(the) society

Unemployment is one of the most serious problems for the society today.

The problem here is that the society (with ‘the’) has quite a different meaning to society (without ‘the’).

If you’re talking about all of humanity as a collective, then you’re probably talking about society. In this case you’re probably thinking about the whole of the human race at a particular time, usually around now. If problems are faced by society (without ‘the’), then they are likely to be problems that all people face, either across an entire country, or possibly all over the world, and so in this case you need:

  • Unemployment is one of the most serious problems for society today.

On the other hand if you’re talking about a specific group of people who have some kind of shared set of specific interests then you need the society. For example in this list of academic ‘societies’, group members relate to each other because they share the same academic interests. Similarly, universities often have societies devoted to particular hobbies or interests. In this case you might be writing something like:

  • In our university the most popular society is the photographic society. The society has 600 members.

Notice that in this example, not only do we use ‘the’ to show that we are talking about a specific group, but we also use words to modify the word society so that our reader understands exactly which group we’re talking about (‘most popular’, ‘photographic’).

So, be careful next time you use society! And if you’re still not happy with this explanation, and you’re not afraid of distractions, you can check out society in a dictionary. Better still look at some sentences featuring society.

(cover photo: source)

Trump, Twitter, Trends, Task 1

IELTS Task 1 trends practice activity

  1. Study the chart below (source here).
  2. On a piece of paper, write a short paragraph describing the main trends. Don’t look at PG’s text just yet!
  3. Read PG’s sample text (below). Click highlighted text for explanations.

20160305_woc571_0

Sample text by @guruEAP. Click highlighted text for explanations.

In general, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton attract by far the highest numbers of Twitter followers, but all candidates enjoyed significant increases in follower numbers during the period. In terms of average retweets per tweet, Bernie Sanders joins Trump and Clinton in the top three. Trump’s Twitter account saw almost twice as many retweets as Sanders’, and more than three times as many as Clinton’s. However, Sanders trumps trump when it comes to retweets per tweet per 1,000 followers.

Notes

In general – This is the most concise way to introduce an overview, and remember that an overview is important if you want a good score for Task Achievement. See public band descriptors for Task 1. (back)

attract – This is more sophisticated vocabulary than simply saying ‘have’. (back)

by far – This is a good way to intensify a superlative adjective. (back)

numbers – ‘number’ (without ‘s’) is also possible. However, each candidate has a number of followers, so technically there is more than one ‘number’. (back)

but – In this part of the essay it is often possible, and therefore a good idea, to show comparison and/or contrast. Remember to signal this contrast (here I use ‘but’.). (back)

enjoyed – Again, this is more sophisticated than simply saying ‘had’. (back)

significant – This is a more sophisticated alternative to ‘big’, ‘large’, ‘huge’, etc. (back)

in – The correct preposition after ‘increase(s)’. (back)

during the period – If you have already mentioned the period – July 1 2015-Feb 29 2016 – in your opening statement, then you can use this phrase to refer back to it. (back)

in terms of – This is an extremely useful phrase in Task 1 writing. With this phrase you make clear to the examiner exactly what it is you are talking about. (back)

in the top three – Ranking items is usually possible, and often desirable, in the overview. (back)

saw – More sophisticated than ‘had’. (back)

twice as many – Always look for multiples! (back)

trump – Be careful when you use idioms, but they increase your score for lexical resource (=vocabulary). Take a look in a dictionary at the idiomatic uses of ‘trump’. (back)

when it comes to – An alternative to ‘in terms of’ to make clear exactly what you are talking about. (back)

Useful resources

IELTS Writing Task 1 public band descriptors

Using shoes and clothes

I always use special shoes when I’m working in the laboratory.

Candidate: Ya ya ya Mr IELTS Examiner. I should say wear special shoes!  But the context is perfectly clear and you understand what I mean, right? I mean, you can easily picture the shoes I’m talking about, right?

Indonesian flag Examiner: Yes, I understand. But you’re using weak verb/noun collocation, and so I have to give you a low score for vocabulary. Next time you want to translate ‘pake baju’, or ‘pake sepatu’, please ‘pake’ wear. OK?

Candidate: OK!

  • I always wear special shoes when I’m working in the laboratory.

Avoiding condoms

Everybody knows that condoms can avoid pregnancy.

Why is the IELTS examiner confused by this? Because it creates in the mind of the examiner a kind of impossible cartoon image showing two condoms having sex in such a way that the female condom will not become pregnant.

Indonesian flag Indonesians need to consider the difference between avoid (menghindar) and prevent (mencegah):

  • Everybody knows that condoms can prevent pregnancy.

Think of the condom as the agent that does the preventing. Humans can avoid pregnancy through the use of condoms, where the condom is the agent of prevention. So..

  • Condoms can prevent pregnancy.
  • Women can avoid pregnancy.

even / bahkan

Motorcyclists in Bali don’t seem to care about their own safety or other people’s. They weave in and out of traffic without leaving room to manoevre. They cut in front of cars and then brake hard. They ride on the pavement and on the wrong side of the road. Even they don’t wear helmets.

Indonesian flag As in the example above, bahkan is often translated as even. However, whereas in Indonesian bahkan is positioned at the beginning of the sentence, in English even (meaning bahkan) is positioned in front of the verb:

  • They don’t even wear helmets.

If you put even (meaning bahkan) at the beginning of the sentence, the IELTS examiner will understand you but you will get a low score for grammar. Many people might also be confused, because even is used in English at the beginning of a sentence together with though:

  • Even though it is illegal not to wear a helmet, Balinese motorcyclists take their helmets off whenever they can.

In this example, even is a part of even though, and no longer carries the meaning of bahkan.

I am easy / difficult

Easy and difficult are sometimes difficult to use for Indonesian native speakers.

I am difficult to understand grammar.
Using a dictionary makes me easy to understand English.

If you say these in an IELTS interview, the examiner will understand you but you will get a low score for grammar. For a higher score, use the following:

  • I find it easy/difficult to understand grammar.
  • Using a dictionary makes it easy for me to understand English.
  • Smoke from my neighbour’s garden makes it difficult for me to breathe.

These last two examples will increase your IELTS scores for vocabulary as well as grammar. They include strong collocation as well as structural sophistication. At the same time, if you speak and write like this then the examiner will find it easier to understand you.

Indonesian flag You need to be very careful with the following:

I am difficult to understand.

This means that other people find it difficult to understand you, perhaps because you are talking and at the same time eating rendang yang kurang empuk (under-cooked beef), or because your neighbour is playing loud dangdut music and nobody can hear you.

I am difficult.

This means that you are an ‘orang susah’.

I’m easy.

This can mean that you are kind of ‘polos’, for example if you are in a restaurant, and perhaps in a hurry, and your friend asks you what you want to eat, you might say “I’m easy,” meaning “Apa saja!” (“Whatever..”)

every time / all the time

Doctor, what’s wrong with me? I feel tired every time!

If you say this to a doctor then the doctor will think to himself “Every time you do what?” He will begin to imagine frequent scenarios in your life when you feel tired, for example every time you plough a rice field, or every time you do an IELTS practice test, or every time you lift 200kg above your head.

Indonesian flag Every time in English is more like the Indonesian setiap kali. What you mean to say is all the time:

  • Doctor, what’s wrong with me? I feel tired all the time!

And so, every time you say ‘every time’, you should stop and think: Do you actually mean all the time?!