When should you start working on the TOEFL?


If you live a normal life in your own language environment, the first time you hear the term TOEFL would be the time you have to seriously start working on the TOEFL. Up until you graduate from university and start your career, English may have come across as nothing more than a school subject. Not now. Now you are a chosen candidate for your company’s next-generation MBA holders. Some business people may be already outstanding in their ability of English, which is why they are selected as such. However, most candidates are not that good at the English language and are selected therefore based on not so much their English ability but their performance and attitude toward work (which should be a better criterion because these MBA holders are supposed to contribute to management in the future, not to teaching English). Although such being the case, if you want to get a head start on your career, achieving a certain TOEFL score can make a big difference. You may not need it now, but will definitely need it by the time you become thirty. It is therefore that college graduates in non English-speaking countries should start working on the TOEFL test as soon as their career starts. If you are exempt from the score or passed over for the opportunity, so be it. But if you have been chosen as a candidate, you cannot turn back the clock any more.


Easy tasks can be difficult.

Here is the hardest part of learning a foreign language as an adult learner.

This learner, Ken, is a civil engineering expert who has just started his research for his doctorate dissertation. Since he needs to improve his English for his presentation (he has never studied abroad), he decides to go to school to learn English. His use of the second language is limited basically to the academic settings, so the TOEFL would serve his purpose, his adviser suggested.

That has brought him to this speaking class.


This hypothetical learner is very good at thinking logically and analyzing an issue. He already knows all the necessary technical terms to explain his major. The only thing he has in common with the other learning mates is the lack of English ability.

However, TOEFL familiar topics will ask you whether you prefer to eat out or eat at home,  which of the three meals is the most important to you, or what was your favorite toy when you were a child. Many of the TOEFL test takers are happy to discuss these issues. This is especially true if they are still high school students – those whose memory about their childhood is still vivid. This hypothetical student, however, is, in my opinion, overqualified.

He is not interested in the toy he played with in his childhood, nor does he want to talk about it. He is not interested in the language per se; his interest lies in his major.

Ken’s case sounds a bit too extreme, but in general, adult learners would be more sympathetic with Ken’s struggle of discussing with his teenage learning mates what his favorite toy was. Familiar topics should be dealt with in the speaking test to measure one’s ability to have a casual talk with his/her friends. However, they may be an affective factor in discouraging him/her from displaying the otherwise enough ability to get by.


I know there are two main types of motivation: instrumental motivation and integrative motivation. If you have set a certain score of an English proficiency test as a future goal and work on it, you have instrumental motivation. This is probably because you know that your test score will affect your future career path. Some Japanese companies require the candidates for managerial positions to have a certain test score of an English proficiency test. The higher position means the higher salary, and the higher social status means the more personal satisfaction. There is no doubt that quite a few people are involved in this test (in most cases, the test is TOEIC). If you keep studying English for this purpose with instrumental motivation, however, the English uttered by you may turn out a bit weird from the viewpoint of those who study the same language with integrative motivation.  Some people like me want to join the circle of native English-speaking people at the beginning of their pursuit of the language. If so, they are more likely to choose a book with lots of sentences actually uttered by native English speakers. The content, as well as its conversation structure is different from that of test preparation books. Test prep references, on the other hand, cater to test-takers whose primary purpose of learning English is to get a good score on the test. Accordingly, those books offer what seems too logical, and they have limited numbers of topics in them. This affects learners’ perception of what English conversations should look like. Many learners with instrumental motivation find it hard to keep the conversation going, because that not what the proficiency test asks them to; on the other hand, many learners with integrative motivation find it hard to make a grammatically correct sentence or stop excessive use of slang and colloquial expressions. Overwhelmingly difficult as it seems, an ideal learner must take an integrated approach to mastery of the target language.


The December TOEFL workshop will be offered on 12/6. More info at http://www.shikenyajuku.com/



One of the questions that we will be dealing for today’s TOEFL Speaking class is on obesity. It is a frequently asked topic, so I think it will be to the students’ advantage if we discuss it in detail.

According to the prompt, obesity is becoming an epidemic, and therefore its prevention, as well as treatment, should be taken seriously. At the same time, citizens can make use of common sense to prevent the problem. They should eat more veggies, fruits. More milk, instead of carbonated soft drinks or juice. TV ads on fast food also negatively (and maybe effectively) affect younger viewers. Etc, etc…

I will also introduce one famous lawsuit on obesity: that is Pelman vs McDonald’s Corp (2003).  In a nutshell (as I remember correctly) Pelman frequently used McDonald’s. This led him to become obese, increasing the level of bad cholesterol, causing a range of diseases. Pelman decided to file a class action lawsuit.

It can give my students a good opportunity to think about their lifestyles. After all, many of them will follow such a lifestyle very soon.


Making the writing task more exciting.

I am teaching the Integrated Writing class (and others) today.

This task is pretty boring, because 1) you know what will happen anyway (the lecturer will question the points made in the reading passage. Three points will be denied one by one), and 2) your personal feeling toward the passage will be ignored.

This is something you should accept, because this question measures your ability to summarize what you read and listen to in an effective manner. There should be no personal attitude playing a role.

However, when you practice, isn’t it more fun to get your personal ideas involved in the summary? I do recommend this to my students (and I will do in today’s class). You will add your opinion of which side you will stand on, after summarizing both passages. 100 words would express your entire idea.

That way, you can made this otherwise banal activity something new and more exciting. When you get into university, you will be required to submit reaction papers. This will be a prototype of such a reaction paper.

Power of…

Habit-forming may be a key to success, especially if the habit that is formed is intrinsically good.

I have been proofreading the manuscript for the book (that’s coming up … soon, I hope), and it was thus that I did not post an article for the Japanese blog that I manage as often as I used to. It then started to pick up speed and this non-existence of the habit of posting a blog article has overwhelmed what little desire I still kept in mind that I was determined to post a blog article. At that moment, I felt numbed by it, didn’t feel tormented anymore by the guilt of not doing what I used to do very often, and now I find it pretty much a matter of course to do nothing about it. Even when I read other people’s blogs, which I often do, I don’t bother to remind myself of my own blog posts.

Scary, isn’t it?

What’s more, it requires a lot of energy and determination to start posting anew. You would have to wait for some time until you really feel itchy about it and have so much to write about in mind. The thing is that you may not have anything you want to write about if you haven’t posted so long.

That’s the power of not doing anything. There seems to be a technical term for this. What do you call a situation where once you stop a (good) habit for some reason, you feel as if you didn’t have that habit in the first place?

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.