Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is(n't) the TOEFL a wonderful test?

Argh!! 40 minutes again!!! Will I ever make it in 30 minutes?


Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The TOEFL test is a wonderful test! Use reasons and examples to support your response.

Personally, I have to admit I would never say that “the TOEFL test is a wonderful test”. With that I do not intend by any means to criticize the test or to say that the test is not a valid way to prove the level of English of students interested in this language for academic purposes. Much on the contrary, I believe the TOEFL test is one of the most interesting and advanced tests if compared with other proficiency exams. However, I still believe that saying that it is wonderful test is a little bit too excessive for me, which would make me disagree with the statement. My reasons to disagree can be summarized in two groups: the reasons that are not inherent to the TOEFL itself, and the reasons that are inherent to the TOEFL.

The first group actually consists in only one reason: for students there is no such thing as a wonderful test. This, as you can see, has nothing to do with the TOEFL itself, but rather with fact that the TOEFL is a test. The word “test” evokes in the students a whole range of feelings and sensations that are far from being wonderful. First of all, the stress that accumulates during weeks or months before taking the test. Then, the hours of hard study spent in libraries or at home rather than out with friends. Also, we cannot forget the fear that on the day of the test something bad will happen: will the clock alarm work? Will the bus come on time? Will I get there late? Will I feel good during the test? What if I have bad day? Of course, all of these fears accumulated will not let you have a nice rest before the test.

Within the second groups of reasons that would not make me say that the TOEFL is a wonderful test, we find those features of the test with which I disagree. First of all. one of thing that I really cannot understand in the TOEFL is the timing. Specially in the speaking and writing parts, the timing plays a great role in the final score. It is really hard to write a well-done essay in thirty minutes, specially because, according to the topic you get, you might need a lot of thinking to write 350 words. Also, having 20 to 30 seconds to prepare a well-organized speech is not enough. It seems that it obvious the student will have a lot of things to say on the topic, but that is not always true. A second complaint that I have about the TOEFL is on the speaking part. Most of the test takes into account the use of English for real communication, but I do not see how this could apply to the speaking part. In the first place, the very idea of preparing your speech before talking is against what happens in real (and spontaneous) communication. I do understand that a monologue in the form of a speech is interesting to evaluate the students’ academic preparation, however, also in the academic environment, we do not participate orally only through speeches. We do take parts in dialogues, that is one of the most important uses for the oral language. This important aspect of the oral language seems to be completely disregarded in the TOEFL. My final complaint is about the price. I believe that 150 dollars for a test that is valid only for a few years is simply too much money. It should be a little cheaper, considering all the people that take it all around the world.

Saying that the TOEFL test is wonderful would be simply too much for me. I do believe that the test is well done and it takes into account a real use of language much more that other proficiency tests; however, I still believe there are some things that could be improved in the test. Also, I couldn’t agree with the statement because of my position towards the TOEFL: I am student that is living all the negative feelings and sensations that tests bring to students. I could never say that the test is wonderful in this state of mind.

Is it difficult to learn a new language?

Again, I wasn't good at timing. Hum....I should definitely improve this part. I remember a teacher I had...she used to say:

5 minutes for planning
5 minutes for the introduction
10 minutes for the supporting paragraphs
5 minutes for the conclusion
5 minutes for proof-reading

I should definitely follow her advice and keep in mind that it does not really matter WHAT you write, but rather HOW you can link the ideas together using connecting words, the structure of the essay, the examples. And that's it. Maybe next time?

It can be quite difficult to learn a foreign language. What do you think are th most difficult aspects of learning a new language? Give reasons and examples to support your ideas.

Learning a language is not easy. This might be one of the reasons why so many people dedicate time to learn new languages. They see it as challenge they are willing and eager to undertake. The new language might seem dangerous, tricky, complicated or even impossible at the beginning. Those that decide to learn it, though, will fight the adversities and be able to succeed at the end. Definitely, it is not an easy task, but maybe that is exactly why we feel so proud of our victory. Personally, this is one of the reasons why I like learning languages so much: I like the challenge, I like to be able to overcome the obstacles. I had the chance to learn quite a few languages, all of them descendants from the ancient indo-european. Thus, in my experience I had to overcome only some difficulties that did not include learning alphabets or structures that have very little to do with my first language. Personally, I think there are four most difficult aspects of learning a new language: the phonology, the vocabulary, the grammatical structure and, last but not least, the practice.

The phonology of the language is very often downplayed as not so difficult. Most people believe they master the sounds of the language after the first months. This is not even close to be true. It takes time for your ear to get used to the new sounds. Also, it takes time for your mouth to articulate those sounds you do not have in your native language. Finally, it takes time for you to be aware of how your pronunciation differs from the target one. Matering the phonology of a new language is not easy, so much so that I know foreigners that have lived in the United States for years and still present difficulties differentiating “sheep” from “ship”, or “think” from “sink”.

The vocabulary of the language is really difficult to master at an advanced level. At the beginning it is easy learning a lot of words every day. As you learn the language, the vocabulary you assimilate becomes bigger and bigger, until you reach an advanced level of English. From a certain point, I believe vocabulary becomes rather difficult to learn. Most of the times, you can understand the meaning of the words from the context and you end up never looking them up in the dictionary. This is also the stage when those strategies such as flashcards do not really work so well any more. In my own experience, I remember my first years of English classes, when, after each class, I used to go home with a lot of new words in my head. When I take English courses now, instead, I am lucky if I get to learn one word every class.

Also, I believe that it is not easy to understand the structure of a new language, specially from a syntactical point of view. It is hard to understand such things a word order or different verb tenses. However, I have to say that in my experience language structure has always seemed so fascinating to me that I did not really have time to find it difficult. I would just be amazed at the differences from my native language. I remember that word order had specially fascinated me when I was studying German, and at the beginning my classmates and I had a very hard time trying to fugure out the rules. Phonolgy, Vocabulary and Structure are definitely among the most difficult aspect of the process of learning a new language. However, none of these, in my opinion, is really the most difficult aspect of learning a new language. What I elieve to be pf the utmost difficulty is instead keeping practicing the new language(s) we learn and trying not to forget them. Of all the languages I have learnt, only English was the one I kept studying and improving. The other languages I once studied seem instead to have disappeared from any place in my brain. I can still read something in German, French or Latin. I could also read some Greek. However, I could not speak, write or listen to a conversation in any of these languages because I just stopped practicing them. The reasons why I stopped are innumerous, but mainly because of time and money. In fact, it is expensive and very time-consuming to learn a new language and not everybody can afford to spend both time and money on this.

Finally, we can conclude that learning a language is not an easy task and presents several difficulties. Some of them are relative to the language itself, such as its phonology, structure or vocabulary. However, the most difficult aspect of all is to find time and money to dedicate to the new language, This seems really something not everybody – but actually a very few people- are willing to do.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Haste makes waste

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?

Haste makes waste

Use specific reasons and examples to support your response.

Being a calm person that likes to take her time to do any tasks, I do agree with the statement “haste makes waste”. Personally, I like it very much when I can focus on one single thing and dedicate to it as much time as I wish. However, I also think that nowadays it is difficult to do that. We have to optimize our use of time because every day we need to be able to handle a lot of things and situations. For this reason, it is becoming more and more difficult to spend a lot of time on one single task. This does not necessarily mean that we are not productive or that we are not doing a nice job, though. It just means that we know that we have to expect realistic results that are compatible with the time we can dedicate to a certain task. I have two examples to illustrate how “haste makes waste” is an old saying that does not fit in our modern reality so much any more.

My first example is about something I had a lot of contact with: University. When we study at University, we usually are very interested in the subjects we take and we want to learn as much as we can. To do so, one would think that it is important to dedicate a long time to study and carefully reading books, articles, newspapers. However, this is not always the best policy. Our teachers load us with great amounts of reading material that will take a long time to read. Sadly, though, most of the students don’t really have so much time to read, because they also need to work and earn enough money to pay for some of their studies. Therefore, it is difficult to find students that read every article or book very carefully and spend a lot of hours on each material. In fact, one of the first skills students learn in college is how to read rapidly and absorb only the main information in the texts. This does not mean that these students are not studying well enough. They are actually being very successful students and show they are putting a lot of effort in their studies.

Once we are out of college, things do not get any better. We always have a very busy life. First of all, we start our career, and then we settle down, get married and have kids. Having a family, though, does not mean that we will stop neither working, nor meeting our friends or socializing with our neighbors and co-workers. All of these aspects, summed to the regular stress we go through to keep our house in order and take care of our kids, make us have a very busy life. This means, once again, that we have to use our time wisely. Of course, it would be nice to spend hours cooking a delicious dinner for the friends that are coming to dinner, but maybe we only have time to order food or keep things simple. Also, who wouldn’t love to have a perfect shiny house? But we can’t spend so many hours every week to vacuum the carpet, sweep and wash the tiles, clean all the windows. Little by little, we learn how to be quick and be content with a clean house that is not shiny, with a nice dinner that is not fancy, with meeting our friends for a couple of hours instead of whole afternoons, and so forth.

Finally, I do believe it is very nice to focus and be able to put a lot of time into something that will come out almost perfect, but I also think this is not possible most of the times. The dynamics of modern life are dictated by rapidity and haste, so that a lot of things can be done by the end of the day. Once again, I don’t think haste makes waste, it just makes us speed and be less perfectionists.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are you a good teacher?

Today I exercised twice :P here`s my new essay. Again, timing was not really good. It took me around 40 minutes to really finish it. I was interrupted in the end, though...


What are the characteristics of a good teacher? Use reasons and examples to support your response.

Judging whether a teacher is good or not is not something on which students would agree easily. Some of them would say wonderful things about one teacher, while some others would say horrible things about the very same teacher. We can therefore say that a teacher can be considered as good or bad depending on the student and on the student’s parameters to define a good teacher. In the following paragraphs I will describe three characteristics that, in my opinion, should be fundamental in every good teacher.

First of all, a good teacher should show a very deep interest – if not a true passion – for the subject he/she teaches. When the teacher is interested in and really enjoys what he is explaining, students are more likely to take interest in the subject as well. I know that since I’ve started studying English I’ve always been lucky enough to have teachers that loved English themselves. This made me want to study English more and more and eventually become an English teacher myself. On the other hand, when the teacher does not seem to be interested in his own subject, students will probably not pay attention to the class. This is what happened to me when I was 15 and I had a Math teacher that did not seem interested in teaching Math at all. The whole class would not pay attention to a single minute of the lesson, and would score really badly at every test.

Second, a good teacher should be responsible and attentive with her job as well as with her students. In fact, it is important that teachers take their profession seriously, prepare their classes and correct the students’ exams as promptly as possible. When teachers come to class without a clear idea of what to do with the students, we have the idea that the teacher does not take his duties seriously. When the time comes for students to study hard and do the homework for that subject, they will probably follow the example of the teacher and come to class unprepared. Also, it is important that a teacher show to her students that she cares about them. There are several ways to do that: teachers can praise the students that put a lot of effort into a task, call all the students by their name, encourage the more bashful to talk, let students give ideas and suggestions (and actually take them into account later), etc.

Finally, I believe a teacher should be patient and open minded with his/her students, but he/she should also be firm at the same time. It is important to understand and forgive students for some of their faults; nobody is perfect, after all. However, a good teacher should not be too forgiving. It is important to set some limits, otherwise students can take advantage of the situation. Last semester I was taking an English class and my teacher was always very nice and smiley. Since the beginning, students started not doing the homework, and he would never really scold them, but he would just ask the students to join in with a classmate. By the end of the semester, practically nobody was doing the homework any more. This is why it is important for a teacher to show a certain strictness.

In my opinion, then, these are the main characteristics that help constitute a good teacher. Talking to many other students, though, I found out not so many share the same ideas as me, which made me realize that rating a teacher is a rather personal judgment. Luckily, teachers are different, therefore any students can have their favorite.


I did in 35 minutes, I think! The subject was a little better than usual... still, not so much to say aout it...


What is the best age to marry? Give reasons and examples to support your answer.

Arguing about the best age to marry is almost as difficult as arguing about the best age to fall in love. Personally, I do not really believe there is one perfect age to get married. I believe, instead, that people are different, they have different values, different backgrounds and different ideas. It is hard, then, to determine one thing that would fit all. In terms of getting married, one should just feel when it is the right moment. However, we can try to be more objective and consider important factors that would make a marriage work.

First of all, in order to get married, people should already have a clear idea of what they want in their life and what they want from their marriage. Young men and women in their 20s usually do not have a clear idea of what they expect from marriage as well as of what they really want in their life. Usually, when they get married at this young age, they mostly believe that love and passion will be enough to make a marriage work. After a few years, though, they might find out that the person they married is changing, is pursuing different goals and believing in different values, and this would lead to unhappiness or even divorce. People in their 30s, instead, should already have a clear idea of what they expect from their marriage as well as from their lives. This would generally make them more mature to face such a big commitment as marriage.

We also cannot forget another important factor: a young couple that has recently gotten married will need a place to stay, and will therefore have to cope with bills, rent, groceries, etc. If the couple is young, they are unlikely to have their career going. They have probably just entered the job market and have no financial security. On the other hand, people in their 30s are supposed to have started their career already and should earn enough money to settle down and have a family. It might sound rather anti-romantic, but money does play a big role in keeping a healthy marriage. Lack of money would promote stress in the young couple and this would lead to big fights and unhappiness.

From the reasons we just presented, the logical conclusion would be that there actually is a best age to marry, which is when people reach a certain maturity as well as a certain financial security. However, I still do not feel I can say it is not advisable to get married young. In fact, marriage is for me a really romantic decision taken by two people, and, no matter what happens next, I still believe there is no wrong marriage. The important is that, when two people decide to get married, they really mean it and they want it to last happily ever after.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Team sports and Individual sports

Again, the essay wasn't timed. I tried to do it in the afternoon, but I had too many things to take care of (laundry, cleaning & stuff) and when I started I saw it was time to give up. So, once more my essay was not timed and maybe that's why it's so long.


Discuss advantages of individual and team sports. Express your preference.

Since we are really young, our parents and our teachers talk us into practicing any kind of sports. It is important, though, that we experience both individual and team sports because these two kinds teach us very different values and rules that are fundamental not only in the sport world, as well as in life.

Learning how to play a team sport has a lot of advantages. The first we can think of are related to the interaction among the members of the team. It might seem fun and easy to play in teams, but it is not so simple. In fact, it takes time and training to develop those skills that we need to join in a team. Practicing team sports can effectively teach you a very important lesson: how to work together to reach the same goal. This means that, to be in a team, you need to know how to rely and trust your team mates, how to accept their mistakes and praise their efforts and how to keep a healthy relationship with them no matter what. Practicing a sport team will surely help you acquire these skills that are going to help you throughout life. Furthermore, team sports have another great advantage: they can be played for fun among friends just to spend some time together. It is very common to see a group of friends playing soccer or volleyball on the beach, when they are spending a nice time together. Finally, I believe that team sports can be played for fun because the pressure and competition are not concentrated on one single person, but spread into all the members of the team. This means that, in case of victory, everybody is happy and cheers together; in case of loss, instead, they can console each other.

In individual sports, instead, the pressure to win is generally high, especially at high levels of competition. However, there still is the advantage to practice an individual sport for fun. For example, I started taking ice-skating classes a few months ago with the only goal of learning how to ice-skate. Therefore, during the classes I do not feel any sort of pressure to win or to be better than the others. What I really feel when I am practicing is a full awareness of my successes and my failures. When I am successful in any sort of exercise, I feel rather proud of myself and know that I deserve all the credit for that; when I fail, instead, I feel a deep frustration because I know the failure is due to my own limitations. For as much frustrated as I feel, I still believe that learning how to be aware of one’s own successes and failures is something very important, thus I would list this as one more advantage of individual sports. Finally, in individual sports you have the advantage of not having to deal with other members of the team. Even though I believe this is a very important lesson we learn in team sports, it is good sometimes not to go through all this and being focused in doing what we want rather than what others want us to do.

Personally, when I was really young, I always went to gymnastics, which is an individual sport. Because of that, I believe I didn’t learn a lot of the values that I would have learned practicing a team sport, and this made things difficult when I tried to join in teams afterwards. Up to now, I still prefer individual sports to team sports because of my difficulties in fitting in a team. Nevertheless, I consider this a fault in my uprising, and I strongly believe people should have experience in both individual and team sports so that they can learn two different kinds of important lessons for their lives.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I haven`t really kept the promise of being a better student. In part, it was my fault: I was just too tired to write anything that made sense. On the other hand, a bad internet connection and a lot of problems trying to get into my blog didn't exactly help me keeping the promise.

Anyways, here goes my second TOEFL essay. I have to say this thing of practicing with time hasn't really worked so fine. I always have people distracting me from that. I will try to work harder on doing everything in 30 minutes, just like in the TOEFL test...argh!! it`s getting close :s

here we go:

********* Compare yourself today and yourself five years ago. In what ways are you the same or different? Use specific examples to support your response.

Thinking of myself now and five years ago brings to my mind different feelings and ideas. The first thing that strikes me is the difference. I feel I am very different from what I used to be in so many aspects: my experiences, my responsibilities, my needs. On the other hand, I realize I am not really a different person: deep inside I can see it is still myself. The same person that was living inside me five years ago.

When time passes by and we grow up (or maybe I should say “grow older”), change is inevitable. With time, we have to go through different stages of life and, therefore, different experiences. These experiences make us see the world and our own life from different angles and perspectives. In my last five years I had mainly two experiences that made me change a lot. First, I went to college, where I learnt a lot about linguistics, but also about studying, responsibility, group-work. Second, I spent one year abroad, in the United States, which made me understand what it means to live far away from my home and family, and also made me find courage to start a new living in a new family and with new friends. Also, with time, we see that our responsibilities change. When I think of myself five years ago, I remember I used to spend many hours at the University Campus studying and talking with my friends. Nowadays this is no longer possible because I know have to earn my own money and find a nice job. Finally, I realized that my own needs changed with time. Five years ago I just wanted to study, get good grades, hang out with my friends and my boyfriend. Now this is not enough and I feel I need many things that I would not even think about before: a steady job, a nice career, my own place and also a family.

In the previous paragraph I discussed some of the main changes that happened in the last five years in my life. However, not everything changes: I am still myself. I believe that some parts of us are very unlikely to change much as time goes by. First of all, it is difficult to change personality. I might have even changed some parts of it and lost some of my bashfulness or introversion; however, these deep characteristics of my personality will never disappear and will still show up in certain situations. Second, I believe my most cherished dreams didn`t change in these past five years. My career dream of becoming a University Professor, for example, is still present in my life. Finally, my passions also didn’t change. I might have added some to the list, but the pleasure I get from reading, watching movies and writing letters or e-mails is still there.

With time, a great deal of change takes place in our lives. Nonetheless, this does not mean that we change completely into a new person. Some parts of us, mostly the ones that are deeply rooted in ourselves, still remain unchanged. For the parts that change, we have to keep in mind that change is inevitable and, most of the times, for the best.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A place to visit

Again, I haven't written for a while. I know I should have practiced my writing more ...daily writing, my teacher used to tell us. Well, I haven't been a good student at all ...but in one month I`ll have to take the exam, and I should start studying harder...

I decided I will keep posting personal writings here, but once in a while I'll post my writing exercises which are taken from the book. If you`d like to comment on them, feel free...any comments will be very much appreciated...

So, let`s start with my first one...

What famous place would you like to visit? Use details and reasons to support your response.

There are so many famous places that are wonderful and interesting in our world, that it is really hard to pick one above all. However, I think that if I had to choose only one famous place now, I would definitely choose to visit the Niagara Falls. This choice would be dictated mainly by three reasons.
In the fist place, Niagara Falls are widely known for their beauty and importance. Of course, if I had to choose a famous location to visit, I would choose one that is unanimously considered beautiful. As far as I know, the Niagara Falls are considered among one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the United States. Luckily, I had the chance to speak to several people that actually went there and already saw them. Everyone described the experience as amazing, stunning, incredible and wonderful. This leaves no doubt that Niagara Falls are a place to be seen in the United States.
The other reason that made me pick Niagara Falls out of thousand other places is their location. As a temporary United States resident, I am living in the city of Bethesda, in Maryland. From this city, it is not difficult, far or either expensive to get to Niagara Falls. There are several possibilities of transportation, from airplanes to cars or even buses. This makes it definitely easier for me to plan a trip to Niagara Falls and makes this destination much more appetizing than other famous places that are far and expensive to get to.
Finally, you have to agree with me that traveling alone is, if not sad and boring, at least much more difficult and dangerous than traveling in good company. Most of the friends I have in the United States have actually never been to Niagara Falls, and all of them would like top go there. This makes it much easier to plan a trip with some of my closest friends, which would make the excursion much safer and more enjoyable.
We can conclude that for its beauty and importance, for its location and for the good company I would have in the trip, I would certainly choose Niagara Falls as a famous place I would like to visit. I hope I will be able to do so by next August.