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5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

July 22, 2017

Forget listening to podcasts about learning English: instead, learn about English through podcasts about interesting subjects! If you need to improve your academic English skills for the American college or university setting, spend some time listening to these fascinating podcasts about science, the humanities, culture, and technology.

5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

Astronomy Cast

5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

Travel through space all learn all about the cosmos! Where did the Earth’s water come from? Do planets have seasons? How can you make a telescope at home? Who are some famous astronomers throughout history? Hosts Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela L. Gay answer questions you’ve always had about the universe.

http://www.astronomycast.com

National Public Radio (NPR)

5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

Science, news, comedy, education, culture, technology: take your pick! NPR has many award-winning, well researched and well produced podcasts on various subjects. The content will keep you interested as you improve your listening skills with one speaker, two speaker, three speaker, and interview style recordings.

http://www.npr.org/podcasts

NASA Science Casts

5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

NASA offers many podcasts on different subjects. Some focus more on specific projects (such as the Space to Ground podcast about the International Space Station), some focus on education (check out The Beautiful Universe), and others are news-focused, like This Week@NASA.

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/podcasting/index.html

 

RadioLab

5 Podcasts for the Academic English Student

Philosophy, history, science, and the human experience come together in RadioLab, and incredible podcast produced by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

http://www.radiolab.org

Converse International School of Languages offers English courses in San Diego and San Francisco, California. Improve your English through CISL’s small, eight-student classes: students can choose from Standard English, Intensive English, or specific courses such as TOEFL Preparation, IELTS Preparation, Cambridge Exam Preparation, and English for Academic Purposes. After EAP, students can attend college in the U.S. through CISL’s Academic Year Abroad and Pathway programs. 

Cambridge Exams CISL San Diego CISL San Francisco

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

July 8, 2017

Are you taking the Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam soon? Studying can be stressful, and so is test day! How should you study? What should you study? And what should you expect on test day? There are so many questions students have! Here are 5 things you need to know before taking the Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam.

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

There is a right way to study

Cambridge CAE and FCE exams have four official parts: Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. In each of these parts (called “modules”), there are many smaller parts; for example, Reading and Use of English for FCE has 7 parts (8 for CAE); Speaking has 4 parts, Listening has 4 . . . it’s a complicated test! Many students do not know where to begin.

Self-study is possible using the materials Cambridge has purchased. However, with such a complex test and so many parts, students often get confused . . . plus, there is no way to improve your speaking with self-study. A qualified instructor is necessary to help you understand each part of the test and the tips and tricks for passing each section. A teacher will also help you improve your pronunciation and speaking confidence.

On test day, know what to bring (and what not to bring)

Make sure you bring your valid photo ID, pencils, and erasers to the test. Electronics cannot be brought into the room, so if you want to watch the time, bring a watch (or use the clock that will be in the room). Food and drinks are also not allowed.

For more information, read these documents about Exam Day Tips for the paper-based test and the Speaking Module. They are from Cambridge ESOL.

Exam Day Tips, Paper-Based Test

Exam Day Tips, Speaking Module

You can also read Cambridge’s official Summary of Test Day Regulations for Candidates.

Understanding the test format saves time

Picture this: the Speaking Module recording begins, and the beginning of the recording is the instructions for the test. If you know the test rules, you do not have to listen to this portion of the test: instead, you have extra time to read the contents of the test.

For some, the test format is a little strange; for example, in the CAE Reading and Use of English Part 4, you must rewrite a sentence. Half of the new sentence is already written: you must use one given word plus 2-5 more words to complete the second sentence. What a strange format! If you know this in advance and have practiced this many times, this section is not a problem . . . but if you’ve only seen it a few times, you will probably have to read the instructions again. This is a waste of precious time.

5 Things You Need To Know Before Taking The Cambridge CAE or FCE Exam

When you consider that the entire test has many different parts (and that each part has different instructions and rules), then you see how understanding the test format saves time.

You can request your partner for the Speaking Module

Did you know that you can request your partner for the Speaking Module? You can! Talk to your Cambridge instructor about how to do this.

If you do not request your partner, you can still know who your assigned partner is before the speaking test. This gives you time to meet your partner and practice, which is very important to do before test day.

If you are assigned a partner who is very shy, check out our article on How To Deal With A Shy Speaking Test Partner.

Knowing what Cambridge wants will improve your score

Many parts of the Cambridge Exams (like Writing and Speaking) are not “right” or “wrong”; therefore, they are graded by trained teachers. But how are these instructors grading your test? Knowing what Cambridge wants will improve your score.

For example, the Writing Module is graded on the following:

Content (Did you answer the prompt? Did you include enough information?)

Communicative Achievement (Did you create the letter, report, review, essay, etc. as you were instructed? Did you correctly present your ideas to the reader?)

Organisation (Are your sentences and paragraphs well connected?)

Language (Did you use appropriate vocabulary, and a wide range of vocabulary? Did you use varying and complex sentence structures?).

A good Cambridge instructor will base his or her lessons on these things so that you have the tools you need to succeed in each module. Once you have these tools, you will use them as you write . . . and your score will improve.

Converse International School of Languages has been a trusted Cambridge Testing Centre for over 25 years and is proud to provide quality English instruction in small classes (no more than 8 students). To learn more about our Cambridge FCE and CAE programs, contact us.

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California Life Cambridge Exams Featured Student Life

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

June 27, 2017

According to Cambridge ESOL, each year more than 5 million people take the Cambridge Exams in 130 countries. With so many options, why should you take your Cambridge course in California? Here are just a few of the reasons to consider taking your Cambridge course and exam in the sunniest and happiest U.S. state.

Why you should take your Cambridge course in California

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

(and how to choose the school that is right for you)

Studying on the beach is the best kind of studying

Sure, libraries and coffee shops are great (and cities such as San Diego and San Francisco have great coffee culture and amazing libraries!) but at the end of the day, it’s preferable to enjoy the beautiful California weather and study while working relaxing on the beach. Enjoy California’s 840 miles of coastline while also improving your English (and your tan)!

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Friendly, happy people

What is the best way to practice English? By making friends who are native speakers! Californians are said to be the friendliest and happiest people in the United States. In a recent study, 12 California cities were in the top 20 happiest cities in the U.S., including both San Francisco and San Diego.

California is a diverse state with people from all over the world. Politically, Californians are left-leaning (Trump is not someone a Californian loves!) and are proud of the international aspect of their state. This openness and inclusion makes California a friendly and welcoming place for international students of any ethnicity or background.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Expose yourself to accents other than British/Australian

The world does not speak one form of English, but many: with a Cambridge course, you will learn the standard UK spelling and pronunciation through the texts and practice tests; in your everyday life in California, you will learn the standard (Hollywood) English that people around the world agree is the easiest to understand and most clearly spoken. In the end, you get the best of both worlds (and speak some California slang when you return home)!

Cambridge is known for using non-native speaker accents on its exams, so this is a priority when it comes to language learning for CAE and FCE. When choosing a school, make sure you select one with high population diversity. This will allow you to meet people from all over the world and become accustomed to different accents.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Well established, accredited schools

From beachy San Diego to urban San Francisco, California has many language institutions for you to choose from. When selecting a school, make sure that you think about a few things, including:

An emphasis on speaking within the curriculum. The Speaking Module of the Cambridge exams is incredibly difficult, and many students need extra help in this area. Make sure that your school provides an emphasis on speaking so that you have a lot of chances to practice and improve.

Class size. In order to improve your English (especially in speaking), you will need lots of feedback from your instructor. Schools with small class sizes will allow you to spend more one-on-one time with your teacher so that you will improve quicker.

Student diversity. Part of being an international student is meeting students from around the world: make sure that your school has a diverse student population!

Accreditation. The most important accreditation organization in the United States is the Commission on English Language Accreditation. This organization is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and is specifically for English language learning schools. The standards are very high for a school to be accredited: the school must complete a very long application, attend workshops, write reports, and have visits from the CEA staff. The accreditation process includes looking at the school’s curriculum, teachers, staff, and administration; additionally, CEA considers factors such as how schools rate student achievement and progress. Use the CEA search to see if your potential school is accredited.

Bonus: if the school is also a Cambridge Testing Centre, you know that they are Cambridge approved!

Cambridge Testing Centres are highly trusted

A Cambridge experience doesn’t have to happen in the UK! The process of applying to be a Cambridge Testing Centre is difficult, and all centres (usually schools) have many visits and inspections from Cambridge. If you take your course and exam at a certified Cambridge Testing Centre, you are assured that you are getting a Cambridge approved experience. When booking your course, make sure you choose a trusted Cambridge centre.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

A healthy lifestyle

It’s not just the sunshine and Vitamin D that keep people healthy in California: the state’s citizens are known for being some of the most active and physically fit in the U.S. Learn some water sports, play basketball or tennis or volleyball in the many parks or beaches that surround you, go hiking on trails that go through the city, or enjoy some of the most impressive gyms, boot camps, and yoga studios in the world. In the winter, grab your skis and see why the state once hosted the Winter Olympics!

 

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Great food (and drinks) for study breaks

Stay healthy with California’s obsession with fruits, healthy drinks, and avocados . . . and then cheat a little with the most delicious California burritos, sushi, and burgers. (It’s all about balance!) On the weekend, celebrate a hard week of study by exploring the microbrew beer culture of California or visiting some of its beautiful, world famous wineries.

 

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Accessibility

California’s many international airports make it easy to arrive and to travel on weekends. San Diego’s airport, for example, is located next to Downtown San Diego. A cab ride from the airport to Little Italy (where many international students stay) is less than 10 minutes! From San Francisco’s international airport to the city’s Financial District (where many international students live) is less than 25 minutes. San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles international airports offer non-stop flights from many locations year-round, including the following:

  • Amsterdam
  • Berlin
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Istanbul
  • London
  • Paris
  • Tokyo
  • Zurich

 

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Diversity

The majority of Cambridge classes in the U.S. are taken by Swiss students . . . but not in California. California Cambridge classes are more diverse because the state is also an ideal destination for many Asian students, so a Cambridge course in California is more likely to have students from countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Additionally, Cambridge is now accepted by U.S. universities, so more and more students from other countries are enrolling in these courses. When choosing an English language school, always ask about the student diversity.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

 

Since 1972, CISL has provided quality English language training to students from around the world. It is accredited by the Commission on English Language Accreditation and is also a certified Cambridge Testing Centre. CISL’s 8 student policy provides its students the opportunity to improve their English is a small classroom with one-on-one attention from their qualified instructor, and CISL’s impressive student diversity allows students to meet people from around the world. Contact CISL to learn more about studying for the Cambridge Exams in San Diego or San Francisco or watch our video about Cambridge courses below. 

 

Cambridge Exams Featured Idioms and expressions Learning Materials

Phrasal Verbs for Cambridge FCE and CAE Speaking Module

June 7, 2017

During the Cambridge CAE or FCE Speaking Module, examiners look for your ability to use advanced vocabulary, including phrasal verbs, as naturally as possible. Learn these phrasal verbs for the Cambridge FCE and CAE Speaking Module and your score will improve drastically!

Phrasal Verbs for Cambridge FCE and CAE

Before learning the phrasal verbs, you must know what the focus is for each of the parts of the Speaking Module. Once you understand the tasks, you can learn phrasal verbs which are directly related to the types of speech you will use in each section (such as language for talking about the future, comparing and contrasting, agreeing and disagreeing, etc.).

Note: The CAE and FCE Speaking Exams are very similar, but there are a few differences (these are noted below). You can use the same phrasal verbs for each exam, regardless of the differences in the test format.

Part 1

For Part 1 of both FCE and CAE, you may be asked about things like your home town, your interests, your studies, your career(s), etc. When speaking about yourself, try to use the following phrasal verbs.

Bring (someone) up

Definition: to look after a child until it is an adult. (Note: this is often used in the Passive Voice.)

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You will probably be asked about your childhood and where you are from.

Example: I was brought up in a very large family: I have four brothers and sisters.

Get along with

Definition: to have a good relationship with someone.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You can use this phrasal verb to speak about the relationships you have with family, friends, roommates, classmates, etc.

Example: I get along very well with my roommates here in San Francisco, so my stay here has been very enjoyable.

Grow up

Definition: to become an adult.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You can apply this phrasal verb when talking about your childhood and early years.

Example: I grew up in a small town but for the last five years I’ve lived in Zurich.

Look forward to

Definition: to be excited for something in the future.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This is common phrasal verb to talk about exciting future plans.

Example: I am nervous for the Cambridge Exam, but I am also looking forward to using all of the things I’ve practiced and learned.

Take up

Definition: to begin a hobby or activity.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: In Part 1, you are often asked about your hobbies.

Example: In my free time, I really enjoy photography. I took it up when I was travelling through Southeast Asia and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

Give up

Definition: to quit doing something.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You might be asked to talk about your childhood or past; ‘give up” is often used to discuss activities you don’t do anymore.

Example: Well, in my free time I usually enjoy skiing, but I gave that up when I moved here since I am not so close to the mountains anymore.

Useful Phrasal Verbs for Cambridge FCE and CAE Speaking Module

Part 2

FCE: The interlocutor gives you TWO photographs and asks you to talk about them for 1 minute. The interlocutor then asks your partner a question about your photographs and your partner responds briefly (up to 30 seconds).

Then the interlocutor gives your partner two different photographs. Your partner talks about these photographs for 1 minute. This time the interlocutor asks you a question about your partner’s photographs and you respond briefly (up to 30 seconds).

CAE: The test is the same, but you are given THREE photos (not two) and you are asked to speak about two of them.

When speaking about the photos, you will use language of speculation. For speculation, the following phrasal verbs are useful.

End up

Definition: to finally be in a place or situation.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You have to speculate a lot when looking at these photos, so this phrasal verb is a great one to use when guessing how the person came to be in the situation in the photo (or what will happen to them after).

Example: The family in this photo looks very unhappy at her office job; perhaps she dreamed of a life working at something other than a desk job and she’s sad that she ended up in such a dull environment.

Make out

Definition: to be able to see something that’s not quite clear.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You might not be able to see the full details of the photo; this is a great phrasal verb to describe what you think you see.

Example: I can’t quite make it out but I think that the group is holding a trophy, so perhaps they’ve won a competition or game . . .

Make (something) up

Definition: to invent a story.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You are asked to speculate about the people in the photos and their lives, so this is a useful expression!

Example: I would guess that this person is very happy: she has her two beautiful children and a lovely house . . . perhaps she’s a stay-at-home-mom and is appreciative that she can spend time with her children . . . I’m making this all up, of course, but it’s what I would guess.

Useful Phrasal Verbs for Cambridge FCE and CAE Speaking Module

Part 3

FCE: (4 minutes) This part is divided into two parts and the interlocutor asks you and your partner to talk together in both. In the first part, you are given five written prompts and asked to discuss a question. For example, you might be asked to discuss things ways to improve the environment in your city.

After 2 minutes, the interlocutor will give you one more minute to make a decision together which is related to what you have been discussing.

CAE: You and your partner are given written prompts. You must speak together for about 2 minutes (3 minutes for groups of three) about these prompts. After the discussion time, the examiner will ask you another question which requires you to make a decision. You have 1 minute to talk together and make the decision (2 minutes for groups of three).

 

Part 4

In Part 4, you and your partner will answer follow-up questions related to the topic of Part 3. These phrasal verbs are useful when conversing.

Bring (something) up

Definition: to start a conversation about something.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: This is a great phrasal verb to use when responding to a comment that your partner made (or a question that the interlocutor brought up). It shows interaction with what another person has said, which is something they look for in this section of the exam.

Example: You brought up ______; I agree that . . .

Come up with

Definition: to suggest or think of an idea or plan.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: “Come up with” allows you to present an idea or respond to a question or statement.

Example: What other ideas can we come up with?

Cut (someone) off

Definition: to interrupt someone.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: If you accidentally cut your partner off when he or she is speaking, this is an excellent phrasal verb to use.

Example: Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off: what were you saying?

Follow up

Definition: a further action connected to something that happened before.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: Following up on something your partner said is a great way to return to something you discussed previously (and add further commentary).

Example: Just to follow up on what you said earlier, I think . . .

Get back to

Definition: to return to something.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: “Get back to” is useful when trying to return to a conversation you had previously: it’s very helpful when the conversation seems to have gotten off track and you’d like to refocus.

Example: Getting back to what we were saying earlier about . . .

Go ahead

Definition: to start to do something.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You know that awkward moment when you and your partner both hesitate and each wants to speak? Use go ahead to give your partner the green light!

Example: You can go ahead and start if you’d like . . .

Warm up to

Definition: to begin liking something.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: When you’re not certain about an idea, but then decide this is a good idea, you can use this phrasal verb.

Example: I’m warming up to the idea that . . .

Work something out

Definition: to agree to something after a discussion.

Why this is a useful phrasal verb: You and your partner must agree to something in Part 3: use this phrasal verb to announce to the interlocutor that you’ve come to an agreement.

Example: I think we’ve worked it out. We have agreed that . . .

Did you know that CISL is an official Cambridge Testing Centre? CISL CAE and FCE students have the advantage of taking their exam at CISL, which makes them much more comfortable! Hear from our students why our small class sizes and intensive, speaking-based curriculum are excellent for improving your Cambridge score.

 

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Exams Featured Listening Practice

Cambridge Advanced (CAE) Listening Part 4 Tips

April 25, 2017

Are you taking the Cambridge CAE exam soon? Many students struggle with the Listening Module, particularly with Part 4 of the test. The following CAE Listening Part 4 tips will help our students prepare for this section of the test.

CAE Listening Part 4 Tips

I said, “Do you know how to master CAE Listening Part 4?”

Cambridge CAE Listening Part 4 Tips

Before reading the CAE Listening Part 4 Tips, let’s take a look at what Listening Module Part 4 is.

CAE Listening Part 4 Overview

Type of task: Multiple matching

Number of questions: 10

Length: 3-4 minutes

Format: Five short monologues (about 30 seconds each). These are labeled “Speaker 1, Speaker 2, etc.

There is a theme that connects all of the speakers. For example, everyone will be talking about where they were during a recent earthquake, or how they feel about technology, etc. In the example below (which is the official CAE sample test for 2017), the speakers are talking about changing jobs.

CAE Listening Part 4 Tips

From Cambridge ESOL. 

Students have two tasks: Task One and Task Two. In the example below, the tasks are:

  • Task One: choose the reason the speaker gives for changing jobs
  • Task Two: choose what each speaker feels about their new job

Students select the correct choice from a list of eight possible answers (listed A-H).

Scoring: Each correct answer earns the student 1 mark.

CAE Listening Part 4 Tips

Here are some important tips to remember for CAE Listening Part 4:

Find the theme

Remember that there is a theme with all of the recordings. The theme will be written on the top of the paper, so you will know the theme before the recording begins.

Use the time that the recording reads the instructions to think about the theme. Predict what language and ideas you could hear related to this theme. For example, in the theme above (changing jobs), what could some of the people talk about? You will probably hear some reasons for changing jobs: the company failed, the person got a better job, the person was unhappy with his or her boss, the speaker found a job that paid better . . . trying to predict themes will greatly help you improve your understanding of the recording.

Use your time wisely

Before the recording, read as much as you can of the answers (A-H). Remember that the speaker will probably NOT use the exact words, but will probably use a synonym. For example, “A” is “unfriendly colleagues.” The speaker will probably not use these words, but you might hear them describe a “rude coworker” or something similar.

Underline keywords

Underline keywords: words that will be associated with the recordings, words that might have synonyms, etc.

Know the format

Remember that you will hear the recording twice. Know what is required of you. Understand where to write your answers.

Actively listen and analyze

After each task, ask yourself what the speaker’s main idea, point, or feeling was.

Develop a strategy

For Part 4, here are two tasks, but you can begin with Task Two if you want. Try to take the test a few times using different strategies and see which one works best for you: there is no proven way that helps students score better. It all depends on your personal preferences.

Know what to expect from the speakers

The speech will be very informal. Expect to hear male and female speakers with various accents.

Become comfortable with “gist”

Part 4 of the Listening Module is focused on gist. Gist is the general meaning of something. Therefore, you do not have to understand every word . . . but you do have to understand the overall meaning of the speaker’s monologue. Ask yourself, “What was his/her point?”

Identify keywords that indicate change

Listen for keywords that will help you better understand the speaker. For example, conjunctions or linking phrases (such as “therefore,” “that’s why,” “for that reason,” “however”) will help you understand what the speaker is saying.

CAE Listening Part 4 Tips

How to Prepare for CAE Listening Part 4

Students often make the mistake of taking many practice tests to prepare for Listening Part 4. The truth is, the best practice is exposure to as many accents and dialects as possible. Listen to podcasts, watch TV shows, watch movies set in different parts of the world, etc. The more time you spend doing this, the better your listening skills will be. Here are some more CAE Listening Part 4 tips.

Listen to as many varied accents as possible.

Watch some movies that are set in the American South to learn some of this accent.

Movies such as “Fargo” are great for learning the Midwestern accent. This Crash Course in the Midwestern Accent is an excellent article; also check out How to Master the ‘Fargo’ Accent.

Shows like “The Wire” are great for the Boston accent.

The accents won’t always be from native English speakers. TED is a great website for students to find presentations made by non-native English speakers.

Understand how the test tries to trick you

Read the manuscript after taking practice tests and understand WHY each answer is the correct one.

Improve your English vocabulary and skills

A great way to improve your English vocabulary (and therefore your listening skills) is to improve your understanding of phrasal verbs: these are commonly used in Cambridge exams. Be sure to learn some useful idioms and expressions as well.

Do you need help on other parts of the test? Check out our tips for improving with the articles Cambridge CAE and FCE Listening Part 2 Practice + TED’s “Why Videos Go Viral” and California Facts + Cambridge Listening Part 2.

CISL has provided Cambridge ESOL instruction for over 25 years and is a proud testing centre. Visit our site to learn more about our intensive CAE and FCE classes, and watch the video below to hear how our former student, Diogo, benefited from the Cambridge Exam. 

CISL San Diego Cambridge Testimonial – Diogo from Converse International School on Vimeo.