Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What’s the difference……

by  Mia Della Pietra (native New Yorker)

Mia teaches TOEFL Preparation and other courses at NYLC's Upper West Side location. She was born and raised in NYC and lived in Thailand for two years training Muay Thai (Thai boxing) and teaching English.  Now she enjoys meeting students from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds and loves finding the humor in the challenges of learning English. In her free time, she watches mixed martial arts, hangs out with her two cats, and eats as much boxed macaroni and cheese as she can.   

Am I missing class, or am I losing class? Am I learning English, or am I studying English?  These words have similar meanings, but they are not the same!  Here are some of the most common verbs I hear switched by my students, and here’s how you can tell them apart!  

Lose / Miss

These two I hear confused all the time!  A good way to remember the difference is that when you lose something, it is physical, or an object, or an idea.  You can lose your keys, you can lose your place in a line, you can lose your motivation and you can even lose your mind!  But when you miss something, it’s physically not there.  When you miss class, you are physically not in class.  When you miss your family, your family is physically not with you at the time.  When you lose your keys, your keys still physically exist!  You just don’t know where.  And when you miss your family, you do actually know where they are, but you are not with them. 

Learn / Study

To answer the earlier question, you are both learning English and studying English, but there is a distinction between the two!  When you learn something, you have understood and and now can either use it or explain it.  When you study something, you are continually developing your understanding of it.  You can learn new vocabulary words, and you can learn a new verb tense.  But once you had learned that new verb tense, present continuous for example, you would study it to prepare for a test.  You learn a piece of music, and you learn the names of the different chemical elements when you are at school but you study music, and you study chemistry. 

Hear / Listen

When you’re in class, you are listening to the teacher (of course!)  But what else can you hear?  You can probably hear cars outside on the street, an ambulance driving by, the other students turning the pages of the books, and lots of other sounds as well.  If you are listening to something or someone, you are paying attention to them.  If you hear something, this is just noise that your ears are open to, including what you are listening to.  So listening has intention, while hearing is passive.

Test yourself!
Choose the correct verb and put it in the correct form! 

1. I always  __________  my family when I hear this song.  It’s my mother’s favorite singer.
2. What did you say?  Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, I was  __________ to music.  
3. Today I  __________  the difference between passive and active voice in my English class.  
4. I can’t find my metrocard!  I hope that I haven’t  __________  it!
5. For the last few months I have been __________ English in the morning.
6. Can you  __________  the birds outside?  They’re quite loud today!  

Friday, November 3, 2017

10 Reasons to Study English in NYC

by  Mia Della Pietra (native New Yorker)
Mia teaches TOEFL Preparation and other courses at NYLC's Upper West Side location. She was born and raised in NYC and lived in Thailand for two years training Muay Thai (Thai boxing) and teaching English.  Now she enjoys meeting students from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds and loves finding the humor in the challenges of learning English. In her free time, she watches mixed martial arts, hangs out with her two cats, and eats as much boxed macaroni and cheese as she can.   

1. It’s the best city in the world!
Ok, I’m a little biased, because I was born here and grew up here, but I really believe this is true!  After living in NYC, all other cities seem small, or slow, or like big towns, pretending to be cities!  Musicians say there is nothing like playing a show in NYC because the energy is so incredible and different from all other cities. So if performing here for 1 night is that amazing, imagine actually being able to live here!

2. It’s not like the movies
New York has so many famous movies and television shows that depict life here. But how accurate are all these stories?  “Sex and the City” might be the most classic case of unrealistic expectations. Carrie Bradshaw’s life does not really mirror the typical freelance writer’s lifestyle in NYC. So many of my students come to NYC expecting one version of it and find out that it is actually totally different! So what is it really like? You should come here to find out!

3. You can find everything here
Often when you travel you miss the comforts of home. It’s hard to find a community and it can be even harder to find your favorite foods abroad. New Yorkers don’t usually have that problem. You can find all the comforts of home here, and you can also discover new favorites! You will have the opportunity to try authentic food from every corner of the world just by taking the subway to different neighborhoods!  

4. This!

5. Your classmates
There’s a famous song that says, “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere,” and this is definitely true. You will be constantly surrounded by talented, intelligent and motivated people, and you might be pushed a bit out of your comfort zone.  Life moves a little bit faster here, and you will have to keep up! But once you experience the pace of life here, you will be bored by anything else.

Monday, October 23, 2017

TIPS for the TOEFL Independent Essay

The second essay on the TOEFL is the Independent Essay.  This essay will ask you to respond to a familiar topic or question.  You will have 30 minutes to write the essay and typically a good response is 300 words at the minimum and no longer than 400 words.  (To give you an idea this article is about 600 words.)   

There are a variety of ways to approach this essay, and it is much less formulaic than the Integrated Essay.  Your writing can be conversational, or formal, the style should be whatever you feel most comfortable with.  Here are a few universal tips to keep in mind as you are writing. 

by Mia Della Pietra

Take a side!

One of the most common questions I get from my students is “But what if I can see both sides of the question?  Can’t I just support both sides?!”  The short answer is No.  The long answer is, while of course you can try to support both sides of an argument with enough evidence and development in 30 minutes, after taking three and a half hours of the TOEFL test, that sounds like a lot of work.  Make it easy on yourself!  Just choose one side to support and develop fully.  Don’t create extra work for yourself trying to see the topic from all different angles.

...and choose the easiest side!

When you read the question for the first time, think about which side is the easiest to support, not which side you agree with.  Usually you can think of more examples and evidence that match your personal opinion on the question, but not always!  Don’t be afraid to take a stance that you don’t believe in if you think that it will help you write a stronger essay. 

  • STANCE - opinion; position on a topic

Monday, October 16, 2017

TIPS for the TOEFL Integrated Essay

by Mia Della Pietra

The TOEFL has two essays and each essay is scored out of 5. Both scores are then added up and converted to a scaled score that is out of 30.  

The first essay that you write is the integrated essay.  This essay tests your ability to integrate two different opinions and ideas about the same topic.  This essay does NOT test your ability to choose the best opinion of the two presented.  The trick is to hold these two ideas in your head at the same time and weigh them both equally in your writing. 

Procedure and Format:
First a reading passage will appear on the screen and you will have 3 minutes to read and take notes.  The passage will present 3 different points related to the topic.  Your notes should look like this. 


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A TOEFL student's success in math and languages

by Mia Della Pietra

After classes have finished at NYLC's Upper West Side location, it is usually very quiet.  The students have left and the staff are quietly typing at their desks.  But two of the students in the TOEFL class sometimes stay behind.  Their table is covered with notecards and textbooks.  Their TOEFL books, however, are in their bags. 

Felipe loves working with numbers, but he also has a huge
interest in learning languages.
Satomi and Felipe stay after their TOEFL class to teach each other Japanese and Spanish.  Satomi is thinking about going on vacation to South America this year, and Felipe just loves languages!  Felipe’s enthusiasm for languages has definitely paid off.  He recently scored a 103 on the TOEFL, which is incredibly impressive!

Felipe is from Chile.  He studied structural engineering at university and has a Master’s degree in engineering, as well.  While he does love languages, he picked engineering because of the mathematics involved in it.  

“Numbers!  Numbers were so easy for me,” he says. Also, engineering had the perfect balance of math and variety.

“I love that you can work in so many places,” he adds. Indeed, engineering school prepared him to learn anything that he wanted. 

In Chile, he worked as an associate director of infrastructure at the engineering school of a university.  He was responsible for new projects, including everything from their budget to their architecture. The most difficult part of his job was managing the construction of the buildings.  

“Construction is so tricky, the needs [of the project] can change while you are constructing something.”  Now he wants to get a Ph.D. in the U.S. in public policy to be able to work in infrastructure and civil engineering. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Student Shares Her Thoughts on Teaching & Her Interest in Teaching English

by Ivan Brave

What first caught my attention about Heli was her sense of humor. During class breaks, she would show me Instagram memes from her phone, usually about Finnish and English. One day I asked her why she was interested in language, and she explained that she was studying to become an English teacher in Finland, and was soon to begin a study-abroad program in Boston. Immediately I knew she had a unique perspective on teaching, and that to find out more, I should interview her for the NYLC blog.

Heli’s life changed when she met her favorite teacher back in elementary school. Her dream is to give her own students that same feeling. This month, she begins an exchange semester at Boston’s Northeastern University, and returns to her home country in the spring. I was lucky to have chatted with her. Below is some of our conversation, where she shares her thoughts on teaching and learning, what it means to be a good student, and how teachers can equip students to think positively about learning. I've edited the transcript only slightly for brevity and flow.


IB: One thing I like about our interactions in class is your sense of humor. You’re always sharing memes about language. Here’s one my friend sent me last week. (I show her a meme, and it reads: “If pronouncing B’s as V’s makes me Russian, then Soviet.”)

HM: Hah, “So be it.” Yes, I like memes.

IB: Where do you find memes?

HM: I follow “9gag” on Instagram. They have many about anything, all topics.

IB: Is there any recent meme you remember?

HM: There was one today about Game of Thrones.

IB: How does it go?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

TOEFL Preparation Dos & Don'ts

by Mia Della Pietra

Congratulations!  You have decided to take the TOEFL.  More importantly, you have decided to study for it!  The TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) can be quite intimidating.  The test preparation books are huge, and the test score is incredibly important for your academic career.  But don’t worry! Here are some tips to get you through studying for the TOEFL with as little stress as possible!

DO research.
The maximum score on the TOEFL is 120.  However, the TOEFL does not have a “passing” or “failing” score. There is only the score that you need to get in order to apply to the academic program at the college or university of your choice.  The first step is to find out what the required score is.  Some students need a 60, some students need 100, and there is a huge difference between those two scores.  Find out what score you need, and tell your teacher!  Only then can they give you a more accurate assessment of how much studying you will need to do.

DO practice realistically.
The TOEFL is done on a computer, so the essays are typed.  The speaking section involves students recording themselves for a short, specific amount of time.  Therefore, while handwriting an essay for 2 weeks or speaking for hours to your friends might improve your overall English ability, it might not help your TOEFL score.  When you practice writing your essays, actually write the essay in the amount of time given on the test (20 or 30 minutes), and don’t use any programs that have autocorrect or spell check!  You won’t have those tools on the real test.  For the speaking section, record yourself with your phone speaking for 45 seconds or 1 minute.  Then play it to a friend and see if they can understand you.  Practice like you are really taking the test.