as a group we can balance learning certain rules of speaking and writing in a foreign language without forgetting that rules can and should be broken at times. You can remind me of these last words before the test ;-)
I mentioned the idea of blogging some of our class discussions instead of relying only on the classic speaking mode. Some of you liked the idea but needed help to choose a blogging engine. Let me tell you something: stick to those ideas that can be shared. Stick to your writing style even if it does not exactly fit the exam format. That can be learnt later. Blogging tools? We will find a tool. That is the easy part. By the way, pens and papers are among my favourite technology.
I like blogging. This FCE blog has turned 10 years old last week! There have been times when I blogged very frequently and times when I went silent for months. Maybe not totally silent because there is Twitter or commenting at other blogs... You see, the Internet is a very interesting place.
This blog home is still open. It is not homework. It is up to you.
Look forward to seeing you next class.
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.
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.
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?
I got a letter from Simon, a reader of this blog, who says:
" My biggest problem is my small vocabulary. [...] Do you have any tips for me to improve my English faster?" So I thought it was about time we revisited the topic of vocabulary learning.
Before I give you a list of recipes, please remember that whichever techniques you choose, it's important that you keep at them. Vocabulary learning -just as most of language learning- is like gym. Think training. Think how you'd prepare yourself if your objective was to grow muscles or be physically fit and you'll be on the right track. So, no magic or quick fixes here.
There is, above all, a memoristic aspect to vocabulary learning. That's the glue that makes you retrive the word if you mean to add it to the words you normally use. So, if you choose some of the memory training techniques below, try to make a list of words which are highly frequent in your everyday English. Why? Because you'll be likely to need the word when you speak, therefore, you'll go beyond the memoristic game to real learning in a meaningful context.
Synonyms are a great way to learn words. You never know which one sticks to your mind first, but, at least, by giving your brain choices you create other association possibilities that may spell success.
However, this is a word of warning, our brains are not that prepared to learn antonyms when both words in the pair are new to you. Trying to learn "tall/short" at the same time is not a good idea. Try it with a list yourself. You'll probably doubt which is which for a long time. Many students confuse words like "before&after" even in advanced levels.
Next, you may try to group words linked to a topic context:
Brainstorming a topic. Which words come to your mind when you think "fashion"?
I find all of these useful when the starting point is words in my mother tongue and then look for the foreign equivalents. Then, you may systematize all that in word maps. The kind of maps you find in Lexipedia, for example. This is particularly useful for the Use of English Paper.Check out these flashcards.
Onother helpful hint to learn words is to vary the senses you use to learn them.
From any text you read online, you may create a word cloud to help you retell it by using the image only. You may just drop words and use them as a story prompt, if you feel more creative. What story would you make with these?
One last word, you'll find sharing and teaching the words a powerful source of learning. So go ahead and teach someone what you now know. Remember the muscle training principle applies to words: use them or lose them!
-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.
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?
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.
Ascenciˇn 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:
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.
The Speaking Paper of the Cambridge First exam offers opportunities to talk with your partner without the intervention of the examiner. Those are moments when you are in total control of your say, the turn-taking, initiating and responding for about 3 minutes.
There are phrases that add up to making it all fluent and natural. Without those phrases, we sound like words read aloud from a book. You need to make a bit of effort to acquire them, These are expressions that range from:
asking for an opinion
asking for clarification
Here is a presentation that lists quite a few examples:
Perhaps one the challenges when using these expressions is not feeling like an actor or actress performing a part. Think of what you say in your own language instead of the English words. Mind you, I do not mean you should attempt a word-for-word translation. What needs translating is the situation. What do you say instead?
Once you are aware of what you naturally say in those situations, it is only a question of practisingand directing your attention to those colloquial links in our interactions. Having interactive skills means you can effortlessly initiate, respond and react to what your partner is saying. Remember the old adage: practice makes perfect!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.