In the very first year I started to teach TOEFL, I found something very interesting.
We were discussing how the Moon (the Earth’s satellite) revolves around the Earth, which was actually the main idea of the passage we were reading in class.
I asked class what the surface of the Moon looks like. I assume that there are a variety of images of the surface of the Moon, depending on which culture you live in. At least in Japan, the Moon looks like there is a rabbit which is pounding rice to make rice cake.
Well, class got the correct answer without difficulty.
However, that was not what I wanted to ask. Who can be satisfied with such a question? They come all the way to learn something more valuable from me. A rabbit pounding rice cake is a very familiar image even among five-year-olds. That cannot be asked by any TOEFL questions because it would give a considerable advantage to Japanese citizens.
What was my real question then?
I went on.
Now, the Moon revolves around the Earth, because it is our satellite. At the same time, the Moon rotates. Yeah, it rotates like a top spinning on the floor. And here is the question.
Why do we always see the same “face” of the Moon? Doesn’t it rotate?
Class sat motionless.
Every time we see the Moon, it shows the same image, no matter when. What’s the secret?
I went on.
OK, when the Moon goes around the Earth, it slowly rotates with the same side facing the Earth. Let’s make an experiment. I am the Earth, and you are the Moon. Can you go around me while always looking at me? When you make a circle, it means you have revolved once, but at the same time, you have rotated once. This is how the Moon moves. It’s called synchronous rotation, and that’s why we only know the same side of the Moon, just as I can see your face, but cannot see your back.
Shinobu! I definitely need more knowledge like that! I can barely read and listen, but I sometimes wonder if I could read much better and listen more easily if I knew more of the scientific knowledge… Come to think of it, a little knowledge of the judicial system will be of great use when you discuss the death penalty. A little knowledge on colonial times will be of much help when you read a passage about Boston Tea Party.
Since then, I have been very curious to teach those pieces of background knowledge to students to help them understand better. Luckily enough, the TOEFL test does not ask questions from all the various academic fields; it doesn’t have to do with Japanese history, it doesn’t ask you about the order of the past Chinese emperors, nor does it ask anything about traditional food of Bulgaria.
So, I decided to compile some of the most often asked topics in the TOEFL test and help learners deal better and more efficiently with one of the toughest language tests in the world. Together with a friend of mine who now lives in the U.S. and was once a co-worker of mine, I wrote this book.
Obviously, this book is meant for the Japanese people who are preparing for the TOEFL test. However, I am sure that they will go through something very different. The more they read, the more aware they will become of the TOEFL topics, and the better prepared they will be for the upcoming TOEFL test.
Grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, are important knowledge of English, for sure, but there is more to TOEFL than that. I hope you find it in this book.