“tele-” means…

Suffixes and prefixes are two important indications to infer what a certain word means. It is very effective to dissolve a word like antebellum into two parts (ante + bellum). If you know “ante” means “before” and “bellum” refers to “war” in Latin, you get to correctly infer the meaning of the word.

As is often the case with any rule, there are quite a few exceptions. Do you (non-native speakers of English) know the word “teleological”? Like it or not, most non-native speakers (including me) would focus on the first part of the word “tele” and incorrectly surmise that the word has to do with a transmission over a distance.

Power of our habits is so strong  and it dies hard. Once we think this has something to do with “a transmission over a distance”, when you see a sentence like “The complex structure of the human eye may imply a teleological origin.” you will be at a loss. (Look the word up in your dictionary, or see “Merriam-Webster’s the word of the day” just in case.)

One important example that sticking to one rule can turn out a failure.




Some wise man has said, “Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.”

Very true, and I’m not talking about how we should live a life. I’m not a philosopher or anything. To tell the truth, this is my personal belief about TOEFL, or you could expand it a bit more and regard it as an overall test-taking principle.

There seem to be two types of test-takers: One is just wait for the perfect timing and avoid taking a test until then; the other keeps taking tests until getting the required score with virtually no intentional preparation. What is common between the two would be an attitude like”Sometime in the future, I will be perfect.”

To tell the truth, you will never experience such a moment.

Whenever you schedule your test date, you will never be able to see yourself in a perfect readiness. So don’t cry for the moon. Instead, you should take the moment (of the test day) and make it as good as it can possibly get.
The point is that the very purpose of preparation is for this to take place. You must know how to maximize your ability to display (to the rater) your potential to get by at university. Just cramming knowledge may not work, because cramming can happen because you may still be looking forward to becoming perfect with enough knowledge. What is more important is to learn how to make your knowledge workable.

If you are always seeking for more knowledge, you will never be satisfied, because you will never be perfect. If you know you will never be perfect, then, you will turn to how to display what you have learned.

Ironically enough…

I taught English as a foreign language at two different language schools in Japan before starting to teach TOEFL 12 years ago.  I learned from both schools some of the fundamental attitudes that a “good language teacher” should take toward teaching language. Especially in the second school, I had an opportunity to have a mentor (If I may say so) who taught me what language teaching should be like. Together with my own little principles, it still is something to turn to for help every time I seem to forget about the basics and struggle.

One is the relationship between the language teacher and the teaching material. My mentor told me that if you are a language teacher, you should be able to teach if there is only one phone book in front of you. Luckily, I totally understood what he meant. (and that’s why I started to regard him as my mentor :p) It is not so much the material that is fundamentally important to learners; rather it is the teacher him/herself that matters. If learners find satisfaction in the material, then they will go to the bookshop and get some books. However, they don’t find it enough, so they end up in school… for what? For a more active interaction between the teacher and themselves.

I haven’t done any research on this consumer sentiment. I am not an expert in second language acquisition, either. (I haven’t received any formal instruction about SLA. I was a law major at university.) Therefore I am not ready to convince you of its validity. Well, who cares? This is something I always have in mind to refresh my teaching (this time, TOEFL), and it is good to have some definite basics you can turn to, whatever it may be.

Now I have to conclude with this irony. Someone who believes texts are not that important has now published eight textbooks and is working on another book!


No intro, please (Daily TOEFL 15)

Until a couple of years ago, I encouraged my students to make an introduction and say it before you get into detail. But now it doesn’t seem to be the best way to improve your score from three to four (Each question of the Speaking Section is to be rated on the scale of four with four being the best.)  In order to be successful in the speaking section, the best way is to make a list of important ideas.

Therefore, it would be a waste of time if you say,

The reading passage provides a general  idea of archaeology, based on which the lecturer provides some examples of recent findings.

You just wasted 20 words.

You could have said more about the details with 20 words, but you can’t. Why? Because you wasted your time making an introduction. It may be a good idea if you already got full marks but still want to improve, but for those of you who haven’t even  gotten three, this kind of introduction would be disastrous. Your time is limited and there is no beating around the bush.

Jazz singer

I have been teaching TOEFL for more than 12 years. In order to continue whatever you decided to do for more than a decade, you need to keep yourself motivated, don’t you think? One such motivation is an interaction (or chance encounter) with the students that I taught before.

This student was impressive enough.

She was not as impressive in terms of the TOEFL score, but I like her way of living.  Although I taught her nearly 10 years back, I still remember what she wrote in her application essay. As I see her now, she still keeps the faith and tries to live up to what she initially wanted to do.

She is a jazz singer.

Yesterday I was reminded by this (otherwise annoying!) reminder from Google+ about the posts that I may have ignored that her band released a new album. I bought it right then and there.

I don’t know if I can/should introduce the band here (because I haven’t asked her for approval yet), but this is enough. I will enjoy her music, one of my most impressive students, not so much because she has come a long way as because 10 years after graduation from high school, she is still doing what she likes best.

Introvert or extrovert

Probably your English teacher would rather you were a bit more actively involved in whatever you are asked to do in class. Any way, class would be fun if more people got involved in activities. True.

In the long personal history of teaching English as a foreign language, however, I know that quiet and seemingly shy students do not necessarily hate English classes, although they find it hard to volunteer in class. At the same time, very active students may not continue to study back at home. They may not want to study, and thus they always look for some fun in class. Getting actively involved in activities is the best way to have fun. Besides, they can dominate the entire activities (not because their English is good, but other students just give in).

I kind of like a very quiet Speaking class. So long as those “quiet, shy, reserved, and introvert” students understand my instruction and make good use of it the next time they speak (into the microphone at the test center), I am content. And it does happen all the time. If there are many students who volunteer to speak in front of others, it will be fun, but I do not necessarily expect everyone in my class to have such a personality trait.

Whether a particular class is working or not, therefore, cannot be determined by the way it looks. What’s more important is whether something intellectual is taking place in a student’s system.