When is a school not a school?

I have also been a teacher in one of high schools in Padang.

Indonesian flag This is a common mistake made by Indonesians desperate to translate ‘salah satu‘ or maybe ‘sebuah‘.

In English, when we want to communicate one of many, we use the indefinite article ‘a/an‘:

  • I have also been a teacher at a high school in Padang.

This is sometimes called generic reference. The school in the example is not a particular school – we don’t yet know the name of the school, its address, etc. So far we’re just imagining a typical school. The image of the school in the writer’s mind will not be exactly the same as the image of the school in the reader’s mind, and that doesn’t matter.

I might use ‘one of‘ if I’m introducing more specific information about ‘a‘ school. For example:

  • There are many schools in Padang. One of them is close to my house.
    (information about the location of the school)
  • Only one of the schools in Padang offers an international curriculum.
    (information about the curriculum of the school)
  • I studied at one of the best schools in Padang.
    (information about the quality of the school)

Notice also that ‘one of‘ is followed by certain words, in particular:

  • the / them (pronouns)
  • these / those (demonstratives)
  • my/his/their (possessives)
  • superlative adjectives

For more examples, click here.

As a general rule – if you’re talking generally (generically!), use ‘a/an‘ for countable nouns. For uncountable nouns use ‘some‘.

Not everything is ‘convenient’

Physical shops are more convenient than online stores. Firstly, in physical shops customers are able to touch goods and try on clothes. Secondly, shopping in physical shops can be a social activity.

There is a category of physical store aptly named ‘convenience stores‘. Many countries have 7 Elevens. In Indonesia we have Indomaret, Alfamart and Circle K.

Indonesian flag Indonesians might call a shop that sells everything at a low price ‘convenient‘. However, the prices in convenience stores like Circle K can be quite a lot higher than average. These shops inflate prices precisely so that they can offer ‘conveniences‘:

  • they are numerous, especially in cities
  • they have ample parking if they are situated on a road
  • they can even be found inside large shopping centres
  • they stock items that most people need on a daily basis
  • they provide fast and efficient service

These are all features that native English speakers would consider ‘convenient‘. In English something is ‘convenient‘ when it saves you time and effort. Being able to touch goods is not a matter of ‘convenience‘. It may be practical, but it is not what most people would call ‘convenient‘, and neither is meeting your friends when you go to physical stores.

For your convenience, here are some definitions of ‘convenience’, as well as some pictures of convenient things.

The Impact Song

I’ve covered this collocation problem in a previous post. Students’ first language drives them to produce ‘bring an impact to/for‘.

I thought that by writing a song featuring the correct collocation, they might be brainwashed into getting it right next time.

I’ll get back to you when I’ve seen some writing ‘post-song’!

Ways that have to be done

There are more ways that have to be done to halt the spread of HIV.

Ways‘ followed by ‘to + V1’ is quite common, as in the expression “There’s more than one way to kill a cat.

However, ‘way‘ (noun) does not collocate in English with ‘do‘ (verb). You cannot ‘do‘ a ‘way‘. This is possible in some languages (Indonesian flag), but not in English.

Another problem here is the redundant use of ‘there are‘ (see previous post).

In English you might write:

  • More action needs to be taken to halt the spread of HIV.

OR

  • More solutions needs to be considered to halt the spread of HIV.

Remember that strong collocation like this will get you a higher score for vocabulary in IELTS speaking and writing. You will find references to collocation in the IELTS public band descriptors.

Compensating for ‘compensate’

The revenues resulting from the tax amnesty could compensate the temporary loss of revenues deriving from the transition.

Compensate‘ offers three possibilities:

  1. compensate someone (a person who is a victim because of an unfortunate circumstance beyond their control)
  2. compensate for something (an unfortunate situation that was beyond someone’s control)
  3. compensate someone for something

The use of compensate in the opening example implies that a ‘loss’ is a person – “..compensate the temporary loss of revenues..”! This is clearly impossible. However we can easily correct the sentence:

  • The revenues resulting from the tax amnesty could compensate for the temporary loss of revenues deriving from the transition.

Or, alternatively:

  • The revenues resulting from the tax amnesty could compensate people for the temporary loss of revenues deriving from the transition.

You also need to be careful when using the noun compensation:

  1. Something (possibly money) is compensation for something else (possibly an action that caused the loss of money)
  2. Someone seeks/receives compensation for something (a person seeks or receives, possibly money, in return for money lost through no fault of their own)

Finally, many of the examples at forbetterenglish.com show ‘compensate‘ used in passive voice.

Compensation often comes in the form of money, but if you have experience of other kinds of compensation, please comment below!

When ‘enough’ is too much

Owners of LCGC cars spend additional money on car tax which is expensive enough for middle income families.

‘Enough’, ‘not enough’, and ‘too’ are problematic for Indonesians since their equivalents in Bahasa Indonesia (cukup, tidak cukup, terlalu) are not quite equivalent!

In English these words are used to evaluate situations that have either positive or negative outcomes.

Let’s look first at a negative outcome:

If you are female and wish to work as a flight attendant with Garuda, then you are required to be at least 163cm tall. If you are less than 163cm tall, then you are not enough for the job. What a pity – you are too short!

And now a positive outcome:

You are female, 164cm tall. You are tall enough to be a flight attendant with Garuda. You attend interview and they offer you the job, hoorah!

Now let’s review the positives:

  • ‘enough’ – positive
  • ‘not enough’ – negative
  • ‘too’ – negative


If I say that “car tax is expensive enough for middle income families” then I’m making a positive evaluation about a situation that is clearly negative!

The problem is that in Indonesian, ‘enough’ can behave rather like ‘very’ to intensify an adjective. In our example, ‘very’ would create a more negative evaluation of the situation, and I’m sure this is what the writer is trying to achieve:

🙂 Owners of LCGC cars spend additional money on car tax which is very expensive for middle income families.

When an Indonesian woman remarks that you are ‘handsome enough’ (cukup ganteng), they believe they are paying you a compliment. If you speak Bahasa Indonesia, then you will take this as a compliment. However, a man who does not speak Indonesian will appear confused, because ‘handsome enough’ literally means that he meets some minimum requirement for handsomeness. It’s not a negative evaluation, but it’s not particularly flattering either!

Indonesian readers

Indonesians sometimes use ‘too’ (terlalu) for positive evaluation. If you can think of a sentence using ‘terlalu’, please add it in a comment below.


Many thanks to Desy and Ratih for agreeing to be photographed and for filling me in on the ‘rules’!

Trends can make you ill

Australians who disagreed or remained neutral had an upward trend during the period.

I mentioned in a previous post that ‘trend’ is a dangerous word and perhaps best avoided because:

  1. it is usually redundant
  2. it carries with it unusual collocation that does not translate easily from other languages

The wrong collocation can cause meaning to change. In the example above, ‘upward trend‘ sounds like some kind of illness, which is something that we ‘have’, for example “I had a cold last week.” We might imagine the following conversation:

You: Sorry I missed our appointment yesterday. I had an upward trend.
Your friend: Sorry to hear that. I hope you’re feeling better!

trend

Once again, it’s possible, and usually preferable to describe a trend without using the word ‘trend‘. Avoid it!

Nominalisation yin and ‘yang’

In a previous post I showed how you can avoid relative clauses when you’re post-modifying nouns. This is especially useful in IELTS Task 1 writing where you have to modify a statistics word (number, amount, etc.) to include information from the axes of a graph, or from the labels attached to a chart, or from the column and row headings of a table.

Indonesian flag Here I want to appeal to Indonesian students to think again before translating ‘yang‘ when post-modifying nouns. Let’s compare a few sentences written by Indonesian students with their likely equivalents written by native English speakers:

Modified noun picture
Student sentence with error The picture that on the wall is from Australia.
Student sentence without error The picture that is on the wall is from Australia.
Native speaker The picture on the wall is from Australia.
Strategy used preposition phrase to post-modify the noun
Modified noun person
Student sentence with error The person who teach us is PG.
Student sentence without error The person who is teaching us is PG.
Native speaker The person teaching us is PG.
Strategy used ___ing to to post-modify the noun
Modified noun department store
Student sentence with error The department store that located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Student sentence without error The department store that is located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Native speaker The department store located in Bridge Street is SOGO.
Strategy used V3 to post-modify the noun

In these examples I used three very useful strategies to post-modify nouns:

  1. preposition phrases
  2. ___ing
  3. V3

Notice that when you avoid the relative pronoun ‘that’ (Indonesian flag YANG!), then you also avoid a common error made by Indonesian students – not adding the verb ‘to be’ to the relative clause.

Try using these strategies instead of relative clauses and see how it increases your score for vocabulary in IELTS writing and speaking!

Donald Tram

Indonesian flag ‘Trump’ is a little bit tricky for Indonesians for two reasons:

  1. It contains the phoneme /ʌ/, which is extremely rare in Bahasa Indonesia.
  2. It ends with a ‘consonant cluster’ (/mp/) – also rare in Bahasa Indonesia.

Indonesians will use sounds that are close enough for the sake of communication, and when they say ‘Donald Tram’, we know they mean ‘Donald Trump’. But if you’re taking IELTS you can easily score points for pronunciation by producing the correct sounds:

  • /trʌmp/

The phoneme /ʌ/ is very common in spoken English: up, under, mother, thorough, etc.

Finding spoken examples of ‘Trump‘ should be easy – just switch on CNN! (And remember to switch on your ears, too!)

BTW in British English, ‘trump’ is a slang word for ‘fart’! 🙂

A many-headed doctor?!

I am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become a doctor.

For a second, this is what your reader imagines:

doctor

You need:

  • I am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become doctors.

doctors female