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Practice Speaking English in a Language Exchange
It sounds good in theory, but does it actually work? The truth of the matter is that the answer ranges from yes to no, depending on who you ask. Why is that?

Language exchange, like any other type of teaching, is not foolproof. There are many other factors beyond just the method of learning that play a role in what you get out of it.

The first step starts with you. You have to be open and willing to work at communicating with your partner about your goals and when you need help while you practice. No matter how good of a practice partner you have, you will not learn if you don’t put in effort on your end.

Be a good listener and pace yourself. Paying attention to your language exchange partner and taking your time while doing so will pay off in the end. Trying to gobble up too much information too fast will put you at an overall disadvantage. The basics are your foundation, and skimming over them to get to the fun or more challenging stuff will only leave you with a weak foundation. Consider hiring an English tutor to learn from as well, in addition to speaking English with your language exchange partner. English speaking takes time to improve, and it won’t happen overnight.

Work outside of your meetings. You can’t expect all of your learning to take place with your exchange partner. Language exchange partners can guide you through your language acquisition journey, but if you do not make efforts to incorporate your learning in other areas and into other facets of your life, your efforts will be in vain. Watch movies, read books (even the backs of shampoo bottles, depending on your language!), listen to music and podcasts. Talk about these things with your practice partner and your tutor. It all helps, and the more you find yourself surrounded by the language, the more you will see improvement in your speaking.

The match matters. When looking for a language exchange partner, you aren’t just looking for someone who has the skills you need, you’re looking for a friend—someone you get along with and feel comfortable with. If you don’t feel comfortable practicing with your partner, you will be focusing more on that than on the information they’re trying to help you with.

Consider paying an experienced tutor or teacher to supplement your English speaking with an exchange partner. A tutor can provide you with experience and direction beyond that of an everyday speaker. Make sure that your tutor’s teaching style matches with your learning style. Everyone learns in different ways. Perhaps you do best by memorizing, while your tutor attempts to teach you predominately through conversation. Just like your practice partner, you need to find a tutor who you feel teaches to your style, while still providing you with a well-rounded experience, so that you can be successful.

Benny the Irish Polyglot once said "You can't teach a language, you have to 'do it.'" The same could be said for learning a language. You can’t just rely on books and step-by-step guides, you have to get out and experience the life of the language. Language exchange partners give you that ability to practice, be it in person or through Skype, and experienced tutors give you the ability to take your learning to the next level. Learn from one another, practice with one another, do with one another.

For more great advice on language acquisition and the art of doing a language, check out Benny’s Fluent in 3 Months blog, and this video on language exchange through Skype by Benny and his fellow polyglots.

Photo Credit: Anna Levinzon
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LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Old Grammar School Sign
The Top 10 Most Important English Grammar Rules
There are times when grammar rules are broken for the sake of artistic expression; however, some grammar rules are not meant to be broken. Below is my list of the Top 10 English grammar rules you absolutely have to know.

  1. A complete sentence involves a noun and a verb.
    “He runs.” It is a short sentence, but it is a complete sentence.

  2. Know your punctuation marks.
    • A period is used to end a sentence.
    • A question mark used to express a sentence is asking a question: How am I?
    • A comma is used to add, pause, and separate words.
    • An apostrophe shows possession and is found in contractions.
    • An exclamation mark is used to express strong feeling!
    • A hyphen links words together: state-of-the-art
    • Quotation marks are a form of citation and shows who is talking or making a statement: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. ” - Maya Angelou
    • A colon is the pause between two phrases. “Here is my list: apples, oranges, and bananas.”
    • A semi-colon can connect two sentences and or detailed lists: I am here to stay; yet, I also want to leave.

  3. Learn at least a few basic prepositions that express location, movement, or time.
    • Location: above, behind, below, beside, between, by, in, inside, near, on, over, through
    • Movement: against, along, down, from, into, off, on, onto, out of, toward, up, upon
    • Time: after, before, by, during, from, on, since, through, to, until, upon

  4. Avoid sentence fragments at all cost.
    Incomplete sentences are incomplete thoughts. Come to think of it, what if I.

  5. Tenses come in many forms. Learn past, present, and future first.
    Past, present, and future are not the only verb tenses in English grammar, however. After you master those, you need to learn the rest. There are simple, continuous, perfect continuous and perfect tenses for past, present, and future. Also, there are conditional, gerunds, infinitives, present participle verb tenses. Save all these for later and get help from someone who knows, but learn them when you are ready.

  6. To capitalize or not to capitalize?
    Capitalize the first word in a sentence, proper adjectives, and proper nouns as well as the first word, last word, proper adjectives, and proper nouns in titles of articles, art, books, and magazines (unless the author or artist chooses to use artistic expression).

  7. Prepositions connect words, but they should not end a sentence.
    The reason I had to leave the party early was because. (See how prepositions leave you wanting more?)

  8. Is it there, their, or they’re?
    • There can be an adverb or a pronoun. There is the car.
    • Their is a possessive adjective. It is their car.
    • They’re is a contraction of they +are. They’re driving the car.

  9. Learn when to use contractions.
    Even though I’m is a contraction, it cannot be used to shorten I am every time: This is who I am. not This is who I’m.

  10. There are exceptions to the rules.
    The mnemonic I before E except after C will help you spell certain words; however, this rule does not apply to some words like ancient, science, or society. Learn the rules of the English language, then learn the exceptions.

In addition to grammar, it is also important to know the building blocks of how English sounds: https://www.lrngo.com/american-english-sounds

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Photo of an application and some glasses
Tips to Writing a Good US College Admissions Essay
I remember my dad telling me that I had to finish a rough draft of my college essay by the time school started. Even though most college applications weren’t due until around winter break, he was convinced that if I didn’t finish it five months early, I would never get it done. I told myself it wouldn’t be too difficult, I mean, what’s two pages about myself when I’ve been writing multiple page analytical essays throughout high school, right? How about no. I would consider myself a relatively strong writer, but when it comes to talking about myself, bragging about past experiences in a way that shows both my diversity, sense of self, and potential contribution to a specific institution, getting past my name is difficult. So to aid the process, below are some tips that I found helpful while writing a great college admissions essay.

TIP #1: Write about something that you are passionate about. An emotional involvement will make all the difference.
Admissions officers read enough essays to tell when an essay is honest and when it’s fake. Make sure the experience or lesson learned that you write about is true even if it’s not verifiable. You will write a better essay that way. You also need to make sure that this topic is something that actually has some significance in your life. Don’t write about a distant relative passing away to prove your cultural diversity if that death had no real impact on your life. Also try and avoid cliché essay topics unless the impact on you was legitimate and your passion for that subject is undeniable (for example, writing about mission trips can sometimes seem like a cop out, essays written about moms are also usually over done but can be great if written properly).

TIP #2: Your essay needs to prove that your admittance would be mutually beneficial.
The rest of you application already lists your accomplishments, your grades, and your tests scores. A lot of this is leaning towards how you will help the school through some facet of your personality or past experience. It’s good to include how the school will help you grow and develop as a person, creating a positive feedback loop between your own personal success and the future success of the school. For example, in my application to an all women’s college, I wrote about my past feminist experience and how studying a subject normally dominated by the male population in a classroom of all women would continue to increase my own personal empowerment and so forth. This tip usually works better in essays that are school specific but can be used for generic essays as well.

TIP #3: Brag a lot and revise a lot.
A college application is literally bullet points of bragging. They want to admit you, you have to prove them right. Don’t come off as too cocky or pretentious but prove that you have been a valuable asset to the teams with whom you’ve worked and that you can do that again at their school. Also make sure you get as many eyes as possible on your paper before you apply with a final draft. College counselors, relatives, and English teachers are all good resources. It’s also good to get feedback besides red marks on a paper. Sure, the grammar is important and using appropriate vocabulary can be a great tool but it’s always good to ask how you come off in the essay. Personable, amicable, a cultural addition, a leader, and/or a supporter are all good words. Make sure your essay is specific and targeted enough to get these types of reactions.

Writing a college essay can be one of the most challenging parts of a college application, but remember that it can be one of the most important and rewarding. Start early and prepare rough draft after rough draft until you have an essay that represents you.

Photo Credit: Flazingo Photos

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

Man Adjusting Tie Interview Resume
My Resume in English
The thing about resumes is that they look different depending on where you come from and what language you speak. Although many countries around the world follow the standard Western structure for resumes (the top hit if you Google ‘resume’), many others differentiate in style and content. Because of discrepancies between the aforementioned ‘standard’ resume and ‘other’ resume, many people that apply for jobs in the United States or any other English speaking country find themselves at a loss and many times fail to get a job simply because they were uninformed as to what the correct format for their resume was supposed to be. For those of you out there who are struggling with adapting to a new style, here’s a quick guide that’ll instruct you regarding what to do:

  1. The first thing you’ll have to do is brainstorm. Resume crafting is no different from essay writing; you’re attempting to sell an idea- only this time the idea is yourself. In order to avoid a mess or a halt when writing your resume, it’s important to write down all ideas for content down first; this means that you’ll make three lists: one for all past jobs (position filled and where), one for all education (degrees and where you obtained them), and one for all relevant skills/abilities. Having these listed prior to starting the final draft assures that your head is centered and you’re moving towards the right place.

  2. Now it’s time to actually begin the resume process. Start out by writing out your contact details; this includes: full name, address, telephone number, and email. There are different places in which you can position this, but the most common one is right on top and in the center of the page.

  3. After taking care of that, you can move on to writing out an objective. This is typically a very short (maybe two sentences) statement that clearly draws out what the owner of the resume intends to find with it (ex. a job at a law firm). Make sure that this, as well as the rest of the categories, is clearly labeled (maybe try out a bold font, or italic). You can find good examples of resume objectives online.

  4. The next step is pretty straightforward; simply label the three categories that you brainstormed about (work, education, skills) and write RELEVANT ones from your list onto the resume. I emphasize the word relevant because you don’t want to list ‘knows how to dance salsa’ on your skills section if what you’re looking for is a job as a marine biologist. Common sense. When it comes to the inventory of things you’ll write down under each category, make sure that you list from most recent to less recent.

  5. Lastly, include a phrase at the bottom of the resume that reads: ‘references available upon request.’ This simply gives the employer the option to verify facts if he/she wishes- it’s an act of courtesy.

The font, spacing, and page size and color are optional, but most people opt to go for a professional look, meaning either 12 point Arial or Times New Roman fonts, 1.5 line spacing, a standard white page, and black ink. Another thing to remember is that you should aim to fill in one page; anything over one page will most likely cause the resume reviewer to not even bother finishing to read the resume. Remember, the people looking over your resume have looked over countless resumes, so don't waste their time or lose their interest by including irrelevant information, unnecessary details, or anything else that may cause them to simply toss your resume.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

LRNGO users in over 190 countries

stethoscope and piggy bank medical school savings
Advice for Foreign Medical Students Wanting to Study in the US
If you’ve already done any research, chances are that you’ve come across the dismal statistics reflecting the difficulty of getting in to medical schools regardless of where you have received previous education. According to Hope College, in the year 2010, 42,742 students applied to medical school. 1,300 of those students were not US residents or citizens. 44 percent (18,665 of the original 42,742 applicants) of the total number of applicants who applied were accepted into a medical program but only 171 of these nearly 19 thousand students were not domestic students. This means only .4 percent of the students who were admitted and enrolled into medical school were international students.

This information was not supposed to scare you, and in no means discourage you from applying to a medical school within the United States. It is important to know how small the odds are though, and to make realistic alternatives if your primary plan doesn’t pan out. Below are some tips for those students who are not US residents or citizens who want to go to medical school in the US.

TIP #1: Plan how you are going to cover the cost of medical school way in advance.

Most domestic student pay for medical school through federal or state funding or loans. As a student who is not a resident or citizen, you are not eligible for this type of funding alone, but you may be eligible with a cosigner (who is a US resident or citizen) and an asset of equal value. Scholarships for medical school are rare, but there are definitely some available. Looking for scholarships that are offered for international students is even more difficult, but if you give yourself time to research you can apply to more of them before the deadlines. A lot of medical schools do evaluate your financial standing before acceptance and some even require a very substantial deposit to prove you can pay the steep tuition costs.

TIP #2: Consider where you completed your undergraduate education and where that leaves viable options for medical school.

In the majority of cases, formal medical training starts earlier in Africa, Europe, or Asia than in the United States. This means that if you completed your undergraduate education in the states, you could be significantly behind in other places. Make sure to research the medical schools you are applying to in order to ensure that you aren’t behind schedule. Attending a US college or university for undergraduate will also typically boost your chances of getting into a domestic medical school. If you went to undergraduate outside the states and are set on coming to the US for medical school, consider taking math and science courses at an American institution in order to prove your level of understanding in cornerstone subjects.

Tip #3: Do well in school and outside of the classroom and keep your options as open as possible.

Doing well in school and on the MCAT are both absolute and obvious essentials to beating the odds to get into a medical school in the US. Make sure you are working as hard as you can without sacrificing the priorities to make your application look well rounded and experienced. Squeeze in as much time showing your dedication towards an outside activity that could easily translate to your success in medical school. For example, dedication and success in trivia bowl with reflect a good memory and attention to detail. Get as many hours as you can into volunteering or working in your field of choice, spend time in a hospital to show you know you belong there and you’re absolutely sure about your decision to attend medical school in the US. Also remember that everyone wants to go to the top medical schools in the country, both domestic and international students apply heavily to the top schools. Keep your options open and apply to way more safety schools than you think you will need to.

Ultimately, making the commitment to apply to med school is difficult for everyone and getting admitted is even more difficult. Don’t give up but make sure you keep your options open and a level head.

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2012

LRNGO users in over 190 countries