Starting Over

It has been five months since I left my previous job of teaching EFL in Semarang. I am now a dedicated translator for an agency in Yogyakarta. There are always bad and good in things that we decide to do. But I guess, making a change never hurts. So, here’s what I have managed to observe thus far.

Being a full time translator allows me to see another angle of English. I’ve learned so much about CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools, about the TEP (Translation, Editing, and Proofreading) package, and of course, about negotiating proper prices these last few months. The gist is to always provide ironclad – as a colleague in my new company puts it – results in a timely manner.

The other thing is the change, albeit, necessity to keep on learning, new words, new contexts, new clients, new tools, new apps, you name it. Somehow, it always relates to the ever evolving WWW. Guess it lives up to the spirit of this blog, to always keep me abreast with the world around me.

Putting work aside, my life with my family is so much better now. I do not have to commute on a weekly basis. I enjoy spending my time preparing my daughter for school, taking care of our pets, having a chat with my wife, saying hi to the neighbors in every encounter, and not to forget, seeing the country side whilst enjoying cheap and delicious locally made delicacies. Basically, the amenities you can always find in any rural areas around Java.

Even better than that, I get to travel to the so called new tourist destinations in and around Kebumen (which declares itself to be a regency that puts tourism as its course of industrial development). But I’ll need to work on my photography skills. I mean, just to be able to take decent pictures and share them here. We shall see.

The not-really pleasant side of working remotely is perhaps and of course, lack of friends i.e. colleagues and an office to go back and forth to. Going out of the house in the morning for an office to meet a friend or two is now a luxury. I plan to make my own work place though, when everything is set.

However, with that in mind, I guess God has another plan. A simple visit from an officer in the nearby campus (STIKES Gombong) to my father-in-law, and voila, I go back to teaching EFL again, as a part-timer, a few times a week, enough to allow me to have a sense of going out for work in the morning, and keep my present employment. Alhamdulillah

Perhaps, the most important lesson over the past five months is the old wisdom of embracing the moment.


Being Polite or Going around The Bushes?

Being Polite or Going around The Bushes?

Upon learning how to understand short dialogs or exchanges often found in English proficiency tests, EFL learners may find that most of the expressions used in the problems do not get straightforward answers. This, perhaps, has something to do with the inherent cultures in English speaking nations of appreciating the interlocutors.

This simple exchange may help illustrate my point:

X: Do you enjoy the latest sequel of that drama on B-Channel?

Y: Well, I wasn’t much of a fan of the last one, and yet again, the latest one isn’t much of an entertainment either.

As you can see, instead of just saying “No, I don’t.”, Y used indications that he/she do not really enjoy the show and try not to be in a position to oppose whatever stand X may have on the drama.

Despite this, EFL learners will of course recognize the negative construction and tone Y use in uttering his/her answer. Hence, they will have no problem choosing the right answer of the given option, obviously. But the point is that understanding the whole idea as to why Y chose to use such a complex answer will require more awareness than that.

An even simpler example goes like this:

X: Do you like meatball?

Y: I prefer chicken noodle, to tell you the truth.

That means that Y do not really enjoy eating meatball, albeit at that time, or perhaps in any other day either. But yet again, Y both respects whatever opinion X may have on meatball and at the same time, get his/her idea of preference across.

Therefore, going straight for the proper answer to any questions address to us is always effective and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Busy business people will love this way better. But being polite by going for non-straightforward yet intelligent answers is not that bad either. This has two main good facets: being polite as not to oppose the idea of the person you are talking to, and appreciating his/her intelligence, albeit ability to draw conclusion from your answer.


Tips for The Paper-Based TOEFL Test: Revisited

Tips for The Paper-Based TOEFL Test: Revisited

Listening Comprehension

Just like the other two aspects tested in the paper-based TOEFL test, there is no quick fix for success in dealing with the questions in the Listening Comprehension section. But the following simple tips known to most of us may give you an edge:

  1. For the Short Conversation section, the test is designed to grade your paraphrasing ability. Hence, the answer is always a restatement of what the second speaker has said. A good regime to get yourself used to it is enjoying TV series with themes around daily (campus) lives. The special expressions and intonations you can learn from those series will help you a lot, not only for obtaining high TOEFL score, but also for your campus life once your scholarship is granted.
  2. For the Longer Conversation section, the test is aimed at knowing how well you can make inferences and understand (remember) details. So, be alert for the first few lines the first speaker said to answer questions related to the skills of drawing conclusions such as the topic and unmentioned information like who and what the speakers are doing. As for the subsequent questions, which are mostly about detailed information heard in the conversation, peer through the answers on the booklet as you listen to the conversation progressing. All questions are asked in order as the way the conversation progresses. It will be definitely easier to remember those considerable numbers of details this way. Most of the time, you can already guess the questions, just by looking at those perfectly ordered answers. One of the great routines to do in order to pass this part nicely is by listening to talk shows. Once it becomes a habit, the Longer Conversation section is just another simple walk in the park for you.
  3. And for the Short Talk section, the test is to find out the two skills I mentioned for the Longer Conversation section (making inferences and understanding details). Therefore, what you have to do during the test is pretty much the same. The only difference is the habit you need to have. Expose yourself to sufficient dose of the National Geographic channel and some other documentary power houses! Other than passing the TOEFL test with head held up high, you’ll be a whole lot more knowledgeable as well, that you’ll no longer need Wikipedia that much. Good luck!


Structure and Written Expression

Here are some simple steps you can follow to work on the Structure and Written Expression section of the Paper-Based TOEFL test:

  1. Get a general sense of what the sentence is saying.

Understanding what message the writer wish to convey helps us recognize sentence components and their proper forms better.

  1. Identify the basic sentence components (subject-verb-complement).

No flaw is allowed at this stage, as we are English teachers after all.

  1. Make sure the main clause is correct.

This is where our flair for tenses takes hold.

  1. Work on the other clause(s).

Sometimes things got just a little complicated when it comes to complex sentences. It might require a certain level of analyses for words composition, such as subject-verb inversion, and different formats of emphasizing ideas.

  1. Mind the connectors (coordinate, subordinate, and the like).

It shouldn’t really be a problem, the right connector for the right noun (clause).

  1. Make the most of your hunch when you are stuck.

It is never a bad idea to read a lot and know different writing styles; even awkward writers do mind their grammar.

  1. Be tactful.

There is no point of pondering a sentence over and over again when you are lost. Move on to the next one and deal with this particular one when you are ready.

  1. Practice

Not all grammar points and sentence constructions are tested, there is always a thing called ‘most frequently asked’ problems.

Reading Comprehension

Here are some simple tips on how to succeed on the Reading Comprehension section of the Paper-Based TOEFL test:

  1. Make sure you work on the easiest parts of each passage first. Things like finding the ‘synonym’ and ‘specific information in a particular line’ guarantees us points every now and then. Only then we can move on to the questions that require analysis such as finding the ‘main idea’ and or ‘topic’ and also ‘the proper topic for the subsequent paragraph’. But stick to one passage at a time, jumping from one passage to another drains our brain as it has to tap into our previous knowledge on the subject over and over again.
  1. Be knowledgeable, despite the fact that all answers to every question in the test are strictly factual to the information mentioned in a certain passage, trying to answer questions on a subject we know absolutely nothing about can be very distressful. Background knowledge helps us work more confidently and aids us in making the necessary analysis for each and every question we have to answer.
  2. Read a lot. It doesn’t have to be fictional works or text books that require us days to comprehend. Recent trends in mobile apps from news corporations enable us to learn scanning and skimming even better. Most of the news covered are in their short versions – a few paragraphs long, similar to those on the TOEFL test –  that only take us a minute or two to get the gist of them.  This is definitely a perfect reading practice regime.
  3. Most of us only have 90 minutes of utter concentration working on something. Hence, the last part of the TOEFL test requires us to extend that limit further. Make sure you have a great slumber the night before and are perfectly fit for the D-day. It is always a good idea to consume multivitamin and/or any supplement that boost your level of concentration. And one more thing, all appointments and chores should be fixed that day, remembering things that are left undone or needed further attention ruins everything.





Cohesion in A Sentence

Cohesion in A Sentence

How many times have we seen ourselves write sentences using transition words that only consist of first, next, then, and the likes? Our writing could have been more interesting if we can use other simple connectors such as nevertheless, still, instead, and some other easy words we are familiar with.

Moreover, some subtle examples like however, but, and though can really dramatize a decent story. Transition words do not only connect ideas, they also have different meanings, nuances, and connotations.

There are approximately 200 transition words that are considered to be quasi complete. They are divided into roughly 17 categories that serve as bridges to accommodate the logic for addition, comparison, effect, intensification, summary, pronouns, and many more.

Not everyone has the knack for top writing with exquisitely smooth transition words in between words and ideas. However, following two simple steps of writing: (1) piece together facts on a rough draft, and then (2) add proper transition words that does not only include monotonous first, second, and next is always a good way to at least level up your writing skills. Who knows, the next Paolo Coelho or Dan Brown may be you guys studying English now. Newspaper columnists aren’t really bad either.

Growing Tall The Netherland’s Way

Growing Tall The Netherland’s Way

Seventeenth century Holland was a far cry from a land of promise. It was dubbed ‘the buttock of the world’ because much of the country lay under water and the rest was swampy marshland. But instead of giving up hope, the Dutch built canals and pumped bogs dry with the help of windmills. It turned out that silty reclaimed soil was great for moist grass and hence herding cattle. The most popular breed was the Friesian that is now renown across the world, including Indonesia.

The growing population of Friesian herds lead to an eventual Dutch love for dairy products. The Netherlands now have 1.6 million dairy cows that produce 12 million tons of milk and 800,000 tons of cheese (doubles the figure of the UK). Milk and cheese are the staple food for the Dutch, just as rice is for Indonesians. They consume 25% more dairy products than do the Brisith, German, or American.

What makes this change in diet interesting is how it might influence the figure of Dutch people. Since the military enlistment record were available in the early eighteenth century, scientist can now deduct that over the past 150 years, the Dutch has gained an average of 20 cm in height. Mid 1800s saw average Dutchman 7.5 cm shorter than their American counterparts.

Nowadays, an average Dutchman is 1.83 cm tall and an average Dutch woman is a soaring 1.70 cm figure. The Dutch have transformed from being the shortest to the tallest in Europe, and hence now, the World.

However, scientist try to complement this finding by looking into factors such as genetics, democratization of wealth and natural selection as well. In a study of 42,000 people over the age of 45 who were born and raised in the Netherlands by Dutch parents, scientists found out that they share the same characteristics; more children per taller man, and taller men were less likely to be childless or single.

This relates to demographic facts that taller men tend to have higher income, better health, and higher ratings from potential female partners.
From genetics point of view, there are 180 genes influencing our height. Even though each one has a small effect, but combined, they explain 80% of height variation among a population. And tall men are more likely to pass these genes that make them tall.

Hence, Dutch people are evolving to become taller. Some scientist even say that this is an example of natural selection going on within the Dutch population.
The thing is that consuming dairy products should be good for your figure, but there is much variation in what men and women want, and that there are many more important traits in choosing a partner, than merely height.

Our Underpinning Circadian Rhythm

Our Underpinning Circadian Rhythm

Feeling wide awake in the morning and drowsy at night are routines most of us don’t really pay attention to. But there are foundations to this system that guarantees our well-being day in day out.

We are all very familiar with the term biological clock. And perhaps think that this is the master clock that governs the functions of our body. But the truth is that it’s only part of a greater picture, our circadian rhythm.

Biological clocks are groupings of interactive molecules in cells throughout the body that are coordinated by a master clock in the brain to be synchronous. This master clock itself consists of  a group of nerve cells called suprachiasmatic nucleus (NCS) containing 20,000 nerve cells located in the hypothalamus, just above the optic nerves from the eyes cross.

This is only reasonable as scientist found out that light is the main cue that influences circadian rhythm, turning on or turning off genes that control internal clocks.

This is also evident in the latest research which shows that even blind people can differentiate between night and day as the photoreceptors in their eye are still functional to help them keep their circadian system i.e., the sleep and wake rhythm intact.  When less light is detected by the photoreceptors, the SCN tells the brain to make melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy) so we will feel drowsy.

In humans, circadian rhythm does not only affect sleeping, it also influences patterns of eating, core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities.

Abnormal circadian rhythm has also been linked with obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.

Although not the only parameter, changes in day length is a predictive parameter for physiological and behavioral timing for migration, hibernation, and reproduction in animals.

In plants, circadian rhythm allows organism to anticipate and prepare for precise and regular environmental changes. Hence, it enables them to capitalize on environmental resources such as light and food. And this makes them superior in evolutionary terms.

Nowadays scientists learn more about circadian rhythm by studying humans or model organisms that have similar clock genes.

These subjects are put to changes in light and dark periods and the subsequent changes in their gene activity or molecular signals are looked into.

Hopefully this will help with treatments for sleep disorders, jet lags, and other health problems and also enhance our understanding of the human body and biological system.

Meanwhile, the best policy is to keep that inherent sleep-wake cycle in our body.

English: The Language of Science

English: The Language of Science

When Europe finally recovered from its Dark Age and into the renaissance and embraced the scientific approach and thinking, Latin was the lingua franca. But there was a further shift in the 17th century when Galileo published his research in Italian; this was partly to make science more accessible to locals and also a protest against Protestant Reformation.

But scientist themselves thought this was not healthy for a global cooperation in science. Hence, in the 19th century, the norm was for people in science to use English, French, or German.

Yet again, the two great wars, witnessed the Germans alienated by their foes. Not only losing the wars, the Germans also lost the use of its language in mainstream science publications. And with the American now producing more than a million PhDs’ in the 20th century, along with their English papers, English found itself a replacement of Latin as the language of science. Nowadays, almost 98% scientific publications are in English.

Now that science has a platform for the global discourse, the challenge is to make 95% non-native speakers to convey their message in clear, accessible, and logical English.

Researchers and scientists all around the world often find their manuscript for papers returned simply for basic errors in grammar, syntax, and usage. This doesn’t sound fair because the logic in their research is there.

This problem also occurs in oral presentations or discussions as well. A former psychology student at Berkeley, Minxuan He, recalls “It’s hard to get things right, to put use the right words.” Her thoughts are more fluid and coherent when she is allowed to speak in Chinese—her native language.

Therefore there is a pressing need for native speakers of English to offer understanding, patience, and assistance when reviewing or editing manuscript of non-native speakers of English.

They also need to be more focused on the scientific result and logic of the research, and let the copy editors to correct any lingering errors in grammar, syntax and usage.

This also goes the other way around, non-native speakers of English must also strive to write manuscripts that are clear, simple, logical and concise.

A single shared language is useful for the collaborative and universal endeavor of science.

This will help members of the international community of scientist to communicate better in advancing scientific progress.

This position that English hold as the de facto language of science will not change anytime soon.

We need to work together to eliminate problems faced by non-native English speakers.