Have you seen this new announcement by ETS?

There seems to have been a big (and organized?) cheating case in the TOEIC test center and the UK government got pissed off. This was initially revealed by a BBC report.

Ha ha, some people may suspect that Britain just wanted to replace TOEFL with IELTS, which is originally made by the British. After all, ETS announced that they would retrieve both TOEIC and TOEFL, even though there was no report that TOEFL was just as inherently subject to cheating.

Whatever was the reason, anyone who has ever taken the TOEFL test knows one important fact about TOEFL: you are, in effect, allowed to cheat on TOEFL.

At the test center, you can hear other test-takers responding to Speaking prompts. If they are doing a good job, you can even take notes!!(Who knows?!)  You can (and have no choice but to) watch the computer screen of the test-taker who sits next to you. You may not want to watch it because you cannot concentrate on your answers or you just don’t want to be influenced by other people’s answers; however, your neighbors’ PCs just come into view. No one will blame you for whatever you may end up doing, because no one can afford to be inattentive.

What is the message, then, of this test called TOEFL?

As I understand it, it implicitly says, “Are you sure you can make it? OK, just display your ability to us. Even if you were allowed to cheat on the test, you would find it hard to get out of the test center with flying colors.” Every time I hear my students’ reflections on their test experiences, I think this way. It is a very strong test, and it is not for the faint-hearted. I know many people who took notes when they eavesdropped other people speaking, but I know very few people, virtually none of them, improved the scores that way.

If you have set your goal to get a score of the TOEFL, you should know that your foe is far stronger than you think. By the time you take on this foe, you will have to get equipped with all the possible ammunition, protective gear, and strategies.


In English or in Japanese?

You may not believe this, but in Japan it is hotly debated whether to teach English in English or in Japanese, or in both. When it comes to teaching English conversation, teaching in English would be the norm (partly because native speakers of English do not usually speak Japanese). However, this can be a problem because 1) Students will find it too hard to understand English grammar if the grammar class is conducted in English. 2) Some teachers cannot speak English well enough to explain what’s written in the textbooks. 3) There is already a common language between the teacher and the students (Japanese), so it feels a bit strange to use another language to give a detailed instruction. 4) Conventional ways of teaching English include translation, which by nature requires Japanese. and 5) Abstract ideas (e.g. utilitarianism) are hard to teach because there are no visual aids available.

Probably more reasons will arise as to why teaching English in English should be avoided or encouraged.

I teach TOEFL, so my opinion applies only to a limited extent (one critically important distinction being that my students are already motivated and able to understand English – in English). I sometimes teach in English and use no Japanese in class, but every time I do this, I find the same phenomenon: Students are more attentive to what is being said.

This is in part because even those students who have lived in English-speaking countries need to concentrate when they hear English, in part because it makes them feel comfortable to be exposed to spoken natural English, and in part because it is simply a fun experience to see a Japanese citizen speak English fluently.

So what should we do? It depends on what the teachers think of using English in class. Do they speak English just for the purpose of making their students feel comfortable? Do they speak English because it’s fun?

As far as I’m concerned, I speak English because I want my students to learn from me. I am sure that they speak English quite well, but their ability is quite limited. In TOEFL (especially in the Speaking Section) your score will remain the same unless your English has changed. It is my job, therefore, to provide them with as many words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions as possible so that they can absorb them and can use them the next time they take the TOEFL test. Fortunately, they listen to me attentively, so this teaching strategy will be quite effective (although there is no statistical data available).

I once heard that whether you can be a good teacher or not depends on how many examples you can provide for the learners. I kind of believe this. I will leave the rest of the learning process to students. After all, they have their own learning styles.

Vocabulary building

Today’s class was over and I was about to leave the classroom when one of the students asked me for advice – quite a lot of pieces of it, actually. One was how to learn and build up her vocabulary. Well, as there are people, so there are ways of learning words. To tell the truth, I am not that interested in it. I always leave it to each individual learner, who should make the most of their past experience to decide on the best way of building up their vocabulary.

To show one example, which, I was sure, was better than most others, I gave her a little advice. My emphasis is always on two factors: repetition and impact. Without repetition, there is no learning words. No doubt about it. I am not confident about how to spell “attendance” after all the effort I’ve put in for the last 30 years. I am still confused whether it is attendAnce or attendEnce. So repetition is of utmost importance.

At the same time, impact also plays an important role to store the memory and change it into a long-term memory in your hippocampus. This impact can be made when a word that you think you have learned somewhere in the vocabulary book is found in the text you are reading or listening to. This is the very moment when you have learned the word.

Therefore, what you need to do is to read your vocabulary builder repeatedly. It doesn’t matter whether you have learned those words at this moment. Even if you focus on one page and try to memorize only 30 words on the page, you will be disappointed to find none of them left in your memory the next day. So don’t even care about it. Just “read” 100 pages a day. What matters is if you have read the vocabulary builder 5 or 6 times, you are more likely to encounter those words in other situations.

That is my policy. I know my memory is not good enough to remember more than two words in a minute or so, so I do not rely on my ability in the first place. I just wait for an aha! moment to come.

Isn’t this a common principle among most skills? If you don’t have a special ability, you can make up for it by practicing more. If you practice one time, it doesn’t make a difference. If you practice two times, there will be no change occurring, either. Most people will stop making effort there. But I personally never stop it. I know my inherent ability is not worth mentioning (considering neither of my parents went to high school!). The only option left for me was to keep practicing until one day I could use that particular skill as if that were something I was born with. Learning vocabulary falls into this category.

Mickey Mouse!

Following is a script of Daily TOEFL 14 (see You Tube)

I’m talking about the difference in intonation between Japanese and English.

Since Japanese has loaned quite a few words from English and counting,
there are many words that we use both in Japanese katakana and English.
However, there is a big difference in intonation. You may not notice this difference in your daily life, and I don’t, either.
However, the other day, I was watching a Disney show on TV with my kids when I found totally different tones used for the same phrase.
The phrase was very famous: Miska, Muska, Mickey Mouse! These magic words start the show.
However, how do we say this in Japanese? (see You Tube)
Which was created first? Obviously, the English version. No doubt about it.
However, when it was imported to Japan, the tone was changed to adjust to the local language. Probably the Japanese version will be more comfortable among Japanese native speakers.
I think Mickey’s magic words are a quintessential example of the difference in tone between English and Japanese. It is just fun to notice the difference, but at the same time, it is important to be aware of it so that your English sounds more like English rather than Japanese.
Each phoneme may be hard to pronounce correctly, but when it comes to the tone, or the intonation, it should be much easier, because it doesn’t require any physical strain on your lips, tongue, or throat.



I was sitting at the table for all those seven hours. I was listening to other people reading aloud. I had scripts with me. There were other people also sitting quietly alongside with me. The speakers sometimes stopped to see if their pronunciations were standard or not, while we were just waiting, for there was nothing we could do for them.

Yes, I have been to a recording session for the project I have been working on for the last eight months.


I have done this a couple of times so far and I actually like it. But for this time, professional narrators did a great job and I am very happy with it. As I listened to the lectures, I felt like I was learning a lot (Hey, who wrote them and translated them into Japanese?). Now that the recording is over, there will be very little I can / should do. For the coming three weeks, the editors will be working hard to make it to the deadline (which will affect their bottom line, not mine).

You may not know what project I am talking about. That is OK. When it comes out, I will write about it here. If you should know all about it now, you would not be able to stay calm and wait. I am that confident.