Monday, 12 June 2017

Learning English the Fun Way

English is either the official or one of the official languages in 67 countries. Used and refined over a course of more than 1,400 years, the language is continually being enriched with the addition of new words. In the words of Jonathan Culver, “The English language is a work in progress. Have fun with it”.

William Shakespeare was the first author to write in early modern English in 1590, when no dictionaries were in existence. He coined in English as many as 1,700 words. Many of them are still in use, examples of which are lonely, frugal, majestic, gloomy, auspicious, sportive, apostrophe, gnarled and dwindle, to recall a few.

Shakespeare created not only words, but also many phrases that we most commonly use today. Some examples: mind’s eye, ministering angel, method in his madness, green eyed monster, clothes make the man, catch a cold and housekeeping.

When you go back on the memory lane, do you recall those summer holidays spent playing English word games and having fun while challenging each other to get those tricky tongue twisters right? Here, we will relive those fun moments and play with the language.

Crazy English words: which ones do you know?

English, the global mode of communication has a fun side too. Let’s explore some of the craziest words in English that have been in use for quite some time. While some parts of the world may employ them in their everyday usage, some others may not even have heard of them.

Here we give you a quick peek into some of the craziest words in English. Find the ones familiar to you.

  • Widdershins: This is something that moves counter clockwise or in the wrong direction. The word is still used in poems and new books.
  • Abibliophobia: Are you a voracious reader and afraid of running out of things to read? You are the one afflicted by this phobia.
  • Bumbershoot: This is another word for an umbrella. You might have come across it in many Disney films.
  • Kakorrhaphiophobia: Irrational fear of failure.
  • Nudiustertian: Day before yesterday.

Play with anagrams

When you shuffle meaningfully the letters of a word or phrase, another new word or expression is born, which we call an anagram. Don’t you think there is an element of childish delight in unraveling an anagram?

Look at some anagrams given below:

Partial men

Improving pronunciation: popular tongue twisters

A tongue twister is a phrase or sentence, which is usually difficult to utter fast because it is a sequence of almost similar sounds. It employs mostly alliteration that occurs when a series of words (even a two-word phrase) or adjacent ones have the same consonant sound.

A tongue twister turns out most amusing when you fumble and blunder, trying to repeat it several times in a row as quick as you can, and getting the pronunciation right at the same time.

Companies make use of this alliterative device for a better recall in the buyer’s mind like Coco-Cola, PayPal and Dunkin’ Donuts. Some popular personalities who could stand out in your memory for the alliterative effect in their names are Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, William Wordsworth and Donald Duck, the most popular cartoon character.

Could we ever forget the evergreen tongue twister, ‘She sells seashells by the sea shore,’ which is an alliterative phrase? Although most of the tongue twisters do not make sense, they help to hone speech skills in children, not to forget the fun moments even adults get to have, bringing out the child in them.

Some popular tongue twisters for you:

  1. How can a clam cram in a clean cream can?
  2. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!
  3. A big black bug bit a big black dog on his big black nose!
  4. Black background, brown background, black background, brown background, black background, brown background.

Poems are not left out too. Sample this funny tongue twister poem:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?

American and British Equivalents

If you are a globetrotter and shuttling between America and Britain, make sure to get a grip on the vocabulary used in the two countries. Why is it so? The same word is spelt differently in American and British English. In some instances, entirely different terms mean the same thing. Given below are a few examples.

American English
British English
French fries
garbage can

Are you interested in improving your spoken English skills from the comfort of your home? Visit the best online portal now for more information.

Friday, 21 April 2017

What is IGCSE all about?

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is the most popular educational qualification all over the world. Developed in 1988 by Cambridge International Examinations, it has won recognition as an excellent international alternative to several well-accepted national curricula.

IGCSE Board at a glance

IGCSE program is learner-centric: it employs inquiry-based approaches to learning, which facilitates the transformation of young minds into global leaders in various fields. It is a two-year comprehensive program spread over Classes 9 and 10.

A student who has completed early schooling from any other board can join the IGCSE program when in Class 9. Its syllabus is designed similar to that of Class 10 exam of the CBSE/ICSE Board of India.

With international acceptance and appeal, IGCSE develops and sharpens diverse skills including subject knowledge, application of knowledge to familiar and unfamiliar situations, oral skills, creative thinking, analytical expertise and problem solving proficiencies, apart from working and communicating well in English.

In short, it makes you future-ready in any part of the world. The program helps acquire an IGCSE qualification for each subject you take.

With a pass in IGCSE, you can take up any international preuniversity program, like the IB Diploma or Advanced Placement Diploma of the United States, A/AS Level and AICE of the United Kingdom or Class 12 CBSE/ICSE of the Indian system.

The Curriculum

IGCSE coursework encourages active and questioning approach to learning that leads to an overall development of the learner. The emphasis is more on ‘how to learn’ rather than ‘what to learn’. It is a more rigorous examination than many others are. The program is regularly updated in line with changing needs of our times.

It offers over 70 subjects, including 30 languages. A student has a choice to pick multiple subjects categorized into five viz., ‘Languages’, ‘Humanities and Social Sciences’, ‘Sciences’, ‘Mathematics’, ‘Creative, Technical and Vocational’. A student may have to choose a first language, a second language, Mathematics and one or more subjects in the Sciences as a part of IGCSE program. Students can opt between core (overview of the subject) and extended (kind of specialization) curricula in several subjects.

The curriculum is international in outlook and region-specific, sans cultural bias. Students have the freedom to choose subjects in line with their ability levels that lend them many opportunities to score good grades.

If you are looking to take up IGCSE, why don’t you learn in the comforting environment of your home, when you are free from your own local schoolwork? It will surely be wise to enroll for personalized online learning at a reputed portal that caters to your special needs.

When is it offered?

IGCSE examinations are held twice a year, in June and November. Candidates would get the results in August and January.

Assessment and grading

The assessment that happens shortly before the completion of the course covers oral and written tests, coursework and practical evaluation. There is no pass or fail in each subject. The certificate only indicates the grades scored by the test taker. The IGCSE is graded on an 8-point scale from A* to G that is internationally recognized. The highest grade is A*, and ‘U’ points to ‘Ungraded’.

International schools across the world generally allow students to study 5 to 14 IGCSE subjects. The minimum requisite qualification is a pass in five core subjects at C or above.

Recognition in India and abroad

A Cambridge IGCSE qualification opens up global opportunities in both education and career.

IGCSE is delivered in schools in over 140 countries and is accepted by colleges and universities worldwide – to a greater extent in the UK and other Commonwealth countries.

IGCSE is recognized by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) at par with CBSE and ICSE.

In the UK, Cambridge IGCSE is accepted as equivalent to the GCSE. A significant number of UK universities recognize Cambridge IGCSE English Language qualification as proof of English language competency for university study.

Some colleges and universities in the United States and Canada accept learners with five Cambridge IGCSE subject passes at grade C or above.

Students stand as well a good chance of acceptance by premier educational institutions across the world including MIT, Harvard and Cambridge. Employers around the world consider it as a valuable certificate of achievement.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Improving Your Spoken English

One of the basic everyday things that humankind cannot do without is communication. Language is the tool we use to express our needs, thoughts, and emotions. It is essential that communication is very clear for effective transaction of anything. Thanks to ever-increasing globalization, most businesses worldwide use English as the primary language of communication. Effective communication in English plays a crucial role in education, professional growth, and personal life as well.

Importance of Spoken English

Language communication involves integrated skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing; they all go hand in hand. An effective speaker steals the show, charms the audience and proves to be a winner; the situation may be formal/informal, personal/public, or social/professional. Capacity for good Spoken English boosts up your confidence immensely to face any challenge and attempt solutions; the setting may be local, national or global. You are welcome wherever you go!

Sub-skills of Spoken English

Effective listening precedes effective speaking. A good speaker is a good listener, and a good listener often becomes a good speaker. This is because adequate practice is required first in the recognition and production of the sounds of English (vowels and consonants), and the patterns of stress, rhythm and intonation in English.

The following are the skills specifically needed for effective speaking.

  • Perception and production of correct English vowel and consonant sounds, and sound contrasts  (including the problematic ones, for e.g. the first sounds in the words pin and bin, or van and fan)
  • Knowledge and effective use of the weak/reduced forms of words and phrases of spoken English (e.g. I’ve, I’m, he’ll, she’d, you’d rather, etc.)
  • Perception and production of correct stress and tone patterns of English
  • Ability to perceive and produce variations in speed to match different situations and purposes
  • Use of appropriate cohesive devices such as pronouns, articles, tenses, and conjunctions, and other linking words and phrases
  • Use of an adequate stock of words that are needed in everyday speech
  • Mastery of the basic grammar of spoken English
  • A good use of body language and other nonverbal signals (e.g. facial expressions, gestures, etc) to support effective communication
  • Use of appropriate varieties of English to match different situations (e.g. formal/informal, professional/social)
  • Ability to use other suitable ways to express meaning when words by themselves fail to convey full meaning
  • Ability to present the same meanings through different grammatical forms   

Stages of a training course in Spoken English

There can be three stages of a training course in spoken English: controlled practice, partially controlled practice and fully free interaction.

Controlled practice

Language drills can initiate the first stage viz., controlled practice. The drills should be short, with the focus on a single language point at a time [e.g. a sound contrast, a consonant cluster (= two or more consonants appearing side by side), a weak form etc.]. They should have a clear purpose, serve communicative goals (e.g. request, invitation, offer etc.), and should never be overdone. Other wise the drills become mechanical, killing the element of interest.

‘Fluency’ and ‘accuracy’ are, like the two sides of a coin, two important aspects of effective speaking. Fluency is the free flow of natural speech without interruptions and undue periods of silence. Accuracy is the correctness of following all the rules of the language. It is necessary to develop both these important aspects of speech.

Partially controlled practice

During this stage, repetitive drills and grammar-based exercises are gradually withdrawn; simple tasks demanding spontaneous real-life speech and genuine interaction are gradually introduced.

Pair work and group work would be of great help during this stage. Questions and answers should be related to real-life functions like introducing, offering and accepting invitations, requesting and thanking for help, etc.

Fully free interaction

The aim of this final stage of practice is training for facing true-to-life situations. The activities during this stage progress from relatively easy tasks to ones that are more difficult.

Learning how to speak naturally, spontaneously and fluently (without sacrificing accuracy) is a long and challenging process. It cannot be achieved in a day. It requires hours of conscious and meticulous practice. You may do well enrolling yourself for an online spoken English training program and acquire the necessary skills right from the comfort of your home/office.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Your Definitive Guide to TOEFL

What is TOEFL?

A good TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score is a qualifying requirement for foreign students planning to study in American and Canadian universities, and whose proficiency in English needs to be of an acceptable level.

TOEFL gauges how well you can carry out academic tasks in English through reading, writing, listening and speaking tests. It is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a private, non-profit organization. ETS has its headquarters located in Princeton, New Jersey, and several offices worldwide.

Some universities in Europe and other countries also accept TOEFL scores, though IELTS is more popular outside United States.

Test structure

TOEFL is offered in two typical formats, based on where your test center is located. TOEFL iBT is available for candidates who have internet access. It is administered several times a year at authorized test centers throughout the world. Those who do not have internet connectivity may have to appear for the Paper-Based Test (PBT).


This section is 60-80 minutes long. You may have to answer 36-56 questions, based on 3 or 4 passages drawn from academic texts. The maximum score for reading is 30. You may be asked to answer questions about main ideas, vocabulary or filling out tables. To arrive at the right answer, you do not require any prior knowledge of the topics of the texts.


Writing involves completing two tasks in a span of 50 minutes. The first task requires you to write an essay after completing reading and listening tasks.  The second task gives you an opinion as a topic. You will have to support the opinion by writing an essay. Your responses will be sent to Educational Testing Services’ Online Scoring Network (ETS OSN) and assessed by at least 3 different evaluators.


This part is for 60-90 minutes. You listen to lectures, classroom discussions and conversations and answer 34-51 questions based on what you have heard. You can listen only once; you may take notes while listening if desired, and refer to later when you answer questions. This section measures your ability to understand ideas and organize information. The maximum score is 30.


You need to complete six tasks in this section in 20 minutes. Speaking involves expressing your opinion on a familiar topic, and speaking on reading and listening tasks. This part tests your fluency and spontaneity and how appropriately you synthesize information from the available material.

Your responses will be digitally recorded, sent to Educational Testing Services’ Online Scoring Network (ETS OSN), and rated by 3-6 evaluators.

TOEFL score

TOEFL score is valid for two years. The overall maximum score is 120 from four sections carrying 30 marks each. If you score in the range of 80-100, you stand a good chance of acceptance by most universities.

You can view your scores online within a fortnight from the test date. You have an added bonus of sending free your official TOEFL score to a maximum of four institutions on the test day, if you had chosen them before the test.

Who accepts TOEFL scores?

Over 9,000 colleges and other institutions accept TOEFL scores. Compared to other English tests, admission officers are more in favor of using TOEFL scores as a means of measuring your proficiency in English. It is accepted by medical agencies for professional certification purposes. Those seeking residential and work visas can submit TOEFL scores to immigration authorities.

Studying abroad: the TOEFL advantage

The biggest TOEFL advantage for you is to qualify for a college admission in a prestigious foreign country, which by itself is a game changer. It launches you firmly on your study-abroad journey. A good TOEFL score stands you in good stead in terms of acceptance by a wide range of colleges and universities in the United States.

Voila! Your great American academic dream then becomes a breeze. Apart from the US, top academic institutions in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand among others are open to accepting TOEFL scores.

Exposure to international academic circles helps you acquire a skill set that has a positive stamp on your career and life over the years. You demonstrate your adaptability to new environs and capacity of response to new ideas, languages and cultures. In short, it makes you stand out from others before your prospective employer.

Though the TOEFL test format may appear to be misleadingly simple for those who claim to be proficient in English, the standards of the test can be really challenging even for those who ARE proficient.

It would be best for you to enroll with a reputed online TOEFL prep portal to acquire the right language skills that would surely be a good start to realize your great aspirations for a mark abroad.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Decoding SAT : Basics You Should Know

The SAT, earlier called Scholastic Aptitude Test and now Scholastic Assessment Test, is an admission test usually accepted by most of the colleges and universities in the United States. It tests students’ preparedness to undergo higher education in US colleges.

Introduced in 1926, SAT has undergone several changes in its name and scoring pattern over the years. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) develops and administers the test on behalf of the College Board, a private not-for-profit corporation in the United States.

Test Format

SAT is offered seven times a year. It measures what you studied in high school and the skill set you would require to sail through the college course. It has three test components.

Reading Test

Reading Test is all about what you must have been doing for years. It tests how well you assimilate and use information through reading.

It is a multiple-choice test with 52 questions and 65 minutes’ duration. Test passages are drawn from high standard previously published subjects of US and world literature, social studies and science, but it does not call for prior expertise in the subject. The passages are sometimes accompanied by informational graphics like tables and graphs.

Writing and Language

You become an editor while doing the test, wherein you read, spot errors and weaknesses in word usage and structures, and correct them. You will have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions in all.

All questions are multiple choice and test passages are drawn from history, social studies and science. This again does not necessitate any prior knowledge in these subjects. Some passages may have informational graphics like charts, tables and graphs but you do not have to work out any math.


This test focuses a lot on your problem solving skills, modeling, using tools strategically and using algebraic structure. You would apply the math that you would most likely use in all sorts of situations. You may have to take two math tests: ‘Math Test – Calculator’ with 38 questions and 55 minutes’ duration and ‘Math Test – No Calculator’ with 20 questions and 25 minutes’ duration.

SAT essay

This component tests how well you use your reading, analysis and writing skills in 50 minutes, as it is done in a college essay writing assignment. This is optional, but some schools do require it.

Test length

The total SAT duration is 180 minutes with a 10-minute break after the Reading test and a 5-minute break after the ‘Math Test – No Calculator’ section.

How to time the test

Running out of time is a common problem found among several SAT takers. The best method to prepare for the extended duration and intensity of SAT is to take strictly timed, full-length practice tests. Familiarize yourself with test instructions and length before the SAT to avoid nail-biting moments in the exam hall.

Move away from trickier questions; do not spend time poring over them. Do not be tempted to go back to the question you left unanswered in a dilemma. You may have to finish answering all the questions before taking reattempts. If you are stuck with indecision, eliminate the wrong choices first and choose from the remaining answers.

SAT Scores

The new SAT is scored on the 1600 scale. If you score 1200, you are rated as ‘excellent’ and ranked in the top 25 percent while a 1000 will rate you as ‘good’, putting you in the average category.

What is the takeaway?

Apart from polishing your language skills, SAT gives you a valuable opportunity to hone a variety of skills including problem-solving, analytical thinking, accomplishing a task to its finest detail and finding smart shortcuts.

Equipped with such a broad skill set, you are prepared to face the world with full confidence, be it your academic front or personal/ professional life. Your problem solving skills acquire a competitive edge that puts you on par with international students.

Armed with a good SAT score, you have better prospects to apply for colleges that offer scholarships and grants.

Preparation tips

Cramming words and facts is not the key to a creditable performance in SAT. It tests you with simple questions posed in trickier ways. The more you practice, the sharper your skills and the readier you are to fight the battle.

Read challenging topics, take quizzes, and ask and answer a battery of questions. Enroll yourself in a structured online learning portal for anywhere-anytime personalized learning, to polish your language skills, learn better time management and get fully prepared for SAT.

In your study plan, develop the regular habit of reading articles and complex passages on unfamiliar topics. Familiarize yourself with the test structure and rules. Above all, in the run up to the test day, stay relaxed, eat healthy and sleep peacefully to feel well rested.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

IELTS: Your Gateway to Enormous Global Opportunities

Are you looking to study or work abroad? Do you have plans to settle in an English-speaking foreign country? Then IELTS is the key that will open the door to a world of opportunities overseas.

What is IELTS?

The International English Language Testing System abbreviated as IELTS is the world’s most popular English test for international higher education, work or migration.

It is an English proficiency assessment test designed to gauge a wide range of language skills of an individual looking to study or seek employment in or migrate to countries where English is the language of communication. The test has been developed and jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment of the University of Cambridge.

When is it offered?

IELTS is offered up to four times a month in more than 130 countries. You may have to take the test on Thursdays and Saturdays. You can appear for IELTS in over 1,100 test centers around the world.

Test components and duration

IELTS has four papers: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. It has two different modules: Academic and General Training. Here, we look at the test components of IELTS Academic.

IELTS Academic

If you desire to earn an undergraduate or postgraduate degree abroad or if you are a professional desiring to register in a foreign land, you need to take IELTS Academic.

Components of IELTS Academic


This paper has 40 questions, spread over 3 sections. You will find general topics written in narrative or argumentative style sourced from books, newspapers, journals and online materials. You will be tested for general understanding of the main text and specific grasp of finer points.

Texts may have diagrams, graphs or illustrations too. You will find dictionary definitions for technical words, if any. Marks will be deducted for faulty grammar or spelling. The duration will be 60 minutes including transfer time.


You will have to complete two writing tasks in this paper. Task 1 involves describing some visual information given in a graph, table, chart or diagram; you will write at least 150 words of your own in 20 minutes.

In Task 2, you need to discuss a point of view or problem by writing at least 250 words in 40 minutes. You will be tested for relevance of response to the task and how well you express your ideas in writing.


This paper has four sections each of 10 questions. Sections 1 and 2 focus on everyday social situations. Sections 3 and 4 are set in educational and training contexts. Speakers use different accents including British, New Zealand, Australian and North American.

You listen to the recordings only once. Time allowed is approximately 30 minutes for listening and 10 minutes at the end of the test to transfer your responses to an answer sheet. You will lose marks for incorrect spelling and grammar.


The IELTS Speaking test is a face-to-face oral interaction between the candidate and the examiner. The test has three parts and will be recorded for later assessment. You will be tested for grammatical accuracy, pronunciation and fluency. Time allotted is 15 minutes.

Test report format

You do not pass or fail in IELTS. Your performance in each test component is graded using scores from 1-9. The unique 9-Band Scale is internationally recognized to assess your performance in a consistent manner, irrespective of when or where you take the test.

IELTS 9-Band Scale

9 Expert user

8 Very good user

7 Good user

6 Competent user

5 Modest user

4 Limited user

3 Extremely limited user

2 Intermittent user

1 Non-user

0 Did not attempt the test

If you have an overall half band score, say for instance 7.5, it would mean that you have performed very well within the Band 7 level.

Who Accept IELTS Score?

Several universities and employers accept IELTS scores across the world in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Professional bodies, immigration authorities and other government outfits also recognize it.

You can learn more about specialized and personalized online IELTS preparation and tutoring at a reputed online tutoring portal.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Start-up India – Creating entrepreneurial energy

The “Start-up India” launch, that happened on January 16, 2016, brought together several stake holders to stimulate dialogue on key challenges faced by the Indian startup ecosystem. This initiative is a significant step in the Government of India’s commitment to making India the hub of innovation, design and Start-ups.

The global workshop on “Innovation and Start-ups” brought together some of the most innovative  minds like Masayoshi Son, Founder & CEO Soft bank, Travis Kalanick, CEO Uber, Adam Neumann, CEO We work and several successful Indian businesses from flipkart to Paytm. Catalyze Center for Learning was one of the 2000 Indian startup Invitees to attend the event. The landmark event not only brought forth the innovation and energy of Indian youth, but was an arena where some of the brightest innovators and business minds shared their stories and left some very powerful take home messages for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Here are some of the take home messages that came out of the day long discussions and interactions.

• Entrepreneurship happens when passion meets a need - Talking about how Uber came about, Travis shared, “We wanted to get a ride in Paris but couldn’t find a taxi.” He saw a big market there that hadn’t changed for a long time.

• Start small and make a difference - It is important to start small and build a business and a community that fosters itself. Also be passionate about making a difference to people. 

• Success always follows exceptional people - Entrepreneurship is not only about money and success, but making a difference and touching the lives of people in positive ways. Instead of chasing money, which is a peripheral, chase impacting lives, which is core. Once the core is addressed the peripheral follows.

• Take the plunge and enjoy the ride - Entrepreneurship is not only about success. Most successful entrepreneurs have had many failures before they became successful. It is important to take the failures as learning lessons and enjoy the ride.

• Find a good mentor - Good mentors act as a compass where an entrepreneur can gain direction and insights.

• Hire a team where the cultural fit is right - Spend 25-30% of your time interviewing people who will help you grow.  Success of an entrepreneur is always about people.