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Five underestimated words on IELTS assessment criteria (and then some)

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IELTS assessment criteria, which are available on the official website, are drowning in myths and stereotypes. When interpreted unprofessionally, they get totally distorted. Some aspects get blown out of proportion and enter the popular consciousness, while others get totally neglected. In this post, I want to look at the ones that are usually overlooked, focusing on bands 7-9.

First things first, here are the links to the public version of the assessment criteria:
- Speaking;  - Writing Task 1; - Writing Task 2.  1. Skillfully
2. Naturally  Speaking. Lexical resource 8-9:  - uses less common and idiomatic vocabulary skillfully, with occasional inaccuracies (8);
- uses idiomatic language naturally and accurately (9).

For some reason people focus on “idiomatic” and totally ignore “skillfully/naturally.” This results in students memorizing insane lists of idioms and bending over backwards to use them. For one thing, vocabulary memorized without any context or real usage tends to go out t…

Living in a country whose language you don't speak

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This post is an interview with my awesome friend Petr Filippov who lives in Zurich, Switzerland, where he works for Google. He is fluent in English, but doesn't speak a word of German. In this interview he talks about living in a country whose language he doesn't speak.

This is my second interview with Petr. Follow this link to read our first interview in which he talks about his experience of living in Ireland and gives advice on learning English.

1 Tell my readers a bit about yourself. I am software engineer from Russia. I moved to Ireland about 3 years ago, when got a job in Microsoft. Ireland is nice place to live, but when I decided to change my job, it turned out that Google doesn't have SWE vacancies in Dublin, so I had to move. Finally I moved to Zurich at the beginning of December 2018.
2 Were you nervous about moving to a German-speaking country? Not so much, but I considered it as a disadvantage when had thoughts about the step. I am not extrovert, and living …

Insights into the Fulbright FLTA application process

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The competition for the Fulbright FLTA program is currently in progress. As a proud participant, I’ve written extensively about my experience (see the links at the end of the post). But I realized that one important piece of the puzzle was missing, so I decided to add that piece. In this post, I want to describe what happens before the program starts and give some recommendations on what to do along the way.

Disclaimer: This post is based on my Fulbright FLTA experience (2015-16). I suspect the process is more or less the same every year, but please always check everything with official sources and program officers.
Application So the competition has been announced. The deadline is on 1 June. It might look like plenty of time, but if there is one single most important tip I can give it is: start preparing now.

The first step is writing essays. I wrote three:
Objectives and motivations (1274 words);
Sharing your culture (924 words);
Teaching language of nomination (463 words).

My firs…

Why I love my yoga teacher

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Teachers are the worst students. They judge, question, and find faults. Whenever I'm taught, I do too. I'm also choosy and I have high standards. It's hard to win me over as a student. Not impossible though. In this post, I want to share why I like my yoga teacher.
1. Her class is one continuous flow. The class is one long uninterrupted exercise. She always knows what to do next. I take it as a sign of confidence and experience. The reason I value it is it allows me to stay fully focused for 90 minutes.
2. The exercises are in the right order. I actually don’t know the right order, but even to me the order makes sense. There is always a warm-up and a cool-down. Some exercises are meant to prepare us for other, more complicated exercises later in class. The difficulty of exercises grows gradually. This is how any learning works. This is also the reason the class is easy to survive.
3. Her instructions are clear and meticulous. Instructions in yoga are particularly vital …

Use it or lose it. On forgetting vocabulary.

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Tell me if it sounds familiar: “There must be something wrong with me. I must have Alzheimer's. I forget vocabulary!” I hear something like that on a regular basis. Unfortunately, vocabulary is not learnt once and for all. It’s normal to forget it. In this post, I want to talk about how not to. The post is aimed at high level learners whose vocabulary is large, but they feel like they are losing it.

My strong recommendation is: always assume you might forget any vocabulary at any time. With this in mind, take the steps below to prevent vocabulary loss.
Part 1. Lay the groundwork. Step 1. Record the word. Write it down in your notebook or on an old receipt. Type it. Repeat the word out loud five times. Record the word in some form. If you don’t, consider it gone.
Step 2. Explore the word. A. When I said, “Record the word,” I actually meant, “Record the whole phrase or sentence that the word was used in.” The words around your target word will help you recall it when you need it.

Cracking Britain. Part 2.

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This is Part 2 of Olesya Komarova's guest post about travelling in Britain on a tight budget.

It is the second part of a story on how to make your dream trip come at a dream price and not only in your dreams. In part 1 I told about my Wwoofing experience and some hidden gems of Somerset, in this part we’ll get across the whole island from the very South to the North.

As if amending for the hideous amount of tourists, August in GB repays with warm pleasant weather, becoming the only month for beach season. Yes, they put up tents on the beaches because of the never-ending wind. Yes, the water is bitter cold and you WON’T get used to it. Still, English coastline has some magnificent charm that captures you for good.


It was supposed to be a direct trip from Bristol to Swanage - a tiny scenic sea-town I learned about by hanging on Airbnb. Then it turned out you need to make two changes for a ferry to get there. Also, just in the middle of the route was Salisbury with its splendorous cat…

Why I have taken international English exams 5 times

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Last December I took my fifth international exam in English. “Why do you take exams?” is a question I get asked a lot. In this post, I want to answer this question.

First, my exam history:
2011 IELTS 8.5
2013 IELTS 8.5
2013 TOEFL 115
2016 IELTS 9
2018 C2 Proficiency A (CPE)

So what is this madness for?
1. I want to get an independent assessment of my English. I think my own assessment of my skills is less credible or reliable than an internationally recognized certificate with the C2 English level on it. Additionally, having my level assessed by strangers helps me identify my weaknesses and get a clear picture of what I am good or bad at. 2. I want to see if I can perform under pressure. To be brutally honest, I know my language skills are good even without taking any tests. But I see value in testing myself in high-pressure situations.

Many people underperform in exams because of exam nerves. It’s normal. But the way I see it is if I have great language skills and get low sco…

Cracking Britain. Part 1.

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I am thrilled to present a guest post by Olesya Komarova, an avid traveller and English learner. In her post, she shares her experience of travelling in Great Britain and making the most of it on a tight budget. 
This is a story of how to spend 16 days in a country with average salary 10 times higher than yours and get the most of it.  You know this nice motivation-movie scenario: young people tired of wasting best years of their lives one day hit the road to prove the world how free and independent they are. I used to listen to such stories with awe, until I realized - they were not true. First, you can hardly call ‘freedom’ absolute dependence on other people’s benevolence (that is what hitchhiking is actually about). Second, sometimes this benevolence fails (that is when the ‘adventures’ begin). But being stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere having nothing to eat and nowhere to go is not exactly the type of adventures I was looking for. I figured out a more reliable kind of fre…

What I learned from my 100-day writing challenge

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100 days before the New Year, a friend and a colleague of mine Daria Maslovskaya suggested doing a 100-day challenge. The idea was to do any activity for 100 days for the purpose of building discipline. I agreed. We both went for writing. I had always wanted to blog more consistently and was considering taking CPE, so the challenge was perfect.

The rules were straightforward. We had to write for 20 minutes a day. If we didn’t, we had to make up this time on another day.

In this post, I want to share what I learned from my 100-day writing challenge.
1 Time is plentiful. I had the time to write for 20 minutes a day on 90% of days. There were days when I absolutely didn’t have the time but very few. Most of the time I found for writing came out of my lazy time. No important activities were hurt.

Takeaway: “I don’t have the time” is an illusion. You do.
2 Inspiration is a stereotype. Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” This is very true. I didn’t …