Stop Focusing on Vocabulary

Stop Focusing on Vocabulary

The funny thing about apologies:

  • the people who really need to, don’t
  • the people who don’t need to, do

The way I see this play out with my clients and for students? They’re always super sorry about not knowing words. For some reason, a lack of vocabulary feels like a huge disgrace. They really beat themselves up over it. The look on their faces and the shame… you’d think they just found out they had cancer.

I’m sick of it.

Increasing your set of vocabulary is a good thing, but nobody knows all the words.

When you don’t know, you don’t know.

When you don’t know, that’s not exclusive to language learning. Native speakers experience the same thing. And while it can be embarrassing in the moment, it should be just that: a single moment.

You have the moment, move on, and try to remember better.


You Need More Active Speaking

You Need More Active Speaking

Don’t get stuck being passive.

I get it: you’re shy. Well guess what, I’m shy too. Don’t believe me? That’s on you.

Too many people use their feelings as justification. But we’ve all had to work when we felt sick. We’ve all kept watching a show we didn’t feel was that interesting.

Actions trump feelings. You can still be more active despite feeling shy.

Stupid TOEFL Tips

Stupid TOEFL Tips

TOEFL is stupid. TOEFL is stupid because standardized testing is stupid. It’s not an accurate way to gauge a person’s English ability, but for now and many years to come it will remain a necessary evil.

If you’re going to be taking the TOEFL soon (hopefully, you’re giving yourself at least 2 months to prep), here are some tips:

Take Practice Tests

If you’ve never taken the TOEFL before, it’s going to feel overwhelming. It takes a long ass time, and each section is designed to wear you out.

A lot of people will mistake their everyday English ability to be sufficient for the test, but no. The way you talk to your friends isn’t the way you talk on the test. The way you post a Facebook status isn’t the way you write on the test. The material that you read and listen to aren’t the same as checking Twitter and hearing the audio on a YouTube clip.

This is a different kind of beast. Be sure you familiarize yourself with each section: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Time Yourself

You have to keep your eyes on the clock like a hawk. Some people will practice each section diligently, but they keep the time frame open-ended. On the test, you don’t have that kind of leisure.

It’s 20 minutes to write an essay. It’s only 15-30 seconds to think of a response before speaking. You have to get used to that time crunch.

Otherwise, if you only practice in ideal circumstances, you’re going to be left in the dust.

Identify Key Points

During the TOEFL, you’ll have to deal with hybrid questions. They’re the ones where you have to read an article, listen to a related piece of audio, and summarize.

Sometimes the summary is verbal. Sometimes it’s written. Either way, you’ll want to jot down the gist as you go.

Often, this material will be real dense and loaded with information to distract your focus. You usually won’t have to recall specific numbers and dates. You will need to figure out if the two materials support or argue against each other.

Read and Listen A Lot

Most of the people who get screwed on the reading and listening sections are people who don’t read or listen on a regular basis. Sure, they read texts. Yeah, they listen to a conversation. But both of those aren’t substantial enough to prep your focus for the test.

We’re talking about 3 minutes or less to read a 2 page article. We’re talking about being able to handle a 5 minute monologue that you can follow along and understand in one shot.

When practicing, you should be reading longer articles. You should be listening to longer piece of audio.

Sound Comfortable Speaking

The people grading the exam don’t know you, so that means they can’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

When you’re speaking, if you’re too focused on what the “right answer” is, you’ll lose. Instead, you need to focus on what you “sound” like.

No matter how terrified or unsure you feel on the inside, you need to speak where it sounds like you’re comfortable speaking English. That’ll go a long way.

On the flipside, you can have the right answer, have the right grammar and vocab, yet sound weak without attention to the delivery. You need to sound human.


And there you have it! These are the exact steps I use to drill the TOEFL. Remember that when you’re tackling the TOEFL, you’re not working on real English skills. So when you do pass the TOEFL, don’t think you’ve developed and achieved real English skills.