Five tips to prepare for an exam in times of pandemic

Imagine having to prepare for an exam during a pandemic. This is exactly what several international students and immigration applicants are going through at the moment.

Covid-19 has changed the shape and form of our world and how we carry on with our lives, our tasks, our plans and dreams. Many workers have had to work from home and schools quickly transferred their curriculum to online delivery.

For my students, the way we work together has not really changed. At least this part of their routine remains unchanged. But, for most, it is a completely new way to study. Here are five tips to help you get yourself organized and make the most out of this difficult situation:

One: find yourself a quiet space

A corner of the dining table, the centre table in the living room, lying in bed, on the couch with legs criss-crossed, whichever way you prefer. Remember, you do you. However, it is important that this place be quiet enough to allow you to focus on reading, writing, doing grammar exercises, listening to audios and so on.

Two: set a time to study

Just because you are at home all day, it doesn’t mean you have all day at your disposal. To fend off procrastination, create some sort of routine and try to stick to it.

Depending on what your goals and timeline are, you may need to put in more hours or to study more times a week.

Three: map out your process

Easier said than done, I know. When you have the guidance of an instructor, they will (hopefully) do that for you. But if you decided to venture on your own, well, you are on your own.

Establish what you will be studying each day and why. The official websites for the exams are usually pretty good at offering some tips on how to prepare for the test.

Four: map out your progress

This part might be trickier. Marking reading and listening is as simple as counting up to 10 as these are multiple choice – or gap-fill – tests. It is, undoubtedly, harder to measure one’s own achievement in writing and speaking.

If you do not have a teacher to help you out in this part of the process, the next best thing is to try and compare your production to the sample answers made available by the testing institutions.

Five: don’t limit yourself

It is true that you are preparing for a specific test which is comprised of specific skills, but that’s not all. It is important to keep your learning process varied and interesting.

Reading books in English is a great way to improve reading speed, comprehension and inference. Listening to songs in English and singing along is an effective way to beef up listening comprehension, pronunciation and vocabulary.

Movies and series are an excellent option to practice both reading and listening as well as providing you with invaluable non-verbal cues.

Here are a few websites to help you get yourself organized and on track:

What about you? How have you been managing your time? Share with us your systems to keep studying in such unprecedented times.

Visit Berlin from the comfort of your couch

In times of social distancing, travelling may have been put in the back burner. However, you can still virtually visit all the iconic places in Berlin.

In the quiz below you will not only be able to find out more about the websites and apps that take you for a virtual stroll around the German capital, but also test your vocabulary knowledge.

You can find out more about virtual visits to Berlin on and by downloading the app About Berlin.

To read this article in its entirety follow this link to

How much English you need to live in Canada

Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live. Canadian immigration is incentivized by the government and receives support from great part of the population.

Not surprisingly, many have the dream of living in Canada in either a temporary or permanent arrangement. So how much English do you need to know to be able to live in Canada?

Depending on what your goals are, you might need a higher level of English.

Learn English

If your goal is to brush up on your knowledge of English and have an international experience, you don’t necessarily need to speak any English prior to your trip. There are courses for beginners to advanced students available in the various language schools in the country.

Based on my experience as director of studies of the largest school in Toronto, students who can already communicate – that is, make simple sentences, ask for directions, express some feelings – have easier adaptation than those who cannot.

It’s already not easy being in a different country, with a different culture, far from family and friends. If we factor in not being able to communicate, things might become a bit harder.

Post-secondary education

There are a few options for those who want to attend college or university in Canada.

A very popular way to enter colleges and universities in Canada is through a pathway program. Candidates may choose to attend English for Academic Purpose (EAP) classes in a language school or even at universities or colleges. At the end of the program, students should be apt to enter the school and program of their choosing. This process may take as little as 2 months and as long as 6 to 8 months; it all depends on prior language knowledge and development.

Another well-known entry to post-secondary education is through standardized proficiency exams. A student may write the test in their home country or in Canada. Common choices of tests are the IELTS Academic, the TOEFL, and the PTE Academic. Some schools also accept C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency certificates from Cambridge.


In order to become permanent residents, PR, applicants must write one of the two tests: CELPIP General or IELTS General Training.

CELPIP is a computer-based Canadian test. It is cheaper – but not by much – than the IELTS and results tend to come out faster. IELTS General Training – and it is important to note that it is NOT the same as the Academic version, which is not accepted for immigration – is paper or computer-based and includes a face-to-face speaking interview.

Those hoping to attend higher education or become permanent residents of Canada should achieve a minimum level of proficiency to be accepted. Generally speaking, it is around 7/9 for IELTS and 9/12 for CELPIP.

If you are not sure of what the best option for you is, or where your knowledge is at, drop us a line. We can help you figure all of that out at no cost.

And if you are looking for advice on study visas or the immigration process, contact Dreamies. After all, it all starts with a dream.

The social impact of ‘Where are you from?’

As soon as any student starts their journey towards becoming a speaker of English, a couple of pre-made sentences, a learner’s ‘toolkit’, is handed them.

Statements such as “I am (name)” or “my name is (name)” are the tip of the iceberg. Soon after students are presented with the predictable and unskippable “he is”, “she is”, “it is”, “we are”, “you are”, “they are”.

I believe every ESL or EFL teacher has gone through the drill: affirmative, negative, interrogative and so forth. And trust me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. These are the building blocks of English as a language, the foundations of the SVO sentence, the distinction between affirmative and interrogative sentence structures, the concept of auxiliary verbs.

But there, hidden amidst all those helpful sentences, lies “where are you from?”. The seemingly innocuous pre-set question abounds in language classrooms all over the world. 

Teachers use it as cue to introducing pupils to nationalities and languages and to some cultural awareness. Again, so far, so good. Or is it?

Have you, as an educator, ever taken the time to think about what “where are you from?” implies?

Before we take any other step, however, it is important that we acknowledge that context must always be taken into consideration.

In Canada, a country whose population grows greatly due to immigration programs, it is rare to find anyone popping the “where-are-you-from” question.

You see, asking a person where they are from automatically assumes they are not from here. Again, it is perfectly fine to ask this question to someone who is clearly a tourist. But if you ask the question to an immigrant, it may carry a different meaning.

It is not uncommon to see international students here in Toronto asking the dreaded question away every time they meet someone new. Most people will just dismiss it as lack of command of the language, however, awkward smiles might show up.

“So how do you get around it?”, you might ask.

Here in Canada, the question we ask is “what is your background?” And here is why: when you ask someone about their background, you acknowledge them as part of your community, part of the diverse fabric that represents the Canadian population. This question implies acceptance and inclusion.

Now, if you ask “where are you from?”, you set a person’s origin as somewhere else, you imply that they are only a visitor here, an outsider.

As a teacher, you might want to start preparing your students for the world outside of the classroom. And in this case, maybe you should consider adding “what is your background” to the list of useful questions alongside “what is your name”, “where are you from” and “what do you do”.

This article was first published here.

Learn idioms with music

Learning English may, at times, seem challenging or even tiring. One way to fight demotivation is to learn through music.

Today we’ll listen to Adele’s song “Someone Like You” and dig deeper into the idioms that appear in the lyrics.

You will also find a few more idioms at the end of the activity.

Listen to the song.

Answer the questions:

Raise Up: diversity in the classroom

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to chat with Ila Coimbra. She’s an ESL teacher and teacher trainer, IATEFL speaker, founder of the BRAZ-TESOL Voices SIG, and co-author of Raise Up, a textbook developed with inclusivity in its core.

vspokeHow did the idea of creating an inclusive textbook come up? What motivated you?

Ila Coimbra – I have always given talks on diversity and inclusivity, that’s when James M. Taylor suggested we turn it into a book. The truth is that we are not the only ones talking about it. There is a change in how we approach diversity in the classroom, but incorporating this into textbooks has happened at a slower pace and, usually, in local materials. That’s why we decided to create a more mainstream coursebook to include a more accurate representation of the world we live in.

vspokeWhy is it important to be more inclusive, to incorporate diversity in textbooks?

IC – We believe that diversity benefits all learners.

First, a more accurate representation of society in the classroom is both an opportunity for our students to be exposed to other cultures and identities, and to express their own identities. This means that, if our students are part of the minorities included in the textbook, they might be able to express their identity and also feel as they belong in the English-speaking world. This is called ownership of language (Norton, 1997), which is strongly connected to motivation and identification with the target language and culture.

Second, even if our students are not part of any minorities, by being exposed to a wider variety of groups they might develop empathy, tolerance and acceptance, thus learning to live with differences.

vspokeWhat should teachers keep in mind in order to ensure inclusivity?

IC – The students. Who they are. Their identities. What they identify themselves with. As a teacher, one has to be aware of the many identities that there are in the classroom. It’s all about them, helping them see the world as it is; including them or making them more prepared to live in a world that is more diverse. And before including any other issues, the teacher should make sure that their students feel included in the class. I think that if we start with that in mind, there is no way it can go wrong.

vspokeHow can people learn more about Raise Up? How can they purchase it?

IC – Anybody who is interested can purchase our books here. Or on our Facebook page. Also, all the profits from the sales go towards CASA 1, which is an NGO in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that supports homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

What you can do in social distancing

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the entire world is united in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. That’s why your government has asked of you to practice social distancing.

While we all know it is hard to stay home and avoid going out, meeting friends, doing all the things we are used to, it is extremely important to help slow this virus.

Some of us might not know exactly what to do in times like this. We have a few ideas. Check it out.


  • to be living under a rock: when you don’t know what is going on in the world; not informed
  • social distancing: avoiding physical contact, crowds, staying home when possible
  • the sky is the limit: anything you can imagine is possible
  • unplug: not using social media or the internet
  • pamper: spoil, treat with kindness and care
  • stay safe: be careful

What about you? What activities are you doing while practicing social distancing? Share in the comments below.

Should ESL teachers (only) be native speakers?

A NNEST is a non-native English-speaking teacher as opposed to a NEST, native English-speaking teacher. Currently, about 1.5 billion people in the world speak English and of those, less than 400 million use it as their first language (L1) according to the World Economic Forum. Chances are most teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL) are not native speakers.

There has been ample debate on the value and efficacy of NNESTs. Some defend their participation in lower levels where grammar is the focus (*) and that NESTs should be given preference in higher levels where fluency and pronunciation are the focus (*).

Students often openly state their preference for native speakers as teachers. More frequently than not, job ads seek for NESTs exclusively or even pay a higher wage to them when they do hire NNESTs.

Naturally, this comes from lack of knowledge of what constitutes a good teacher – of any kind. First of all, one needs to be certified to teach ESL. There are several institutions world-wide that provide training and certification to aspiring ESL teachers – regardless of their nationality or mother tongue.

Second, one needs to have knowledge of the subject they teach – whatever it may be. Bear in mind that knowledge doesn’t simply equal nativeness: one must know rules, terminology, vocabulary and more. Being just a fluent speaker won’t do.

Third and most importantly, there is vocation. Not everyone who checks the boxes above will succeed as a teacher, and it is not because they are not knowledgeable or qualified; they may not be cut out for it regardless of being native or non-native.

To put it simply, the way I see it, NNESTs are success stories. They should serve as inspiration to learners because they’ve made it. They have mastered a foreign language and have done so in such a way that they are now able to pass on that knowledge and help others achieve the same.

It is somewhat like having a trainer at the gym who got themselves in shape; or a brilliant public speaker who used to stutter; or immigrants who make a life for themselves in a new country. In all honesty, we all want to be that person who proves it is possible, that person who inspires others to keep trying.

Are all NNESTs good teachers? No. In the same way there are terrible native-speaking teachers. A teacher is neither good nor bad because they were born speaking this or that language. A teacher is good or bad based on their training, on their vocation, on their willingness to excel.

* vspoke language does not subscribe to these specific beliefs. We believe grammar and vocabulary and fluency can be studied regardless of levels and can be taught by NESTs and NNESTs alike.

This article was first published here.

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