A lack of ‘lack’

Indonesian students sometimes struggle because they lack of critical thinking skills.

It’s true that ‘lack’ collocates strongly with ‘of’, but only when ‘lack’ is a noun. When ‘lack’ is a verb, there is no ‘of’!

  • Indonesian students sometimes struggle because they lack critical thinking skills.

If you really want to use lack of then treat ‘lack’ as a noun:

  • A lack of critical thinking skills sometimes causes Indonesian students to struggle.

Once again, in lack of, ‘lack’ is a noun, not a verb!

Instructions

Select words from the drop-down menus to complete the text. When you have finished, click 'Check your answers!' for feedback.

Some students demonstrate a understanding when it comes to the word ‘lack’. Perhaps they the ability to identify the difference between noun and verb forms? Or perhaps there is a examples of ‘lack’ in the texts that they read? Either way there is a definite ‘lack’ as a verb in their writing!

Answer Key

Answers here, but only if you're really stuck!

Task 1 Past Perfect

Past perfect tense needs to be handled with care. It is most useful in the narrative genre and is seldom needed in Task 2 writing. However, Task 1 essays occasionally present an opportunity to use past perfect.

Let’s try an exercise! Follow my instructions carefully and attempt the tasks before reading my sample texts.

  1. Look at the following graph and attempt to describe it in two short paragraphs. The first paragraph will focus on general trends and will begin:

In general..

The second paragraph will describe details and will begin:

In detail..

When you’re happy with your writing, you can read my sample text.

  1. Finished writing? OK now take a look at my sample text and analysis.

 

 

 

 

 

Sample text

In general, Facebook had by far the highest number of active users per month, and this number increased by more than 50% during the period. Despite having far fewer users per month, Twitter experienced a similar increase in numbers, but was overtaken half way through the period by Instagram.

In detail, Facebook already had a billion active users in 2012, but by 2015 this figure had increased to more than 1.5 billion. Twitter was in second place until 2014 when the monthly number of active Instagram users began to exceed that of Twitter users, and by 2015 Instagram had taken a 0.1 billion user lead over Twitter, forcing Twitter into third position. Similarly, by 2015 Snapchat had attracted only half as many active users per month as Instagram.

Analysis

Notice the structural use of past perfect in the detail section. I admit that I went a bit mad with it, but I strongly recommend this structure:

By + past time expression + subject + V3

Final task

  1. Take another look at your own text. Did you use my past perfect structure? If not, can you edit your text so as to include it in at least one sentence? Please share your writing in the comments section!

Definite about puppies and sectors

Agricultural sector is different from economic sector in the way research is conducted.

In the noun phrases agricultural sector and economic sector, you mention specific sectors – agricultural and economic. It is obvious that you are not talking about the bananas sector and the pornography sector.

If you mention a noun and both you and your reader know exactly which noun you’re talking about, then you must use the definite article – ‘the’.

In the photo that accompanies this post, there are two puppies. If you say you want the light-coloured puppy, you use ‘the’, because it is clear both to you and to your listener exactly which puppy you want!

It’s the same when you’re talking about sectors:

  • The agricultural sector is different from the economic sector in the way research is conducted.

Admittedly, identifying the main noun in a noun phrase becomes challenging with longer phrases. For example, can you identify the main noun in the following highlighted phrase? Answers in the comments section below! 🙂

  • I sometimes experience difficulties with the less obvious and more subtly nuanced aspects of article use in unnecessarily complicated academic writing.

Incidentally, an English native speaker would probably use the name of the sector without labelling it ‘sector’:

  • The agricultural sector is different from the economic sector in the way research is conducted.

This ‘labelling’ of nouns is discussed further in a previous post.

Budget

In Australia I will need a lot of budget because I have to buy many things.

First of all budget is countable, and since you’ve written ‘a lot of’, then there should be an ‘s’ on budget. But there’s another problem. Budget has 2 meanings that are potentially useful in this situation:

1. Budget as a sum of money that has been set aside for a particular purpose:

In Australia I will need a large budget because I have to buy many things.

2. Budget as a document containing a list of items:

In Australia there will be many items on my budget, and so I will need a lot of money.

In both of these examples..

  • budget is a singular countable noun
  • ‘large’ collocates with budget
  • ‘item(s)’ collocates with budget (don’t forget the preposition ‘on’)
  • as a singular countable noun, budget requires some kind of determiner (article, possessive, etc.)

Often students who are preparing for IELTS feel they have to do everything to avoid repetition, and so they use budget instead of ‘money’. However, budget is not synonymous with ‘money’. When you’re talking about money and comparing how much things cost, it’s safer to use words like ‘money’, ‘cheap’, ‘expensive’, etc.

Add a comment below and tell us about some of the items on your budget for study in Australia! 🙂

image source

Against the misuse of ‘against’

Most Indonesian people against the removal of fuel subsidies.

In English, against is a preposition, and so this sentence does not contain a verb and is therefore not a sentence. To make it a sentence, you can do this..

  • Most Indonesian people are against the removal of fuel subsidies.
    (to be + against)

or (slightly more academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people oppose the removal of fuel subsidies.

or (also academic) this..

  • Most Indonesian people object to the removal of fuel subsidies.

Hope that helps!

there is/are (ada)

In Australia there are many women receive the same salary as men.

Indonesian flag A common mistake made by Indonesians is to include the ‘introductory subject’ (there is/there are) as well as another subject, before the verb in a sentence.This might be possible in Bahasa Indonesia, but in English you must choose either this:

  • In Australia many women receive the same salary as men.
    (subject: many women)

..or this:

  • In Australia there are many women who receive the same salary as men.
    (subject: there are)

Indonesian flag Next time your head is telling you ‘ada..‘, stop and ask yourself whether you really need to use there is/there are. If you already have a subject, don’t use there is/there are!

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..”)