Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wonder what Sitcoms and English-as-a-foreign-language exams have in common?

In my previous post, I mentioned how watching TV shows can help you improve your English. Today, I will give you an example of how this can be beneficial not only to your general English skills, but can turn out to be very useful when preparing for an advanced English exam.

Last year, I was preparing a Greek student for the ECPE (Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English) and like many others, she had been learning English mainly from textbooks. As a result, she had gotten more used to written language and, secondly, to more academical language. That wasn't bad at all, but the exam also tests colloquial and idiomatic structures, as well as listening skills in both formal and informal contexts.

Together, we started looking for ways to get her exposed to more real-life English and get her to improve her listening skills, at the same time. So, I was sitting at home one evening, watching 'Desperate Housewives", when I noticed that every other word or joke in the episode, had actually been included in the practice test we had done earlier that day. It was rich with colorful expressions covering all language levels. Characters like Gabrielle or Susan, used a lot of idioms and slang ("take a rain check", "serves him right" etc), while Bree and Mary Alice traditionally express themselves in a more sophisticated manner using more complicated sentences.

"Desperate Housewives" may not be your favorite show, but you might as well, look for something else, within your area of interests - a cartoon, a sitcom, songs, Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic etc Watch and put down the useful words and expressions that you come across. You'll be surprised to find out, how many of them are actually mentioned even in advanced English exams, such as the ECPE or TOEFL.

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