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The 'DON'TS' of VCE Literature

1. Don't focus just on ideas and avoid language engagement.

Language engagement is every bit as important as ideas. Sometimes, when you get stuck in philosophical musings, you might find yourself in a place where you're spouting on and on about solipsism or the intrinsic desire for independence in the 19th century Norwegian working class. Literature essays are all about finding balance, and here, that balance means language engagement. Whether you are writing about literary criticism or a passage analysis, you have to be able to support your interpretations with textual evidence.

Often, this requires some creative thinking. You can have a lot of fun with it and the examiners like you to pick up on small details and connect it to a grander scope.

Here's an example from Jane Eyre.

“my eyes seemed as if they had beheld the fount of fruition, and borrowed beams from the lustrous ripple.”

“I was not surprised...to feel...the breathing of a fresh and fragrant breeze...The rooks cawed, and blither birds sang; but nothing was so merry or so musical as my own rejoicing heart.”

In this passage, Jane is rejoicing over her marriage proposal, but readers are led to understand that this may be a false, idealistic dream of hers. Note the patterns of alliteration – the fricative 'f' shifting to the plosive 'b' in “fount of fruition” and “borrowed beams” then again from “fresh and fragrant breeze” to “blither birds”. What could it possibly mean?

Fricatives tend to indicate freedom, whereas plosives tend to indicate an abruptness – a harsh change. Perhaps, Jane's wild, free joy is immediately followed by plosive alliteration so as to illustrate how her happiness is cut short and her dream is a false one – she will attempt to achieve freedom through this romance, but she will be abruptly and unceremoniously prevented from attaining it.

Regardless, in any passage, there are always things to talk about and little language quirks to exploit to figure out an interpretation. Start from these little details, and build out and out until you tackle your big ideas. All of these ideas should be rooted in language.

2. Don't prioritise complicated language over ideas.

Often, when you think that expressive, complicated writing takes priority over ideas in Literature, you tend to end up with flowery material that becomes more convoluted than it is effective. If you are one of those people (I know it's hard) but kill your darlings. Focus on coming up with original ideas, and express them clearly. Cut out redundancies. Be expressive in a way that is natural and in a way where you know that first and foremost, your language is accurate. Don't go around using metaphors purely for the sake of sounding intellectual when you can express something equally eloquently and beautifully with simpler, fluent text.

Remember: this is not to say that you shouldn't be expressive in Literature. In fact, writing style and the ability to write well is a fundamental component to doing well in this subject. It is just vital that you strike the right balance. This is a good lesson to learn sooner rather than later - and you'll be steering into prime territory for the exam.

3. Don't treat Literature like an English essay. Be free!

Good Literature essays generally tend to be more lively and expressive than English essays. Why? Because Literature just doesn't operate under the same criteria, and it shouldn't be treated as such.

Don't feel like putting in an introduction/conclusion? No need! Don't feel like sticking to a TEEL structure? No problem!

Your focus is creating writing that moves along at a natural, expressive pace, moving through textual evidence to broader ideas. You don't have a structure. You don't have a paragraph quota. You have free reign over a lot of how you write your Literature essays – so find out what works for you.

4. Come up with original interpretations and don't stick with popular readings.

Literature is one of very few subjects in the entirety of VCE that rewards original thinking. You don't need to go with the crowd consensus on how to read your text: as long as you have the evidence to support your reading! The examiners will reward complex, creative, and unique ideas. Every passage analysis you write should be approached with a fresh perspective – base your interpretation around the text in front of you, and not a dogmatic set of ideas that you bring with you.

5. Let the text before you provide you with the ideas, don't force your ideas into the text.

By reading literary criticism and expanding the scope of your ideas, you can apply original readings to each set of passages you have. Your essays stand out when they cover new, uncharted territory.

Literature is all about balance. If you can find it in you to balance language engagement, interpretation, and writing style, I'd say you have yourself a pretty good essay.

Remember not to fall into any of the common traps of the subject, and you'll have put yourself on solid footing to become a true literati.

Adorning your essays with NEW VOCAB the RIGHT WAY!

Although clarity in expression takes priority, employing sophisticated vocabulary will win you major points with the examiner. Essays with a (healthy) level of adornment tend to demonstrate greater control of language and insight, giving the piece a perceptive and erudite aspect. Nevertheless, trying to employ new vocabulary seamlessly in your essay can be tough- rather than swapping random words in and out of your essay post-mortem, adapting your vocabulary bank to your own writing style can make the process a lot less jarring.

 

Finding the right bank for you

The conditions of your vocabulary bank should be suited to your specific needs. A focus on a need or theme enables more visible connections within the vocabulary bank. Having those connections will make it easier to 'memorise' new terms. Instead of compiling a dense 20-page glossary, try breaking your vocabulary bank up into smaller, specific sections.

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For example, if you're hoping to find new verbs to express the author's intention:

  1. Expressions used in previous essays

The author argues

The author shows  

The author criticises

The author supports

 

  1. Branch off 'argue' (Fervent tone):

contends, asserts, posits, proffers…

Branch off 'shows' (Neutral tone):

demonstrates, exposes, elucidates, delineates, explicates…

Branch off 'criticises' (Negative tone):

condemns, denigrates, lampoons, parodies…

Branch off 'supports' (Positive tone):

praises, endorses, exalts, lauds…

 

From storage to use

After clarifying their definitions, try using some of your new words in a sentence or a paragraph, relating to either your texts or language analysis. You can also extend your vocabulary bank by adapting the words to different sentence structures:

 

The author criticises the superficiality of our consumerist culture.

Substitution

The author condemns the superficiality of our consumerist culture.

Adaptation

In a condemnatory tone, the author delineates the ostentation of our consumerist culture.

 

The author argues that gender is an arbitrary concept.

Substitution

The author asserts that gender is an arbitrary concept.

Adaptation

Asserting that gender is an arbitrary concept, the author explicates the categorist nature of human understanding.

 

Using convoluted expressions can be fun or exasperating! Whilst demonstrating extensive vocabulary may raise your mark, the key is to ensure harmony between your words and your understanding.

How to deal with disappointment

Have you ever come out of an exam or test and felt like you’ve nailed it? I’m guessing after you come out of that exam room, you and your friends crowd around the building screaming out the answers you got for each question or the types of ideas you came up with from the prompt given. But then results day arrive…and you’re sitting at your desk anxiously waiting for the teacher to hand you your paper. As soon as they place the test paper on your desk, you remain sitting there just staring...

Do you usually do this when you come across such a situation?

From my observations and experiences, there are generally 4 main types of reactions people have – the complainer (the person who’s never satisfied with anything), the one who has no care in the world, the silent sufferer (the person who is disappointed with the score but does nothing to change it) and the calm one (the ideal level we all aspire to reach).

So here I give you 8 tips/suggestions to help you get you through what you may call ‘failure’:

DON’T ALLOW THE SCORE TO DEFINE YOU! I’m sure you’ve heard so many people tell you that you are more than just one score. And let me tell you that they’re absolutely right! That one test score won’t make so much of a difference in the long run. It may trigger some unsettling emotions throughout the day, but it’s not going to matter in a year.

Look at the score you got and then just put it at the back of your mind. Just don’t think too much about it in class. It may stress you out even more, cause you to divide your attention between what the teacher is saying and your own thoughts. Dwelling on what you cannot change, especially if it concerns the past is the worse idea and a better option would be to distract yourself with happy thoughts (obviously not while you’re supposed to be listening to your teacher).

Talk to your teacher and ask them why you have attained this particular score. By having a one-on-one conversation with them you can tell them why you thought you did better or where you believe you’ve missed marks. I’m sure they’ll be willing to help you out. If not, you could sit down and chat with another teacher about the test and get their feedback on it. Collecting feedback from various teachers (or even friends, tutors, etc.) can be useful in knowing which areas you need to improve on most.

Try to consider the concept of failure as your ‘First Attempt In Learning.’ Learn from your mistakes by re-evaluating your previous approach to the question, or the ideas and evidence you put out there. Look at where you lost the marks and redo the test if possible. Get it remarked by your teacher or even a friend. Keep going and don’t give up!

Avoid talking to those ‘stuck up’ students. You should most definitely distance yourself from people who make you feel uncomfortable or lower your self-esteem. It may seem tough at first, especially since you may be confined together in the same school or even classroom, but it’s to the benefit of your mental health. To do this, you could not sit next to them class or just let them know that you’re not comfortable with sharing your scores with them and would rather talk about other topics.

Make more friends! (just exclude those who were mentioned previously). Create study groups and revise together before a test or exam. Ask them about how they study for the specific subject or area of study and if you can read some of their work to get an idea of to how approach specific questions.

Be flexible and adaptable! Once you know that you’ve made a mistake, don’t make it again. Change up specific parts of your answer where you lost marks or just change the entire answer completely to fulfil the criteria. For example, when it comes to English, examiners are always advising students to not go into the exam with memorised responses. By going into the exam with memorised responses, you’re not going to be able to modify or mould your response to fit the specific prompt in front of you, costing you the marks you want. Just have ideas and evidence in mind that you know you can use when relevant rather than spilling unnecessary quotes here and there.

Balance is key. Wise advice that I received from one of my teachers in year 12 was to study a bit of every subject on the days you plan to study. Don’t cram and only focus on one subject a week before the SAC. If having a structured routine doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to ditch the timetable you have created yourself and just go with the flow. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just know when you should study

Finally, my last message to you all is to just take it easy, stay on a pace that works for you. Don’t stress too much about a score that’s not going to matter in the long run, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to those around you. ☺

5 ways that you're misusing Quotes .... and what to do about it

  1. You’re using too many

Bet you didn’t think that you could use too many quotes in a text response essay - it seems impossible, right? Wrong. There needs to be space in your essay for ideas to develop and some sentences (other than the introductory and concluding sentences) will have no quotes in them.

Each quote or group of quotes needs to be quantified in its own right so that it adds sustenance to your essay. If you use a quote, you need to pair it with a concept. The point of quotes is to justify that what you’re suggesting about the text is true and correct. If you can use quotes effectively, then you should be able to justify a huge number of abstract viewpoints about any work.

There is no set number that constitutes a correct amount of quote. It’s mostly about the ratio within an essay.

To ensure that you do not use too many quotes, read over your essay to check that your ideas are clear and the quotes substantiate the concepts that you put forward. For every quote you write, ask yourself, does it support my idea and is it relevant to my essay topic? For every small point that you bring up, you can collect quotes and perhaps use three to four short quotes (see point three).

Too many quotes can give you a headache.

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  1. You’re using too few

On the other hand, there is such thing as using too few quotes. You need enough evidence to support what you’re suggesting about the text, otherwise it seems as though you lack knowledge of the text.

This one is common mistake made among those students who decide that they can get through VCE English without reading the texts.

The solution is easy. Read the text and make mind-maps of themes and ideas along with quotes from the text that suit. In order to do this, you can read each text at least twice - once to soak in the work, and a second time to work out ideas that require that bit more understanding, and to find those relevant quotes that you need for text response.

You don’t want yours to be like the desert of essays.

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  1. Your quotes are too long

Quotes that are too long tend to become redundant and a waste of time to memorise and write down. The examiner or marker will also lose interest if your quote spans over more than a line or so. A group of smaller quotes might be more effective in supporting your contention. Of course you should rely on your own judgment and expertise. It is your essay, your ideas and therefore you should decide what types of quotes work best and when!

To evidence your understanding and knowledge of the text, collect several short quotes (one to four words long) from different areas of the text. If you choose several different pieces of evidence from the beginning, middle, and end, all from the same character, and/or from differing characters, this will prove that your idea exists throughout the entire work.

You trying to memorise an entire novel worth of quotes:

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You memorising shorter, connected quotes:

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  1. Your quotes are irrelevant

A common mistake is simply peppering quotes that you remember throughout your essay to make it look like you know the text. Instead, you should actually know your text, and always choose quotes that fully support what you are saying in reference to the author’s contention.

The reader won’t know where your essay is going if you throw random quotes in that don’t support your argument:

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  1. You’re not embedding the quotes

Finally, to effectively use quotes, you should be embedding your quotes correctly to ensure that your essay flows. You should be able to read the essay aloud, with quotes, as you would read a speech. See this blog post for a more in-depth instruction on how to embed quotes.

How changing your attitude, dramatically improve scores!

Improve scores

Fact: The VCE is a competition.

Fact: There are so many brilliant minds out there with vocabularies that can wow the pants off examiners in seconds.

Fact: We have all felt intimidated at some stage of this race by these kids, but here’s the craziest fact of them all….

Fact: You can be one of them.

Do you really believe that the top VCE students, you know, those 99.95 geniuses out there, study religiously for 6-8 hours a day and feel totally motivated to work 24/7?

I used to think that these kiddos were on auto pilot - robots that never had difficulty remembering a quote, never struggled to find their next point in an analytical essay, could always find the energy to write another piece for their teacher to correct. It was as though these students weren’t real, but now that I have had a personal experience at tackling the VCE, I think that anyone can appear to be this ‘amazing’ in English, simply by following one piece of advice: changing your attitude towards studying.

There are no magic tricks, no gimmicks, and no simpler way to put this. If you want to see real results, you need a new perspective on not just English, but all subjects - start “wanting” to study. Today.

So how does this epic VCE competition - full of thousands of students - set apart the very top end students as opposed to the, well, only great students? I’m a firm believer in that your attitude towards your studies will always be indicative of how well you will perform in this race. So don’t start changing what, when or how much you study, make changes to how you study!

Easier said than done, right? Try me. Start by immersing yourself in English (or any subject for that matter) so that you can start to enjoy learning about it. For instance, go to a book club for context, debate the pros and cons of a character’s personality as if they are actually real, and watch the movie adaptation of the book you are studying etc.

Try to find as many avenues as possible that will allow you to enjoy writing an essay, even by taking baby steps. Why not start playing around with an imaginative story about your favourite TV show just to get the hang of creative writing before you hand in an imaginative essay tailored to your study requirements? Once you change that attitude from “I ‘need’ to write this” to “I ‘want’ to and ‘would like to’ improve on this” you will see an enormous shift in results, self-satisfaction and confidence! Don’t be daunted by a difficult topic in the text response section – view it as a way of “showing off” to the examiners; take your time planning about how much depth you can put into your response and make it a challenge to rise beyond expectations as opposed to meeting the bare minimum and providing a mediocre response.

So c’mon! Dive right into the deep end and throw yourself into your studies. You don’t need to take out a mortgage, nor a fancy exercise book with fluffy pink pens. You only need to pack your positive attitude.

How To Survive VCE

Survive VCE

I’m sure a lot of you are sitting at home right now, excited but nervous about the year ahead. Let me be honest with you: year 12 is going to be tough. You’re only going to get out what you put in. There’s going to be stress and drama and unexpected turns. There’ll be long hours at the library and even more hours locked away in your room. But there’s also going to be fun and craziness and excitement. I know it’s a cliché, but this year truly is a marathon rather than a sprint, and you have to pace yourself. I know kids who went out way too hard and way too fast and by the middle of the year were completely burnt out. You want to be feeling fresh and ready by the time September comes around. There were a few things that really helped me to stay focused and sane during my final year of school, and I’d like to share them here with you. For me, these 6 factors were essential for staying happy and healthy, and they undoubtedly helped me to fulfil my potential during the VCE.

1. Routine – Have a solid, planned-out routine set up early in the year. Work out how much time you have outside of school and extra-curricular commitments. Schedule time each day for homework, study, revision. Schedule exercise, time with friends, and relaxation time for yourself. And after all that make sure you have still have time for a solid 8 hours of sleep! It’s important to make adjustments and revise your schedule if you find that it isn’t working out. I would suggest that sleep and relaxation time are two of the most important things on your timetable, so try not to cut them out! A regular routine will help keep you on track and make it easier to hit deadlines with minimal stress. It will also assist you in cutting out procrastination! If you’re ever overly stressed or feel like you need time off, it’s alright to take a night off! Just commit to it and really take the whole night off. Don’t think about work at all. Otherwise you’ll still be stressing and you won’t be able to properly relax.

2. Exercise – I cannot stress enough how important regular exercise can be for a VCE student. Given all the time spent on homework and study, I know it can sometimes seem difficult to squeeze anything else in. Trust me though, if you just find 30 minutes a day to go for a run, ride your bike, have a swim, play footy or whatever you like to do, you’ll be so much better for it. Your head will be clearer, you’ll have more focus, and you’ll be so much more productive in your study time. Exercise allows you to just shut your brain off and take some time out for yourself. It allows you to spend all that pent up energy that comes from sitting in the classroom all day. A tired body will mean a much better sleep too! It’s just 30 minutes. Drag yourself out of bed a little earlier in the morning, or schedule some time as soon as you get home from school. I promise you won’t regret it!

3. Sleep – Sleep is one of the key factors in having a good final school year. I know it can be tempting to pull all-nighters, cramming as much information into your head before SACs, exams and the like. This kind of thing can actually be counter-productive though. I’ll concede that sometimes it might be necessary to stay up late to get things done, but if you manage your time well there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get a decent amount of sleep each night. I needed at least 8 hours a night to function properly; whatever your number is, make it a priority to get a solid sleep. Give yourself a cut-off point and stick to it. Just put your books away once it gets to a certain time. Studying on late into the night when you’re super tired can be a waste of time – the information is probably not really sticking in your head. Just stop and continue on the next day when you’re fresh and ready to learn again. I found it useful to take about 30 minutes before bed, just to chill out and unwind before you sleep. Watch TV, read a book, whatever you like to do to relax. Your head will be clear, and you’ll be able to get to sleep a lot quicker.

4. Socialising – Make sure you still find time to hang out with your friends during the year. Remember that you’re all going through the same thing, and you help each other out just by chatting and sharing your problems and stresses. Try to spend time outside during recess and lunch; don’t go to the library to cram in extra study unless you really need to! Taking time out to talk to your mates will be a lot more beneficial in the long run. Organise to catch up with friends outside of school too. There should be plenty of eighteenth birthday parties this year, so take the night off and go have fun. Don’t worry, you definitely have the time!

5. Family – It’s also important to communicate with your family during this year. Don’t shut them out! It’s easy to get angry or frustrated with family members during your VCE. It will be a lot more beneficial for you (and for them) if you let them in rather than pushing them away. Sit down for half an hour each night to have a family dinner and just chat about what you’re studying. Try explaining a concept or an idea or book you’re working with. Give your parents, siblings, grandparents (anyone!) copies of your essay drafts to read. Even if they’re just proof-reading, it’ll have a positive impact on your work and will allow your family to better understand what VCE is all about. Put your timetable and after-school schedule up on the fridge so that everyone knows when you need to be left alone and when they can chat with you. The support of your family can be invaluable, especially when it comes down to the crunch at the end of the year. You might be surprised just how much your family can help.

6. Fun – Just try to enjoy it! When you look back on your VCE, it will hopefully be filled with fond memories. I can honestly say that year 12 was one of the best years of my life so far, despite a lot of stress and drama and everything else that came with it. Get involved with school sport, music, drama, whatever you love to do. Those extra-curricular activities are where you’ll make some of the best memories. I don’t know what it is about year 12, but everyone just seems to become closer. It’s like the VCE is this common enemy, and students band together to take it down. Cliques and groups don’t seem to matter so much; the whole year level is just brought together by this shared experience. The year is going to go so fast. If you can, try to just stop from time to time and let it all sink in. There’ll be so much going on – both good and bad. Try to just enjoy this challenging and rewarding year!

I’d like to leave you with this. Make the most of year 12. Know that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the marks you were hoping for. But don’t come out at the end thinking that you could’ve done more. Give it your all, remember the points above, and you’ll be satisfied in the fact that you couldn’t have done any better. Honestly, no matter how important your ATAR seems right now, it won’t matter at all once you get to uni. What really matters is knowing that you gave it all you could, and that you filled your year with fun memories alongside all that study. You won’t remember the hours in the library or those spent locked away in your room. You’ll remember chatting with your mates in the library during free period, or mucking around on the oval at lunchtime. Remember to make time for the important things!

THE VCE LIFESTYLE - How should you really approach VCE?

VCE LIFESTYLE

Having just completed VCE myself with a ATAR that I never thought was possible, I took a bit of time to think about what made me so successful and how I managed to really enjoy my learning, enjoy going to school everyday, whilst also managing to have some sort of positive and fun lifestyle outside of school. I debated, held a leadership position, played competitive sport year round and also went out with friends on weekends during the year.

More than anything, the most important thing I found was to not lose who you are, what defines you, what makes you stand out from everyone else outside the classroom. Whether it is music, sport, debating or partying it is ESSENTIAL to maintain a healthy balance between these aspects of your life and school. It is these outlets that create and instil a positive energy and framework for you to approach your studies with enthusiasm and rigour. I witness far too often students who are physically and emotionally weak because they do not embrace life rather the late nights curled up over a desk immediately create a perpetual sense of negativity and emotional turmoil. It is this mindset that causes students to loathe Year 12, to succumb to the pressure of exams and SACs, to fail to understand what the teacher is explaining as they dream about doing what they have given up for the year.

By no means am I condoning not studying hard and occasionally forgoing parties or other social commitments if you have an important SAC that week or are behind on your coursework; however it is vital that students are happy during their final year of schooling.  It should be a time of joy, memories and laughter - you shouldn’t want it to be anything else, no more, no less. With this attitude, you will achieve your personal best. Because it is the interaction with friends, the smiles, the adulation you receive by your team-mates after kicking a goal or taking a wicket that will truly define your memories of high school and inspire you to be the best you possibly can be (pardon the clichés).

Similarly, eating healthy, sleep (I always tried to go to bed by 11 at the latest) and exercise are all imperative to peak physical and emotional performance. Honestly, you are going to get nothing out of studying after 11pm. You are so tired after a long day that your brain will absorb very little. VCE is about consistency throughout the whole year, about maintaining high levels of higher order thinking at the right time not all the time. So relax, enjoy Year 12 for what it is…a journey. Make your lifelong friends, do what you love most and you will find yourself more motivated than ever before to study hard and study effectively to achieve your best.

Most importantly, be yourself. Find or make time to fit in your study around what you enjoy, not the other way around. It is not about giving up things, giving up your life, giving up on your dreams; VCE is about embracing a challenge, embracing new ideas, new friends and new avenues. With this in mind, try to approach your preliminary work with a mindset that it is not burden, rather it is merely something that will allow you to prosper and develop as a person, that will allow you to embark on a journey that will hopefully give you a balanced and positive life.

You can take this with a grain of salt but, hey, it worked for me and gave me an added thirst for learning and knowledge! 

Good Luck guys!

Why motivation is everything in Year 12

Ok, let’s be honest here. I’m not one to be easily motivated to do things. I’m what you call a part-time-verging-on-full-time procrastinator. Hell, if procrastinating was a career, I’d be rich by now!

But alas, there’s no time left in these last critical months of high school to sit back while you put even the smallest of tasks off because you can’t be stuffed. There’s always that one project, that one piece of writing, that one homework task that you just can’t bring yourself to sit down and do. That’s when you soon discover that you’ve got to find a teensy-tiny ounce of hope and drive in you to complete the unwanted task. Oh, what’s that called again? Ah yes!

M-O-T-I-V-A-T-I-O-N.

So how does one find that motivation to plough through lists of work, practice SACs and exam papers, and write yet another language analysis without going insane?

Well, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’ve always thought admirably of those top 99+ ATAR achievers in my school, the students that score 50s in each subject and the brightest kids in the state that appear on the front of newspapers come mid-December each year. It baffled me for so long that they appeared SO motivated to do all this work! How do they keep pushing themselves? How do they not lose confidence along the way? How do they stay focused for the entire Year 12? And I’ll let you in on a little secret… you can be one of them! Just find the motivation technique that empowers and energises YOU!

Motivation is SUCH a personal matter. It is 110% crucial if you plan on doing well for your final years of school, and once you discover what gets your engine roaring, it’s an invaluable tool you’ll need and keep for life.

Perhaps the most ‘obvious’ motivation for doing well in Year 12 is to get acceptance into your preferred University course, TAFE course, or other career or study pathway. But that’s not enough, in my humble opinion. Plenty of students start off Year 12 with such a great mind frame for the first few weeks or months, and then struggle to keep up the good work. You need to keep your goal as close to mind as possible. Don’t just have a 4-digit figure in the back of your mind or glued onto a pin board. Visualise what it looks like when you’re walking into your dream course, discovering your passion, meeting new people that feel as passionate about what they’re learning as you. Where will your dreams take you? Hold on to those images in your mind. They are pure gold.

If you feel like everything in Year 12 isn’t worth the stress and the effort, think of the holiday that greets you after finishing high school. For some, you might be trekking off overseas for 4 months or even spending a few days at Schoolies! Imagine where you could be in only a few months’ time. What will you be doing, where will you be relaxing, who will you be socialising with, how far will you be travelling? If you give your final year all you got, that break will feel even more rewarding.

Another technique I tried isn’t for everyone, and those that exercise it should do so with caution… but I motivated myself using the big fat F-word: FAILURE. I was emotionally invested in my subjects, so that if I felt that I wasn’t improving my scales, my oral comprehension, or my writing to the standard that I desired, then I would feel like I had failed my teachers. I respected them not only for their expertise, but for their faith and constant encouragement they showed for their students. A healthy dose of nerves and stress is okay, as it can spur you on even more to work harder, persevere and impress.

Year 12 is not a sprint, it is truly a marathon. The best part is, you’re almost there! But if you keep your eyes on the prize and let your friends, family and teachers hand you those water bottles and towels, you can take each part as it comes. It’s not going to be easy, but if you stick to a plan and give it all you’ve got with no regrets, reaching that finish line will be the best feeling in the world!

How to find the perfect tutor for YOU!

Majority of VCE students, yes you read it right, majority of your peers this year will hire tutors for extra assistance in their studies. It's perfectly understandable since VCE is only getting more and more competitive, and students are looking for that edge that will set them apart from others! If you are a student who is currently looking for that one ideal tutor in whatever subject it may be, then this guide is for you. You might be in the same situation as I was a few years ago, someone who has gone through so many tutors that you can't even keep count. And why is that? Probably because you simply weren't satisfied with them. And you know what?

If you're not 100% happy with your tutor, then don't settle!

Let me tell you now, there is definitely that perfect tutor who is: knowledgeable, passionate, highly regarded, and someone who strives to help you succeed in VCE! If you have found that ideal tutor who you're happy to call your tutor throughout VCE, and would be more than happy to refer them onwards to other students, then you know you've made a right choice. Having undergone years of tutoring (hey, I'm from a stereotypical asian family!) and being a tutor for many years myself, my experience has taught me that there are some important aspects you should consider when hiring a tutor:

1. Just because a tutor didn't get a study score of 50, don't overlook them.

A study score score shows you how much knowledge and skill a tutor has, but it certainly does not tell you whether or not they're a good teacher. And while there are definitely some tutors out there who are capable of having great scores and being great teachers, not surprisingly, many cannot. Learning something and teaching that same thing are two different stories. So next time you see a tutor who didn't score 48+, you should definitely give them a chance. Generally you'll find people tutoring if they have achieved a study score of 40 and upwards, which will give you a good mix of tutors with reasonably high skills.

2. Tuition class structure. 

Next, you need to consider whether the tutor's teaching method matches well with your preferred way of learning. There are tuition schools which often follow a strict syllabus structure week by week. Other tutors are more flexible with a let's-focus-on-what-you-need-help-in during their weekly classes. Some do a combination of both. Structured tuition is generally good if you like to get ahead and run through the details of the course before you do it in class (though with VCE English it's a bit awkward since every school schedules the syllabus differently), but flexible tuition is also great since you can ask your tutor to focus on a particular topic every week, perhaps something you're studying at school or an area that you would like to strengthen. The other big factor is whether or not you want a tutor who instructs you to do homework. This can be motivating for some, but for many, it impacts on their studying pressures as they have to study for SACs and complete many other assignments simultaneously.

3. Assistance inside and outside of classes.

To put it plainly, tutoring is a highly paid job, which means that some people are only in it for the money. You want to find a tutor who will be more than happy to go that extra mile to ensure that you can benefit as much as possible from their tutoring. Are they willing to help you outside of class sessions through email or text messages? Are they happy to organise extra tutoring sessions if you need? Will they do extra work on the side so they can be adequately prepared for your next session? This year I taught an EAL student who particularly struggled with certain grammar and sentence structures. Since I had less experience in teaching EAL, I spent my own private time figuring out the best way to teach him how to overcome these challenges. Try to find a tutor who isn't just in the business for the money, but puts you, the student as their first priority.

4. Cost $$$.

Let's be honest. How much you will pay a tutor is also a major consideration. Generally, the higher the price, the more credentials that tutor has. Many VCE teachers are going for $90+ an hour, and that value is increasing! Tutors who have a few years under their belt, were high achievers in that subject, and can also boast many success stories from their students may range from $40-60 dollars. Often the tutors offering as low as $25 per hour are freshly graduated and looking to step into the field. Keep in mind that if some tutors seem a little too out of budget for you but you're definitely keen on being tutored by them, ask if they do group tutoring and find one or two friends who would also be interested on getting extra help. Whatever the price may be, at the end of the day, as long as you're happy and that money has been well spent, then everyone will be happy!

5. 'Freshness'. 

'Freshness' is basically my way of asking, how up-to-date is the tutor with the current syllabus? Some tutors only teach what they studied in school, continue to use the same resources and provide the same advice year after year. It's a good idea to seek a tutor who actively aims to upgrade their knowledge and resources each year. This shows how staying relevant is important to them, and demonstrates that their ability to cater to their students' needs is a priority. However, it is important to keep in mind that just because a tutor is 10 years out of school, doesn't mean that they're not up-to-date. This goes both ways - a tutor who is 2 years out of school may seem current because they've only just graduated, yet if they haven't spent the time to learn the new syllabus changes, then that speaks for itself!

6. Personality.

Tutors with personality are always a big bonus. Tutor personality plays a major role in how effectively they communicate with you, as the student. Have you noticed how some of your favourite teachers are probably your favourite because of their great personality and how they use that to teach? By making class fun, it helps to stimulate your interest and encourages your curiosity to learn. So you can see how a tutor who is enthusiastic and passionate in their teaching will make you want to be a better student too!

7. Plagiarism.

Under no circumstances should you hire a tutor to do your homework for you! Nor should that tutor offer to write you an essay in return for compensation. In Year 11 Literature, my tutor told me she would write an essay for me, which I understood as writing an essay then showing it to me the week after. What I didn't realise was that the next week, she presented me with the essay, and told me I had to pay for it. Because I was quite shy, I didn't say anything and took her essay. But I didn't feel right using her work and after that, I stopped attending her sessions because I felt too uncomfortable. A good tutor is well aware of their part in helping you with your studies. They know that the best way for you to improve is to support you, not encourage you to copy their work. Remember that in the end, when you're sitting in that SAC or exam hall, you only have yourself to rely on. In the end, I did show my Literature teacher both copies, my own and my tutor's (I did explain to her that the second essay was not my own), and asked her if she could grade both. How ironic, because my essay had actually scored a higher mark than my tutor's!

8. Credentials.

The best form of credentials for any tutor is word-of-mouth. Hearing that a tutor is good at what they do from others is always a sure sign that you're choosing somebody right. If you are recommended somebody, then they're probably worth looking into. If you are feeling out of the loop, start asking family and friends if they know anybody they could recommend you. Another form of credentials is a tutor's success stories. As a tutor, I often boast my own teaching successes rather than my own study score. I achieved 45 in my English studies and while tutoring over the past 6 years, I've actually facilitated several students to gain higher marks than myself! Now that I'm proud of!

Most importantly, don't settle. If there's something you're unhappy about your tutor, firstly speak to your tutor about it. Your tutor is there to help you and if they're not interested in adapting to how you'd like to learn, then perhaps they're not the tutor for you. There are so many different tutors out there, with so many different approaches to tutoring that you're bound to find the right person!

QnA with English high achievers

We'd all love to hear and learn from those who have been our VCE shoes before, especially when you've cut out some hours of your sleep to study, or had your head stuck in your books for over 3 hours at a time - getting some real advice would give you that buzz of inspiration and motivation right?! Well, that's exactly what we've done for you in our latest YouTube video release. Enjoy this interview with three of VCE Study Guides' brightest tutors - you can get to know them better, and also hear the advice they have for you, from regrets to study techniques. Some of your budding questions may be answered as they were asked typical questions students usually have for past high achievers!

 
Watch QnA with English high achievers below:
Our VCE Study Guides English Tutors

Lyn Nguyen graduated in 2015 with an English study score of 46, with an ATAR of 97.95. She is currently studying Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Commerce at Monash University.

Jarrod McAleese graduated in 2014 with an English study score of 49, with an ATAR of 90.80. He is currently studying Bachelor of Journalism at RMIT.

Isabelle Gao graduated in 2014 with an English study score of 47, with an ATAR of 99.60. She is currently studying Bachelor of Commerce at RMIT.

If you are interested in tutoring with us, you are welcome to discover more on our tutoring mantra here. Gone are the days where you would sit down with an outdated tutor for a bland hour of tutoring. At VCE Study Guides, we take pride in our innovative and interactive teaching approach. We possess the unique skill of transforming VCE tutoring into an engaging and fun learning space (as strange and incomprehensible as it may seem!) with a great vibe so that even our students feel excited and keen to learn! 

“Nobody’s perfect, I gotta work it” - Miley Cyrus

To be honest, my entire Year 12 felt like a longwinded mass of trial and error. One week I ate hot chips for lunch for five days in a row. Once I spent a free double period watching ‘1 HOUR of AMAZING HQ SPACE VIDEO’ (twice over) on one YouTube tab, while ‘2-Hours Epic Music Mix’ played in the background. Crying for no apparent reason became somewhat of a hobby. I would be lying if I said I was some extremely disciplined, studious pupil who wrote my ATAR goal above my desk or slept with it under my pillow. However, despite the constant feelings that I wasn’t doing enough, that I had no self-control in making myself study, and that at any point I could completely burn out and betray my high expectations, I managed to score better than I ever let myself imagine.

I wish I could give you a step-by-step, foolproof guide on how to achieve ‘ATAR goals’, but if I could, I’d probably just use it to get rich. What I can do, is tell you how I coped when the pressure and the ambition and the sheer magnitude of the content you need to know, becomes too much.

  1. Expectations are probably not reality

Like many who are facing Year 12, the summer before I started, I was absolutely terrified. Images of long nights glued to my desk filled me with dread, and I looked at the extensive content of my subjects with great fear. With the high ATAR hopes that a lot of you have, I expected a lot from myself, that I didn’t exactly achieve.

Expectation: Exercise Regularly

Reality: Went on two runs throughout the year and got puffed after 500 metres, both times.

Expectation: Watch less TV

Reality: Six seasons of Gossip Girl, three seasons of Orange is the New Black, five seasons of Parks and Recreations, and a billion episodes of the Simpsons.

Expectation: Study constantly: after school and weekends.

Reality: Admittedly, I spent a lot of time studying, but I also spent a lot of time drinking coffee with friends and sleeping until 1pm.

Ultimately I had to learn that extreme self-pressure would not do any good, and setting impossible goals would only lead to guilt and the feeling of failure. Remember that you aren’t going to meet every goal, or be constantly successful, but one promise you should really keep is to be kind to yourself, even when you don’t meet the mark.

  1. ‘Heck no Fridays’

Sick of the constant feeling of guilt when I spent long periods of time binge watching Netflix instead of studying for an upcoming English SAC, I decided I needed to create a real, carefree, lengthy break that I could depend on each week. And so I decided that I would no longer study on Saturdays. The name is not imperative, but I’m a sucker for alliteration ;).

It’s a bold move to cut that much time out of your study timetable, but after a week of classes and afternoon spent at the desk, it can be necessary. Having a routine afternoon where I knew I couldn’t study at all meant that I didn’t feel guilty about it, and thus could truly rest.

  1. Study outside the box

Two nights before my Literature exam you could find me sitting at my local cafe with my best mate drinking coffee and playing charades. Before Year 12, the idea of doing that would have seemed like I was giving up, like I wasn’t putting in the effort and that I should be studiously writing practice essay upon practice essay.

However, at a certain point, it doesn’t help just repeating your usual study techniques, or repeatedly doing practice exams. One of the best ways to retain information, and better understand concepts, is to learn them in an interesting way. Therefore, playing silly games based off our Literature texts was both enjoyable, and super helpful for the exam.

  1. Five minutes… just five minutes.

Throughout the year there’ll almost definitely be days when you come home from school and stare at your desk like you’d rather sit anywhere else in the world. There’ll be moments where you stare at a blank page for twenty minutes having lost all control of the English language. There’ll be free periods when the idea of doing a practice SAC is so repulsive that you reconsider all future goals and ambitions. When you feel like you can’t study, but you’re in a moment where you really, really have to (five SACS in one week), try the five minute trick.

Say you are trying to write a practice English essay, but you are completely blank. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes. In that five minutes, force yourself to write anything. Even if you don’t use grammar, even if you make no sense, even if your sentences aren’t real sentences, just write whatever you can about the topic. Generally, when the five minutes are up, you have either though of enough ideas and have gained enough motivation to keep going, or can at least say you did five minutes.

There’s no be-all, end-all, Year 12 advice, but I think many would agree that the best thing you can do is stay positive, and try and see the funny side of all the screw ups and let downs that are bound to happen, while appreciating yourself for all that you will achieve.

VCE Literature Close Analysis: Introduction

VCE Literature Close analysis

The 2015 Unit 3/4 Literature exam is just under 70 days away and it is at this point that students should be practicing VCE Literature Close Analysis essays and working to improve their writing. One of the most prominent questions I receive from students is this: “do I need to write an introduction?”. This is usually followed with “how do I write an introduction?”. Firstly, yes, I believe all students should be writing introductions as they are an excellent way to showcase your ability to provide an insight into your personal “reading” of the text, interpret the passages and allow you an avenue through which to begin your discussion of the material. In this guide, I will be explaining two of the key elements to be utilised to create a strong introduction.

When constructing introductions, it is important to note that the VCAA Literature Exam Criteria is as follows:

  • understanding of the text demonstrated in a relevant and plausible interpretation
  • ability to write expressively and coherently to present an interpretation
  • understanding of how views and values may be suggested in the text
  • analysis of how key passages and/or moments in the text contribute to an interpretation
  • analysis of the features of a text and how they contribute to an interpretation
  • analysis and close reading of textual details to support a coherent and detailed interpretation of the text

Considering these points, your introduction should feature these 2 elements: your personal reading of the text and your interpretation of the passages.

Your personal reading is simply your perception of the text. Though the key facets of the text such as the plot and the characters are generally viewed by the majority in a similar fashion, each student will have their own opinions of the text. This can range from resonating with particular scenes or placing a greater emphasis on a certain concept or relationship.

Your interpretation of the passages is the way in which you view the excerpts given to you. Akin to your personal reading, the core aspects of the passages will likely be viewed similarly by most students, however your point of difference will come from how you perceive the passages suggest views and values and how features and moments contribute to an interpretation (factors coming from the criteria).

In terms of structure, try to begin with a sentence or two explaining your personal reading of the text. The key to doing so in a manner befitting Close Analysis however, is to utilise quotes from the passages to supplement your assertion.

Here is a sample written about George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” contrasts the absence of morality in the titled upper class of 19th century England who dehumanise common citizens as “pebbles on the beach” and the under privileged but morally conscious lower class, “intimidated” by the socio-economic chasm, but living with “middle class morality”.

This highlights my personal reading of Pygmalion as a whole, supported by quotes from the passages I was provided.

To build on this, proceed by writing a sentence or two that demonstrates your interpretation of the passages and how they discuss views and values and create meaning.

Though Shaw implies that one can ascend the ranks through Doolittle’s “lecturing them blue in the face” and Eliza’s gradual self-actualisation, ultimately Shaw quashes any prospect of one permanently invading the upper class by deploying the repetitive “I will” catchphrase throughout Eliza’s ventures. The indefatigable delivery ironically conveys the notion that in spite of Eliza’s effort, she “won’t” achieve.

In these sentences I have commented briefly on the events within the passages and utilised them to exemplify how they are utilised to delve into views and values and create meaning in the overall context of the text. These factors encompass my interpretation of the passages.

Introductions which contain these two key features will score well as they directly target numerous parts of the assessment criteria. This allows students to explicitly outline their overall reading of the text in a style which will efficiently show off your writing skills.

VCE Literature essay approaches - not a language analysis

The big trap students doing both English and Literature fall into is the habit of writing Close Readings like a Language Analysis essay. In essence, the two of these essays must tick the same boxes. But, here’s why analysing texts in Literature is a whole different ball game – in English, you want to be focusing on the methods that the author utilises to get their message across, whereas Literature is all about finding your own message in the writing.

In a Language Analysis essay, the chances are that most students will interpret the contention of the writer in a similar fashion and that will usually be stated in the introduction of the essay. Whereas in Literature, it is the formulation of your interpretation of the author’s message that is what really counts. In a typical Language Analysis essay, the introduction is almost like a summary of what’s going to be talked about in the next few paragraphs whereas in a close reading, it is the fresh ideas beyond the introduction that the markers are interested in.

For this reason, every Close Reading that you do in Literature will be unique. The overarching themes of the text you are writing from may be recurring, but for every passage from the text that you are given, what you derive from that will be specific to it.

From my experience, this is what stumps a lot of students because of the tendency is to pick up on the first few poetic techniques used in the passages and create the basis for the essay from that. This usually means that the student will pick up on alliteration (or another technique that they find easy to identify) used by the author and then try and match it to an idea that they have discussed in class. Whilst this can be an effective way to structure paragraphs, many students aren’t consciously utilising this approach and instead are doing it ‘by accident’ under time pressure, or a lack of understanding of other ways to get a point across.

In general, there are two main approaches that can be followed for body paragraphs in a literature close reading analysis:

1. Start wide and narrow down.

What does this mean? So, as I mentioned before, each of your close readings should be very specific to the passages in front of you and not rehearsed. However, it’s inevitable that you are going to find some ideas coming back more often. So, after reading through the passage, you will usually get a general understanding of the tone that the author has utilised. This will indicate whether the author is criticising or commending a certain character or social idea. Using this general overview to start your paragraph, you can then move closer and closer into the passage until you have developed your general statement into a very unique and clear opinion of the author’s message (with the support of textual evidence of course).

This is the essay approach that is generally preferred by students but is often used poorly, as without practice and under the pressure of writing essays in exam conditions, many students revert back to the old technique of finding a literary device that they are comfortable with and pushing forth with that.

The good thing about this approach is that when you understand the general themes that the author covers, you will become better and better at using that lens to identify the most impactful parts of the passage to unpack as you scrutinise the subtle nuances of the writer’s tone.

2. Start narrow and go wide.

You guessed it - it’s basically the opposite of the approach above. However, this is a more refined way of setting out your exploration of the author’s message as opposed to what was discussed earlier (finding random literary devices and trying to go from there). Using this approach does not mean that you have no direction of where your paragraph might end, it just means that you think the subtle ideas of the author can be used in culmination to prove their wider opinion. For example, if you get a passage where the author describes a character in great detail (Charlotte Brontë students, you might be familiar!) and you think there is a lot of underlying hints that the author is getting at through such an intricate use of words, then you might want to begin your paragraphs with these examples and then move wider to state how this affects the total persona built around this character and then maybe even a step further to describe how the writer’s attitude towards this character is actually a representation of how they feel towards the social ideas that the character represents.

The benefit of this approach is that if you are a student that finds that when you try and specify on a couple of key points within a large theme, you end up getting muddled up with the potential number of avenues you could be writing about, this style gives a bit of direction to your writing. This approach is also helpful when you are trying to link your broader themes together.

The main thing to remember in the structure of your body paragraphs – the link between your examples and the broader themes that you bring up should be very much evident to the marker. They should not have to work to find the link between the examples you are bringing up and the points that you are making. Remember, a Close Reading is all about the passage that is right in front of you and its relation in the context of the whole text and the writer’s message. Be clear about your opinion, it matters!

Happy writing!

Aashritha graduated in 2014 with an outstanding study score of 49 in English and 39 in Literature. She obtained an ATAR of 98.60 and is currently studying double degree Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Arts at Monash University. VCE Study Guides is proud to have her as a tutor available for VCE English and Literature tuition. If you are interested in tutoring with Aashritha, please contact us here.

VCE Literature Close Analysis – stand out from the crowd

To the Lit kids out there, you already know that VCE Literature is a whole different ball game – You’re part of a small cohort, competing against some of the best English students in the state and spots in the 40+ range are fairly limited. So how can you ensure that it’s your essay catches the assessor’s eye? Here are some tips which will hopefully give you an edge. 

  1. Constantly refer back to the language of the passages

Embed quotes from the passages into both your introduction and conclusion and of course, throughout the essay. Don’t leave any room for doubt that you are writing on the passages right in front of you rather than regurgitating a memorized essay. A good essay evokes the language of the passages so well that the examiner should barely need to refer back to the passages.

Here’s part of a sample conclusion to illustrate what I mean:

 In comparison to Caesar, who sees lands, the “’stablishment of Egypt,” as the epitome of all triumphs, the lovers see such gains, “realms and islands,” as “plates dropp’d from his pocket.” It is dispensable and transient like cheap coins, mere “dungy earth” and “kingdoms of clay.” This grand world of heroic virtue is set in the past tense, where the lover once “bestrid the ocean,” once “crested the world,” but it is the world which will arguably endure in our hearts.

So, you can see that analysis of the language does not stop even in the conclusion and yet it still ties into the overall interpretation of the text that I have presented throughout the essay.

  1. If appropriate, include quotes from the author of the text

A good way to incorporate views and values of the author in your writing is to quote things they have said themselves. This may work better for some texts than others but if you find a particularly poetic quote that ties in well with the interpretation you are presenting, then make sure to slip it in. It shows that you know your stuff and is an impressive way to show off your knowledge of the author’s views and values.

Here’s a sample from an introduction on Adrienne Rich poetry which includes a quote from her essay, “When We Dead Awaken.”

Adrienne Rich’s poetry is the process of discovering a “new psychic geography” (When We Dead Awaken) with a language that is “refuse[d], ben[t] and torque[d]” not to subjugate but as an instrument for “connection rather than apartheid.”

  1. Memorise quotes throughout the text

Yes, there are passages right in front of you, but don’t fall into the trap of not memorizing significant quotes from the text as a whole. Dropping a relevant quote in from another section of the text demonstrates that you understand the text as a whole.

The originality of your ideas and the quality of your writing come first and foremost, but these are little ways in which you can add a little extra something to your essay.

Adaptations and Transformations Lit SAC: a how to guide

Imagine a friend tells you eerie accounts of her witnessing a ghostly presence in her home. You scoff and condescendingly humour her. But as her stories begin to manifest itself in her gaunt appearance, you alarmingly notice how she truly believes in the apparitions she recounts. You begin to doubt her sanity, you begin to doubt the certainty with which you dismissed her supernatural visions and now, you begin to doubt yourself. THE SUSPENSE BUILDS.

But let’s say this friend filmed the ghostly apparitions and showed them to you. Sure – the evidence of this ghost is frighteningly scary. But the suspense that was built in the doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity of your friend’s tale is now lost. The ghosts caught in film acts as another eyewitness and another medium to validate your friend’s narrative. Your friend is no longer the only person who sees these ghosts, shattering all doubt within you of the ghost’s existence. THE SUSPENSE – is gone.

Notice how the form and genre of the spoken word in the first example was meaningful in its the effect on the reader? But when the form changed to a film, the meaningful suspense and ambiguity that was unique and crucial in the original text, changed, and was no longer as pronounced. Yes – the film itself may be terrifying. But the very doubt and suspense around not knowing if your friend was a lunatic for seeing ghosts or if she was telling the truth all contributes to the meaning derived from the form of the ‘text’ in an unreliable first person narrative. This is the crux of adaptations and transformations, and what you need to identify and analyse – how the meaning is changed/altered when the form of the text is changed.

Here are 7 lucky tips for how to tackle the SAC:

  1. Identify the unique conventions in the construction of the original text – characterisation, genre, tone, style, structure, point of view/narration (or any devices employed in constructing the text e.g. cinematic devices in a film such as camera angles, framing, lighting, costumes, interior/exterior settings, sound)
  2. Now do step 1 with the adapted/transformed text
  3. How do the two text forms differ? How are they the same? However, be sure you do not simply compare and contrast. The most crucial step is what meaning can be derived from the similarities and differences? How does the meaning change?
  4. Note additions and omissions (and even silences) – do they change how readers/viewers perceive the narrative and alter your opinions and perceptions of the text?
  5. Historical context and setting – what significance does the context have on the narrative? Has the adaptation/transformation been re-contextualised? Does that alter the meaning of the original text?
  6. How does the change in form impact you as the reader/viewer? Analyse your own reactions and feelings towards each text form. Do you sympathise with a character more in the original text? How are we positioned to feel this way? Why do you lack the same level of sympathy for the adapted/transformed text?
  7. Incorporate pertinent quotations from both forms of text to substantiate and support your ideas and key points.

Final questions to ponder

Most importantly is to share your original interpretation of what meaning and significance you can extract from the text, and how you believe it changes once the form alters.

What makes the text in its original form interesting or unique?

Is that quality captured in its adaptation/transformation?

As always with Literature, this task is designed for you to critically analyse and actively engage with the text, understanding its nuances inside and out in order to decipher its meaning. Be individual in comparing and contrasting the two texts – avoid the obvious similarities/differences everyone in your class will also notice. It is the insightful analysis of the subtleties of how meaning is altered that will help you stand out!

The importance of context in Literature!

Literature is probably one of your hardest VCE subjects. If it’s not, then go you! (please tell me your secrets).

However, if you’re anything like me, then you probably look a bit like this when you begin considering the overall meaning of a text, the author’s views and values, and how any three passages in the text create the meaning.

via GIPHY

When I became awash with confusion, like our old pal Ryan Gosling, the first thing I did (after eating a whole block of chocolate), was ensure I understood the context of the text. Without a clear understanding of the context of your text, you cannot fully comprehend the views and values of the author, nor the overall meaning of a text (it’s also part of the criteria for literary perspectives)!

So if you want to be feeling like this after you write a piece for literature:

Consider the following:

AUTHOR’S CONTEXT VS. READER’S CONTEXT 

Austen was hunched over her small writing desk in the village of Chawton during England’s Georgian era as she wrote Persuasion. You are more likely reading it in a cozy bed, listening to Taylor Swift and half considering what you’re going to watch on Netflix later. Remember, your current social and cultural context can have a great influence on how you read a text, so it’s always important to imagine the author’s own context – whether this be very similar, or very different from the context of their text. It’s as easy as a Google search!

SOCIAL CONTEXT

The social context of a text is the way in which the features of the society it is set in impact on its meaning. There are two aspects to social context: the kind of society in which the characters live, and the one in which the author’s text was produced.

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre was set in the same social context she herself lived in. It was one in which women were seen as the lesser sex, there was a great divide between the wealthy and lower class, and strict class boundaries were enforced. All of these societal features are key in determining Brontë’s views on the importance of social inclusion, and her championing of the strength of women. Or just listen to Phoebe:

HISTORICAL CONTEXTS

The historical context of a text is entangled with its social context, as underlying norms and convention are historically specific. The historical context is important to note especially when large changes have occurred between the time the work was produced, and our current day, so it is not assessed by our own concerns alone.

Aeschylus’ Agamemnon was first performed in 458BC, in Ancient Greece, a time vastly different from our own. Therefore, it is important to be aware of how the play was delivered, at the festival of Dionysus as part of a trilogy. Also have an understanding of the myths surrounding the Trojan War as well as those surrounding Agamemnon, Cassandra and Clytemnestra.

CULTURAL CONTEXTS

Culture refers to a particular ‘way of life’, involving religion, race and nationality, as well as things like food, dress code and manners. Furthermore, culture can relate to art, music, writing and literature itself. Cultural context, which is similarly linked with social, historical and ideological context, is especially important to note if the author is attempting to make a comment on an aspect of culture, or the clash of two cultures.

Cross cultural contact between an Indigenous tribe in Western Australia, and the British colonizers of this land, is explored by Kim Scott in his novel That Deadman Dance. He reveals aspects of culture largely unknown to current members of Australian society, as well as explores whether assimilation can be seen as a harmonious sign of friendship, or an intrusive loss of culture. The evolution, damage and protection of culture is an important context in this novel, and has a large bearing on the overall meaning of the text, as well as Scott’s views and values.

IDEOLOGICAL CONTEXTS

Ideology refers to the systems of beliefs and ideas that underpin our attitudes and behavior. Such ideology may be valued by society as a whole, or be the basis of conflict. Ideology is a context that is in many ways ‘invisible’. This is because our own is largely internalized and normalized, we act accordingly to our assumptions and social norms.

Many texts explore ideological context, either challenging or championing it. In his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee challenged perceptions at the time of the family unit, portraying a couple that symbolizes the immense dissatisfaction caused by idealistic portrayals of marriage, and the fallacies of the American Dream. He illuminates how George and Martha escape from meaningless by creating fantasies and illusions, but how these eventually lead to the breakdown of their mental health.

So next time you’re struggling to get started on a literature piece, remember to think deeply about the different aspects of your text’s context!

How to study for literature when you really don’t feel like studying for literature

Let's all be honest here, Year 12 is endlessly tiring. Literature, for all its greatness, can also be endlessly tiring. Along with 3-4 other subjects, sometimes the idea of writing a practice piece, deeply analyzing the language of your text, or doing research into the context, views and values of the author are things you really, really don’t feel like doing.

Although these things are necessary and important, they’re also often difficult, taxing, and possibly not that interesting. Not too long before the Literature exam, my friend and I were texting, both feeling immense stress and guilt because we felt we hadn’t studied enough for the exam, but equally tired and unable to write any practice pieces. I’m sure many of you are very familiar with the paradox of not spending time studying because you are instead spending that time worrying about not studying.

However, there’s really no need to suddenly feel full of stress and anxiety when you have no motivation to do such work for Literature, that’s just wasted energy! Instead, accept that you’re going to have a little break from the serious stuff, and use that energy instead to improve your understanding and knowledge of your text (part of the exam criteria!!).

My friend and I decided we’d meet for coffee, and try and just discuss our exam texts together (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Dark Roots).

‘Bring paper and the books’ she texted me ‘I’ve got an idea’. And that idea was...

VCE Literature Charades

How to play:1. Find a friend2. Think a concept, character, quote, theme, literary device or anything really from one of your texts3. Forget about your dignity4. Act it out until your friend guesses5. Swap and repeat.And once people started to stare as we theatrically mimed things like ‘metaphor’ and ‘the albatross’ we decided to tone it down a little bit, leading to the invention of...

VCE Literature Pictionary

How to play:1. Find a friend2. Think of a concept, character, quote, theme, literary device (you get the idea)3. Keep your dignity intact!4. Start drawing the idea until your friend eventually guesses (warning: could lead to many failed attempts at drawing ‘foreshadowing’)5. Swap and repeat.

So I know this seems ridiculous but I swear, without even realizing it you’re getting to know your text so much better. There’ll be that moment in the exam room when all you’re thinking is ‘what on earth is that quote’, and suddenly you’ll remember how you’re friend fell off her chair trying to mime it. Either way, it’s a much more valuable use of time than worrying about not studying, especially because you’ll spend most of the time laughing.

If you’re alone, and you really don’t feel like studying for literature, but you still kind of have to study for literature… don’t despair! Find a place in your house where you wont be disturbed (or disturb anyone) and pretend you’re running an information session on your text. I used to record endless minutes of myself rambling about all different facets of my text, with no comprehensible structure, just trying to say and explain everything I knew about it. I would delete them almost straight away, but trust me, taking on the role of a teacher can be very fun, and when no ones watching, you can really just go for it. Things are much more likely to stay in your memory when you’ve explained them aloud, so you’ll be super prepared for your SACS!

Of course, it is beyond important to make sure you write as many practice pieces as you think you need to, and to work on tasks that may at times be ‘boring’, but if you want to avoid burning out try making studying a little fun!

Score 10/10 on the reflective commentary

It’s getting closer to the Literature exam and you’re probably starting to get more serious about avoiding dropping too many SAC marks! Depending on which order your school does Literature SACs in, you may be currently facing the often feared ‘Creative Response’. Whether you feel beyond excited to finally bring some creative flair to Literature, or you’re totally scared at the thought of creating something new, I wanted to use this blog post to help you achieve at least ten of the marks in this section. That is through the reflective commentary, which you can totally score full marks on if you put in the effort.

The VCAA Literature Study Design determines that students must submit ‘a reflective commentary establishing connections with the original text’. This aspect of the assessment counts for 10 of the 60 marks available for the Creative Response outcome. The study design further denotes that students must

‘reflect critically upon their own responses as they relate to the text, and discuss the purpose context of their creations’.

This allows your schools and teachers to direct in a relatively broad way on how you should form your reflective commentary, and may mean your friends at other schools write theirs in a very different way. In this blog post I will leave you with a suggestion of how I best believe a reflective commentary could be structured to include all important aspects, as well as tips on how to include all of what the study design asks. As I said, these are ten marks that can easily be snatched with just a little bit of hard work and attention to detail, so why not snatch them?

To induce the things needed to be included in the reflective commentary, we can look to the key knowledge and key skills points outlined in the study design:

Key knowledge:

-the point of view, context and form of the original text-the ways the central ideas of the original text are represented-the features of the original text including ideas, images characters and situations, and the language in which these are expressed-techniques used to create, recreate or adapt a text and how they represent particular concerns or attitudes.

Key skills:

-identify elements of construction, context, point of view and form particular to the text, and apply understanding of these in a creative response-choose stylistically appropriate features including characterisation, setting, narrative, tone and style-critically reflect on how language choices and literary features from the original text are used in the adaptation

What you’re really trying to do in your reflective commentary is prove to your teacher that you are hitting all these key knowledge and key skills points. As you write, ensure you are discussing how the author uses point of view, context, form, elements of construction and stylistic features in their text. It is than imperative that you describe how you have similarly used such device in your creative response. Ensure that you also discuss how you are involving the ideas and themes of the text in your creative piece, and how you are discussing them further, or exploring them in greater depth. Obviously only talk about those that are relevant to your creative response!

Sample reflective commentary

Having scored a 10/10 in my own reflective commentary, I will provide a structure that can be used to ensure you are including everything you need. I discussed my own reactions to the original text, and described how I wanted to rouse similar reactions in the reader of my creative response.

In your reflective commentary, it can be easier to put everything under subheadings. These are the ones that I used:

-Purpose-Title-Setting-Characterisation-Structure-Narration-Literary features (here I chose 7 particular literary features used in my text and discussed how I emulated them)-Motifs

Under each of these paragraphs, I analysed how the author used such features to create and convey meaning, and discussed how I, in my own piece, drew on her use of them and expanded on her ideas. Here is an example of my ‘Purpose’ paragraph, which will hopefully give you an idea on how you might write your own commentary! My text was Cate Kennedy’s Dark Roots, in particular the short story ‘What Thou and I Did, Till we Loved’.

Purpose

In my piece, I ultimately attempted to lead the reader to a place of discomfort, faced with a situation that they wish never to be faced with. When I first read What Thou and I Did, Till we Loved (Dark Roots, Cate Kennedy), I simply wished never to be in Rebecca’s position, as I was sobered by the sadness of her demise as she watched her lover fade away. I sought to elicit the same response from the reader, as I aimed to convey the deterioration that both lovers suffer, as well as the loss of communication between them. I also attempted to allow the reader to question the humanity in keep people alive by machines and drugs, and whether it is fair to force people to live an unnatural life. I have sought to explore this even further than What Thou and I Did, Till we Loved bringing in the question of euthanasia and whether we have a right to die as Kyle begs of Max to “kill me” at the end of the piece, and Max concedes that “[he] would if [he] could”. The themes of my piece seeks to explore are the ways of coping with grief, guilt at causing the illness of a loved one, a life with a lack of substance, and the loss of communication due to illness.

Hopefully you’re feeling better about how you might go about completing your creative response, and getting that 10/10 on your reflective commentary!

Breaking down the VCE Literature exam criteria

Once you have finished all your Literature SACs for the year, all that is left is a 2 hour and 15 minute exam that will play a major part in determining your end of year study score. It seems extremely daunting, and because many of the SACs differ from the exam task, you may be feeling a bit nervous or confused about what exactly the exam entails.

In describing the task, the exam paper states:

For each of your selected texts, you must use one or more of the passages as the basis for a discussion of that text.

In your pieces of writing, refer in detail to the passage or passages and the texts. You may include minor references to other texts.

Therefore, you must write two close analysis pieces on the exam, one on each of your chosen texts. You must use the three passages included on the exam to explore and analyse the text as a whole. Most of your piece should be analysis of what is in front of you in the exam, but you must also use evidence from outside the passages, to demonstrate your knowledge and connection with the text.

The exam will be marked against a criterion that differs from any of your SACs (although it is quite similar to your close analysis SAC). Therefore it is imperative to understand the criteria you will be marked on before beginning to study for the Literature exam, and especially before you try some practice exams. They are as follows, and can be found on the VCAA Literature exam page.

Understanding of the text demonstrated in a relevant and plausible interpretation

This criteria relates to your ability to show your comprehension of the text. The examiner will be noting whether the concepts, ideas and themes in the text are understood. They will assess your interpretation of the text, and whether it is relevant and fair in relation to the meaning in the text

Ability to write expressively and coherently to present an interpretation

Literature is a writing subject, therefore this criteria asks that you write with fluency, an expressive vocabulary and clarity. Your piece must also be a coherent, unified work that clearly articulates your discussion and interpretation of the passages and text as a whole. This criteria can also relate to your use of grammar, punctuation and spelling as the clarity of your piece can be threatened if these are not used correctly.

Understanding of how views and values may be suggested in the text

You must demonstrate an ability to identify, discuss and analyze the views and values within the text. You must be able to support your discussion with evidence from the text

Analysis of how key passages and/or moments in the text contribute to an interpretation

Your ability to analyse the three passages, as well as the text as a whole, and draw an interpretation from them. Examiners will be looking to see that you can use set material and the whole text as a basis for discussion. 

Analysis of the features of a text and how they contribute to an interpretation

This criteria determines that you must identify factors including metalanguage, specific language and authorial techniques, and discuss how they create meaning. Remember that this is literature, so discussing the different elements used to construct a text (character, plot, setting, motifs, symbols” is imperative.

Analysis and close reading of textual details to support a coherent and detailed interpretation of the text

This criteria determines that you need to use evidence from the text (including quotes) in order to aid a logical and comprehensive interpretation of the text. Examiners will be looking at your ability to look deeply into smaller authorial choices, and how they create meaning.

Best of luck!

Last Minute Study for the Literature Exam

So there’s approximately a month to go before the Literature exam. Nervous? Confident? Over it?! You might be thinking that they best way to study up until the exam is to just churn out essays after essays after essays. This is a common misconception, and may even hurt your chances for the exam. You want your essays to be ‘fresh’ with original insight, not stale pieces that sound like you’ve written this a hundred times and you’re getting bored. Here are a few tips on how to study for the exam while still keeping your mind activated about Literature!

Critique critical commentary

Google critical commentary on your text. You might pick up a new insight or perspective that you’ve never thought of. These can help you inform your own original and individual interpretation of the text. It is important to note that while reading critical commentary is incredibly useful in providing ‘clever’ interpretations, examiners are really looking for your own interpretation – not a regurgitated version of other people’s analyses. Rather than passively reading critical commentary, critique it yourself! Acknowledge and file away its good points, but also form your own stance with whether you agree or disagree with that point of view. Ask yourself why that is your perspective. Developing this critical analysis skill is extremely valuable, and will put you in the mindset for the exam to provide your own original interpretation that pushes the boundaries and the envelope.

Choose random passages and annotate

Close your eyes and pick a random a couple of passages from your text. Photocopy them, print them, however you like, but the most important thing is to spend time annotating them in as much detail as possible. Focus on analysing the language for how the author constructs the text to create meaning. Note sentences that can link to the wider text. This really forces you to analyse the most random passage in the text in extreme detail, which you might have skipped over in class or in your own reading, because it might not have seemed important at the time. Who knows, the exam could throw in a surprise passage that students might not have thought to study in great detail, and you have because you’ve been analysing passages at random – not just the major key events!

Examiner reports and word bank

Look through VCAA examiner reports for sample excerpts from high scoring responses. Highlight words and phrases that sound ‘good’ – and adapt them to use yourself! There’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration (stealing) from the examiner reports essays… after all they’re there for you to learn from. Key: you’re drawing inspiration from words, not ideas or sentences – otherwise that’s just plagiarism and won’t help at all. Create a word bank of vocabulary that suit your texts, which can be a great prompter when you’re struggling to think of a word that accurately expresses on paper what you want to say in your mind.

Timed conditions

The biggest issue with every literature student in the exam is timing. There’s always so many things you want to write and include, that it is simply not possible to include everything. Time yourself. Practice writing in timed conditions. Be disciplined with your time – going over time for the first essay to include maybe one more good point, is to sacrifice finishing your second essay.

Exams are without a doubt a stressful period of time for all VCE students, and it can be easy to get caught up and overwhelmed with expectations, wanting to prove yourself and balancing the workload of your other exams. Find time to do small things to benefit yourself for the exam without compromising your mental power (after a very long marathon). Good luck and believe in yourself!

“Creative Response to Text” Ideas

This was my favourite SAC in Literature; it allows so much creative freedom in creating and recreating a literary work. When else will you be able to depart from the (admittedly rather boring) standard essay structure?!

In your adaptations and transformations SAC (see my blog post about this literature assessment here!), you learnt how the meaning of the text changed as the form changed. Here’s your opportunity to change the meaning of the text, maybe emphasising a particular thematic idea, or perhaps recreating a completely new perspective. Remember – you have almost complete creative licence in this assessment…use it to your advantage!

But don’t forget that the most important part of this task is that you must have a highly convincing connection between the original text and your creative response. There must be a tangible relationship present, through an in-depth understanding of the original text’s features. These features include characterisation (what motivates these characters), setting, context, narrative structure, tone and writing/film style. Establishing a clear nexus between the original text and your creative piece does not mean you need to replicate everything of the text; you can stylistically choose to reject or contrast elements of the original text – as long as these choices are deliberate and unambiguous. Therefore, your creative response must demonstrate that you read your original text closely and perceptively by acknowledging these features of the text.

You can establish this relationship by:

  • Adopting or resisting the same genre as the original text: e.g. an epistolary genre (written in letters) – do letters make an appearance in your text? Is that something you want to highlight? What about writing a monologue or a script if the text is a film or a play?
  • Adopting or resisting the author’s writing/language style: does your writer characteristically write plainly or with great descriptive detail? What about irony or humour? Consider the length and style of sentences. Are there frequent uses of symbols or metaphors?
  • Adopting or resisting the text’s point of view: do you want to draw readers’ attention to another thematic idea that was not explored in the original text? Will you align with the author’s views and values or will you oppose them? (See my views and values blogpost here!)
  • Adopting or resisting the original setting, narrative structure or tone
  • Writing through a peripheral character’s perspective: give a voice to a minor character that didn’t have a detailed backstory. Find a gap in the text and create and new perspective.
  • Developing a prologue, epilogue or another chapter/scene: what new insight can you add with this addition and extension of the text? It must add something new – otherwise it is a redundant addition.
  • Rewriting a key event/scene from another character’s point of view: does this highlight how important narrative perspective is?
  • Recontextualising the original text: by putting the same story or characters into a completely different context, for example in the 21st century with technology, how does the meaning change in the narrative?

I chose to write a creative piece from the perspective of an inanimate object that followed the protagonist’s journey throughout the entire film, providing an unexpected point of view of the text. Be original and most importantly, enjoy it!

Views and values

“Once upon a time…”

The fairy tale of Cinderella is a well-known, well-loved and well-ingrained story that was always told to me as a bedtime story. Who could forget the mean-spirited stepsisters who punished and ruined Cinderella’s life to no end? According to the dark Brothers Grimm version, the stepsisters mutilated their feet by cutting off their heels and toes to fit into the infamous shoe, and their eyes were pecked away by birds until they were blinded! It’s definitely one way to send a message to children… don’t be bullies or you’ll be punished. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm’s views and values were. Their construction of their fairy tale to send a message of what they viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is simplistically shown through the writers’ choice in determining the characters’ fate. The evil stepsisters are punished, while Cinderella receives happiness and riches because she remained kind and pure. A clear and very simple example of how texts reflect the beliefs, world views and ethics of the author, which is essentially the author’s views and values!

What are the views and values of a text?

Writers use literature to criticise or endorse social conditions, expressing their own opinions and viewpoints of the world they live in. It is important to remember that each piece of literature is a deliberate construction. Every decision a writer makes reflects their views and values about their culture, morality, politics, gender, class, history or religion. This is implicit within the style and content of the text, rather than in overt statements. This means that the writer’s views and values are always open to interpretation, and possibly even controversial. This is what you (as an astute literature student) must do – interpret the relationship between your text and the ideas it explores and examines, endorses or challenges in the writer’s society.

How do I start?

Consider the following tips:

  • What does the writer question and critique with their own society? What does this say about the writer’s own views and the values that uphold?
  • For example, “Jane Austen in Persuasion recognises the binding social conventions of the 19th century as superficial, where they value wealth and status of the utmost priority. She satirises such frivolous values through the microcosmic analysis of the Elliot family.”
  • The writer’s affirming or critical treatment of individual characters can be a significant clue to what values they approve or disapprove of. What fate do the characters have? Who does the writer punish or reward by the end of the text?
  • Which characters challenge and critique the social conventions of the day?
  • Look at the writer’s use of language:
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Characterisation
  • Plot structure
  • Setting
  • Description
  • In other words …what are the possible meanings generated by the writer’s choices?
  • Recognition and use of metalanguage for literary techniques is crucial because you are responding to a work of literature. Within literature ideas, views and values and issues do not exist in a vacuum. They arise out of the writer’s style and create meaning.
  • How do the writer’s choices make meaning?
  • How are the writer’s choices intended to affect the reader’s perception of social values?
  • Weave views and values throughout your close analysis essays, rather than superficially adding a few lines at the conclusion of the essay to indicate the writer’s concerns.
  • Using the writer’s name frequently will also assist in creating a mindset of analysing the writer’s commentary on society.

Below are some examples from an examiner report of successful and insightful responses reflecting the views and values of the writer:

(Another tip is to go through examiner’s reports and take note of high quality responses, even if they are not the text you’re studying)

When contrasted with the stark, blunt tone of Caesar throughout the play ‘You may see, Lepidus, and henceforth know...’ the richness of Shakespeare’s poetry with regard to his ‘couple so famous’ denotes how the playwright himself ultimately values the heroic age to which his protagonists belong over the machinations of the rising imperial Rome.

It is the word ‘natural’ here through which Mansfield crafts a sharp irony that invites us to rate Edna’s obsession with her own performance.... It is this satiric impulse that also leaps to the fore through the image of Edna, ‘clasping the black book in her fingers as though it were a missal’...the poignant economy of Mansfield’s characteristic style explores her views on the fragility of the human condition 

‘In Cold Blood’ provides a challenging exploration of the value placed on human life. The seemingly pointless murders undermine every concept of morality that reigns in Middle America, the ‘Bible Belt’, as well as the wider community. Capote insinuates his personal abhorrence of the death penalty and the disregard of mental illness in the justice system.

Why are views and values important in literature, and especially for close analysis?

Every year, the examiner reports emphasise how the best close analysis responses were ones that “showed how the text endorsed and reflected the views and values of the writer and were able to weave an understanding of these through the essay” (2013 VCAA Lit examiner report). By analysing HOW the text critiques, challenges or endorses the accepted values of the society in the text, you are demonstrating an understanding of the social and cultural context of the text, thus acknowledging the multifaceted layers that exist within literature. You are identifying the writer’s commentary of humanity through your own interpretation. Bring some insight into your essays!

Euphemisms – what are they and why are they used?

Ah euphemisms… sweet-sounding words that hide the truth or promote social harmony. But what exactly are they? Do euphemisms help our society or hinder it? Euphemisms are used more often than you think and after reading this article your brain will be attuned to spotting them in everyday society. Therefore, you’ll be able to include them in your essays!

Firstly, let’s define what a euphemism is. Dictionary.com defines a euphemism as “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt”. The example it gives is the classic euphemism ‘to pass away’ as opposed to ‘die’. Think about all of the situations where ‘pass away’ may be used instead of ‘die’. Why would the speaker wish to euphemise (verb form of euphemism) die instead of saying it outright? Oftentimes, the use of euphemism is equated to societal politeness; in everyday terms this means that we want to save face or present social awkwardness with taboo topics. A taboo topic is a subject that society deems to be improper or unacceptable, while also be excluded from use of practice. Since death is such a sensitive topic, it generally is euphemised to promote social harmony.

It’s important, however, that when you talk about euphemisms you ensure you include MODERN examples, not overused and clichéd examples (such as ‘pass away’). An example of a modern day euphemism would be when Tony Abbott held a press conference on the Sydney Siege, calling it ‘politically motivated violence’. In my opinion, this would be a euphemism for ‘terrorism’. The question to ask and elaborate on would therefore be ‘why would Tony Abbott euphemism terrorism on public television?’. A possible reason may be that violence and terrorism have such a high level of associated stigma that using the word may evoke an unwelcomed response from the public. The purpose of Tony Abbott’s public address was to calm the public, and perhaps by using the word ‘terrorism’, it may evoke feelings of fearfulness within the public audience.

In addition, euphemisms may also be used to manipulate the intended audience. In times of war, reporters of newspapers often used manipulatory language to hide or conceal the truth. For example, the intentionally bloodless term “collateral damage,” used during war, is particularly irritating in this regard. Collateral in this context means “secondary,” or “indirect.” Damage means “physical harm caused to something in such a way as to impair its value, usefulness, or normal function.” The point of the term is to distance ourselves from the horror that actually happened: the killing and wounding of non-combatants during an act of war. In my opinion, basic respect for these victims should require accurate terminology in describing the carnage, rather than concealing the heinousness of the fatalities.

Can you think of any other euphemisms? Leave a comment below!

How Uber is having an influential impact on our language

By now, most English Language students would have had their first English Language SAC on informal language, which makes this post even more relevant!In terms of informality, people are very inventive and creative with their language when there is a pressing need to describe new objects or activities in today's society. You would most probably be familiar with how technology has had a tremendous impact on our language, with the likes of 'to google' being created from the brand name 'Google' and so forth.

In the English language, we call these new creations 'neologisms' (coming from the Greek word to mean 'new' + 'speech'). Linguistically speaking, to become a neologism, many words succumb to what is known as linguistic conversion where a word is converted to another word class (e.g. 'Google' which became 'to google').

This now brings me to the main idea of this post. I am sure many of you (particularly the young generation) would be familiar with the taxi transporation app, Uber. Uber is an app that allows you to hire Uber drivers in seconds (which is often much cheaper than a normal taxi). Now, remember how I said that technology has an impact on our language? Well, let's examine how Uber is having an impact.

On Friday night, I was at a party and I asked one of my friends how they got to the party, to which he replied:

"I just ubered here... it's so much cheaper than a taxi".

Which made me wonder... is 'Ubered' starting to appear in our vernacular? This trend seems to run parallel with what occurred to Google, and I suspect that it will only increase in usage as Uber becomes more mainstream.

So what do you think will happen? Do you think more people will say 'Ubered' to mean a verb?It may still be early days to make any concrete statements, however it would be wise to observe this word formation.

Hint: this is a GREAT word to include in your essays on language change and technology!

What is an analytical commentary and how do I structure one?

As a VCE English Language tutor, students often ask me about how to structure an analytical commentary for their SACs. Well, today I am here to walk you through the process! It's actually quite simple, however, sometimes the structure hasn't been well-explained to students, and so I decode this process for you today.

What is an analytical commentary?

An analytical commentary is essentially an extended analysis that looks at the various linguistic features in the discourse (either written or spoken). The student then decodes these language features with the use of appropriate metalinguistic terms to describe what is occurring within the discourse. For example, you may see a lexeme 'Davo' for David in a Facebook conversation. After that we then apply a metalinguistic term to describe this feature. In this case, the appropriate metalinguistic term would be a 'diminutive' under the subsystem of morphology.

Why is it relevant?

An analytical commentary is relevant as you will undoubtedly be writing one up for you SAC, and it is also on the end of year exam! On the end of year exam, it is worth 30/75 marks, which is 40% of your exam result!

How do I ace an analytical commentary?

It's really quite simple. You MUST (I really can't stress that enough) know your metalanguage and know which metalinguistic term comes under which subsystem. For example, which subsystem would ellipsis come under? Syntax, of course, as it deals with the sentence structures. The reason for this is that you will be writing your commentary generally be subsystem, and without knowledge of this, you will incorrectly categorise these metalinguistic terms and therefore lose marks.

Secondly, you must also follow a clear structure within each paragraph. Clarity of expression will help you achieve this, so I would recommend you look at past A+ analytical commentaries and look at how these have been structured and expressed.

Finally, you MUST, where appropriate, link back to the informality/formality and the social purpose. For example, it wouldn't be enough to say that a swear term, under the subsystem of lexicology, has been used in this Facebook conversation, which is informal. Instead, you must state HOW this is informal (e.g. does it build solidarity with group members, does it decrease social distance), and then link that back to the social purpose of the text (e.g. how does it help serve the phatic function or the entertainment function). That will allow you to get a much higher mark.

How do I structure each paragraph?

Within each paragraph, you must follow the following structure:

  1. Topic sentence (mention the subsystem and the link to to informality and/or social purpose)
  2. Point (mention the subsystem (if applicable) and/or the metalinguistic term)
  3. Give an example with the line number(s)
  4. Elaborate on this piece of evidence: how does it relate to informality and/or the social purpose of the discourse?
  5. Rinse and repeat 2-4 above at least 3 times per paragraph!

So, how do I structure my analytical commentary?

Due to the amount of explanation, I have created two convenient documents outlining the structure for both formal/informal written and spoken modes.

Formal Analytical Commentary Structure: CLICK HERE

Informal Analytical Commentary Structure: CLICK HERE

If you'd like to see a complete analytical commentary, then I highly recommend you visit my online course!

Well, there you have it. I really hope this helps you out! Feel free to leave comments below with any questions you may have! :)

Unit 3 AOS 2 - What exactly is formal language and what are its purposes?

By now, most VCE English Language students would be starting Unit 3 AOS 2, which is on formal language and its purposes. I believe that most students will find this topic not too difficult as it is simply a lead on from informal language and therefore, as a student, you can contrast this to formal language.

To succeed in this AOS (area of study), I would recommend you first revise all of your metalinguistic terms from the VCE English Language Study Design. Knowing all of the content, in addition to the metalinguistic terms, is also an essential aspect of this AOS. Make sure you go through all the content in your textbook, and highlight all of the key terms and ideas needed. I also have an online course, which has a whole section dedicated to this AOS.

So, what exactly is formal language and what are its purposes?

Formal language is literally language (lexemes etc.) that has the following features:

  • It's generally less ambiguous (i.e. clearer)
  • It's generally more cohesive (glued together better)
  • More explicit
  • Often reinforces social distance and relationship hierarchies
  • Promotes a user's authority and expertise (i.e. think of jargon)
  • It clarifies, manipulates or even obfuscates (confuses)
  • It can negotiate social taboos, that is it can be used to avoid offending certain groups in society.

Formal language can be used in many contexts to serve the following main functions:

  • To inform
  • To instruct
  • To celebrate
  • To commemorate

You'll often find that formal language is used mainly in written texts to be clear (i.e. less ambiguous) or, on the other end of the spectrum, to obfuscate or manipulate (i.e. confuse). Make sure you identify this correctly in any formal piece you're given.

This notion of obfuscation can be seen in syntactic structures, in particular in agentless passives. For example, politicians or businesspeople love to use these sentence structures to hide the truth (confuse): "A decision has been made to close the school down". Wait, who is closing the school down? In addition, nominalisations (verb to noun) can also serve the purpose of obfuscation. Recall that nominalisations represent an abstract idea and not a concrete object. For example, 'The destablisation of the economy caused adverse effects". In this example, 'destablisation' is an abstract idea; what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that businesses shut down? In this case, we're not entirely sure. Likewise, this sentence doesn't state WHO did this action, therefore removes blame entirely from an entity, therefore it is unclear.

This notion of unambiguity can also be seen in legal documents (i.e. terms and conditions). In order to protect a company's legal interests, it will often employ formal language in its legal documents so as to ensure unambiguity and the prevention of loopholes.

So what SAC formats would there be for formal language? Well, this depends entirely on your school. Your school may decide to implement short answer questions, an analytical commentary, an essay, or even a mixture of these SAC formats.

How language can be used to obfuscate and manipulate the truth

You may or may not be assessed on language manipulation as some schools may or may not conduct essay SACs for this AOS. However, even if you aren't assessed on language manipulation in this AOS, then you will definitely need to have a solid understanding of it for the end of year examinations!

First let's define what obfuscation and manipulation actually mean:

  • Obfuscate: "the obscuring of intended meaning in communication, making the message confusing, willfully ambiguous, or harder to understand."
  • Manipulation: "to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner."

So there you have it. Obfuscation and manipulation are intrinsically linked, however, as show above there is a subtle difference. Now, let's look at how these terms are portrayed in language.

Agentless Passives

This notion of obfuscation can be seen in syntactic structures, in particular in the agentless passive voice. For example, politicians or businesspeople love to use these sentence structures to hide the truth (confuse): "A decision has been made today to close the school down". Wait, WHO is closing the school down? However, it must be stated that sometimes agentless passives are used merely to show that the agent (subject) is irrelevant and is inferred from prior knowledge. For example: "Smoking is prohibited here". We don't need the agent here as it is assumed knowledge.

Agentless passives are characteristics of the impersonal style found mostly in academic, legal and bureaucratic writing. It can often by used to increase social distance while increasing greater authority and seriousness in a text. For example:

"Refuse and rubbish shall not be collected from the site or receptacles thereon before the hour of 8:00 am or after the hour of 6:00 pm of any day."

According to Randall Vandermey, 2009: "Avoid using the passive voice unethically to hide responsibility. For example, an instructor who says, 'Your assignments could not be graded because of scheduling difficulties,' might be trying to evade the truth: 'I did not finish grading your assignments because I was watching CSI."

Nominalisations

Nominalisations (verb to noun) can also serve the purpose of obfuscation. Recall that nominalisations represent an abstract idea and not a concrete object. At their best, nominalisations represent intelligence and also allow authors to sum up large, complex ideas into a single word. For example, the word 'nominalisation' is itself a nominalisation! Therefore, this single word allows us to compress a complex idea (verb to noun) into a single word!

However, at their worst, they impede clear thinking!

According to Henry Hitchings of the New York Times in 2013: "It’s not just that nominalisation can sap the vitality of one’s speech or prose; it can also eliminate context and mask any sense of agency (remove the agent). Furthermore, it can make something that is nebulous or fuzzy seem stable, mechanical and precisely defined. Nominalisations give priority to actions rather than to the people responsible for them. Sometimes this is apt, perhaps because we don’t know who is responsible or because responsibility isn’t relevant. But often they conceal power relationships and reduce our sense of what’s truly involved in a transaction. As such, they are an instrument of manipulation, in politics and in business. They emphasize products and results, rather than the processes by which products and results are achieved."

For example, ‘The destablisation of the economy caused adverse effects”. In this example, ‘destablisation’ is an abstract idea; what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that businesses shut down? In this case, we’re not entirely sure. Likewise, this sentence doesn’t state WHO did this action, therefore it removes blame entirely from an entity and makes it is unclear.

Euphemisms

Ah, euphemisms. We use these more often than one would think in our everyday lives!

A euphemism can be defined as follows: "A euphemism is a generally innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant."

At their best, euphemisms allow users to negotiate social taboos and avoid the unpleasant awkwardness that follows when talking about these social taboos. They also allow us to save face.

For example, suppose your friend's grandfather just died and you said to him: "I am sorry to hear your grandfather passed away" vs "I am sorry to hear your grandfather died." Which one do you think is 'nicer' and more 'pleasant', while ensuring you come across as a compassionate human being?

However, at their worst, they can purposefully manipulate and confuse the audience so as to conceal the truth. In the late 80s and early 90s, George Carlin, famous social comedian, commented that euphemisms can be used unfairly to minimise appropriate attitudes towards serious issues.

For example, George had stated that 'shell shock' in WWI was a direct, clear and blunt term which did not conceal the harsh reality of mental trauma suffered by soldiers in WWI. However, as the years went on this term evolved to become more and more euphemistic. Nowadays, this very same term is called 'post-traumatic stress disorder'. Talk about confusion!

Can you think of other euphemisms that may obfsucate the truth?

Below is a hilarious video by social comedian George Carlin. This will make you laugh.

An in-depth analysis on the three Aussie accents!

In contemporary Australian society, there are three common accents: the Broad, General and Cultivated accents. However, don't be fooled into thinking that it merely stops at these three common accents - in fact there are also ethnic varieties as well as Aboriginal English. So, while we classify the Broad, General and Cultivated accents as the main accents, do not ignore the other two. However, for the purposes of this article, I will only be delving into the three common accents, and will endeavour to write another article on ethnic varieties and Aboriginal English in the future.

So, let's begin by demystifying the three accents:

Broad: The Broad accent is often associated with 'internationally portrayed' Australians such as Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan and even Kath and Kim! It is often portrayed by greater nasality as well as greater accentuation of the Australian vowel sounds (a,e,i,o,u). Though, as I state below, very few people actually speak like this.

In particular, the Broad accent is only spoken by about 10% of the Australian population and often represents values and qualities such as masculinity and sociability, however it measures negatively on intelligence and competence. This is why very few females speak with a Broad accent - due to its perceived quality of masculinity.

General: The general accent is the most common neutral accent in Australia. It is often regarded as a mix of both the Broad and Cultivated accents, with the General accent displaying elements of both extremes. An example of this is past Prime Minister John Howard.

Most people (80%) nowadays opt for the middle group, otherwise known as the General accent. The reason for this is it allows Australians to display a level of sociability as well as intelligence without the stigma that comes with the two extremes (Broad and Cultivated). Think about that for a moment - if you decided to now start speaking with a Cultivated accent, how do you think people would perceive you? Likewise, if you decided to start speaking with a Broad accent, how do you think you would be perceived by others?

Cultivated: The Cultivated accent is often associated with British Received Pronunciation (RP) and often has an element of overt prestige. This accent is often associated with intelligence and competency, and draws upon many English vowels and phonemes to portray this intelligence. Common examples include Malcolm Fraser and Cate Blanchett.

The Cultivated accent is spoken by about 10% of the population and is gradually dying out nowadays.

According to Convict Creations, in England, accents vary according to class and region. In America, they vary according to race and region. Unlike America or England, Australia has no variance in speaking according to class, race or region. Instead, the accent varies according to ideology or gender. Two Australians can grow up side by side, go to the same schools, do the same job, but end up speaking English using different words, different syntax and with different accents. In fact, due to the gender variance, a brother and sister can grow up in the same house and end up speaking differently.

I'd like you to take note of the words 'ideology' and 'gender'. Due to the relative lack of regional variation and class hierarchy, many speakers may use one of these accents to subconsciously reflect their personal ideologies. So, if you believe you're incredibly friendly, laid-back and carefree, then you may choose to speak with a Broad accent. If you believe that you're intelligent and wish to portray this level of intelligence to others, then you may choose to speak with a Cultivated accent. However, as I investigate below, these two extremes are gradually dying out...

Now that you know how to differentiate between the three, it's now time study the history of the Australian accent and how it reflects social changes in our society.

According to linguist Felicity Cox, "Linguistic change runs parallel with social change". This is a very important idea to grasp due to the fact that when social changes occur, the language will often change to reflect it. For example, as society becomes more gender inclusive, so must our language to reflect this ideological change. This can be seen in various morphological changes such as 'chairperson' for 'chairman' and 'humankind' for 'mankind'. Now, let's apply this same notion to the three Australian accents!

Development of the General Australian accent

The general accent developed shortly after colonisation in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and emerged as a result of what Kel Richards calls a 'levelling down process'. Kel Richards is the author of the new book 'The Story of Australian English' and is a credible source for your essays.

"It emerged from a process called levelling down because you had all these people who came here on 11 ships from different dialect areas, regional dialect areas across England," he said.

"They all spoke differently and they used different words and what they had to do, in order to communicate with each other, was to level their dialect variations down."

Development of the Cultivated Australian accent

Later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, a social separation of the accent occurred. The Elocution Movement had made its way to Australian shores and it brought with it ideas of how to speak 'proper'. During this time, British RP was seen as overtly prestigious and therefore selected as a basis of the Cultivated accent. According to Kel Richards, "it started off on how to annunciate and speak clearly but what they did was pick one dialect, standard southern English, and they said 'that is correct'.

"Standard southern English came to be what is called RP, Received Pronunciation, Oxbridge, that kind of accent.

"That was right, everything else was wrong."

Over the following 60 - 8o years, the Cultivated accent had its place as the form of speaking on television, due to this overt prestige. This also suggests that the Australian accent (both Broad and General) has a stigma and was viewed negatively by Britain as a substandard accent.

Development of the Broad Australian accent

The Broad accent was actually created much later in history than many people believe. Some believe that the Broad accent developed shortly after colonisation, however, evidence suggests that the General Australian accent was the only accent until around the late 1800s. This suggests that the Broad accent developed as a reaction to the development of the Cultivated accent.

According to Kel Richards, before this time General Australian accents were predominant before Cultivated and Broad Australian accents arrived later, as a reaction to the elocution movement.

According to Australian National University lexicographer Bruce Moore, "It was almost an unconscious, instinctive reaction to the imposition of British standards," he says.

In its way, the broad accent and idiom was just as much an affectation as rounded, plummy vowels. Both were attempts to express a sense of egalitarian nationalism through speech.

"It was a reaction to the kind of cultured speech that was now associated with a value system that many Australians did not share," Moore says. "Australian) values needed a language in which they could be expressed.

"We expressed that through a changing vocabulary, but it wasn't just the words we were speaking - it was the accent that was changing as well."

Changes to the three accents in contemporary Australian society

This 20th-century division of Australian English is largely absent from the accents of today’s young people, perhaps suggesting that linguistic change runs parallel with social change. Nowadays, it is much less common to hear a Cultivated or Broad accent, however, the Broad is generally more common than the Cultivated accent.

According to Australian National University lexicographer Bruce Moore, "the 'cultivated' accent is nearly gone, and the 'broad' accent is going as well.

"Australians are becoming more confident with the standard Australian accent - and that means there's no longer the need for those sorts of extreme sounds."

Bruce Moore states that this is evidence of Australians overcoming the 'cultural cringe' - an idea which states that a country perceives itself to be inferior to other cultures and so downplays its own culture.

The disappearance of the Cultivated accent also states, according to linguist Felicity Cox, "[that] this is evidence of republicanism and socio-cultural changes" perhaps suggesting that we're distancing ourselves from Britain and the monarchy.

So, what do you think is going to happen? Do you think the Broad accent will disappear soon?

References

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2014/07/knowing-the-aussie-accent/

http://www.news.com.au/opinion/aussies-done-with-cultural-cringe/story-e6frfs99-1111117665896

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-16/the-story-behind-australian-english/6315078

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/an-accent-on-social-equality-20101227-198iq.html

What are the unique Australian cultural values?

Australia is a unique country with its own distinct cultural values.

Australia is often characterised as being fair, equal, laidback, egalitarian and hospitable. Australia is also known as having a ‘classless’ society – what this means is that we don’t value or respect the upper class (authority) as much as America or Britain does, and in fact our lexicon and accents collectively reflect this value of classlessness.

Let's first start off by defining some of these cultural values.

EGALITARIANISM

  • Egalitarianism: this is the belief in the idea of equality for all people; that all citizens should be granted a 'fair go'. This idea should not be confused with socialism or communism, which is a political ideology.

According to Convict Creations, "in comparison to other English speakers, Australians tend to be far more informal; readily using the same language when dealing with a boss, an elderly person, friend or rapscallion."

This notion of egalitarianism can be seen in a famous example, when cricketer Dennis Lillee met the Queen, he greeted her with a handshake and a friendly: “g’day, how ya go’in?".

However, while this notion of friendliness may seem harmless to the interlocutor, it can often be perceived as rude because this means treating someone of a higher status with lower respect. This is predominantly the reason why many Australians feel comfortable swearing and why swearing is more commonplace in Australian society than America or Britain.

Egalitarian cultural ideologies can also be reflected in certain lexical choices. For example, due to the widespread use of informality amongst most interlocutors, it would not be uncommon to hear many Australians use the lexeme 'mate' as a sign of friendliness and mateship.

Let's briefly look at WHY many Australians believe in this egalitarian value. Australia became an egalitarian society because people who were treated as second class citizens refused to accept that they were in any way inferior. This refusal to accept inferiority greatly differentiates Australia from its eastern hemisphere neighbours, where hierarchical thinking prevails. This notion is proven by Englishman George Bennett, who wrote in 1834, ''the English spoken is very pure, and it is easy to recognise a person from home or one born in the colony, no matter what class of society''.

TALL POPPY SYNDROME

Tall poppy syndrome is the idea that anyone who demonstrates superiority or flaunts their success will be 'cut back down' and often criticised for displaying this superiority. Again, as mentioned above, this value grew out of convict resentment and Australia's penal colony history.

Linguistic tall poppy syndrome is the reason Aussies officially shrink more words than any other language. Linguist Professor Roly Sussex examined 60 languages and, although many shorten names, no other language abbreviates as much as Australian. There are 5000 Australian morphological diminutives – from "cushy" (cushion) and "dero" (derelict, for a homeless person) to "Cab Sav", "soy cap", "avo" and the gender-neutral "Firie."

Kel Richards argues this is semantic solidarity but also the Australian way of using informality to puncture affectation and undercut authority "This is verbal signage we belong to the same mob. Many an inflated, smug, syllable-heavy word gets a quick snip with the Aussie verbal scissors to reduce it to a bonsai version of its former self."

This would explain why many Australians refer to politicians are 'pollies', which could indicate the intended undercutting of authority, and disrespect or authority figures.

LAID-BACK NATURE

I am sure many Australians would realise that we can be a very laid-back bunch. This notion is very clearly evident in the colloquial phrase 'no worries mate' or 'she'll be right!'. While the term 'no worries' can be heard overseas, Australia has the largest usage of this unique phrase!

According to linguist Anna Weirzbicka, this colloquial expression exemplifies Australian culture and identity, including "amiability, friendliness, an expectation of shared attitudes (a proneness to easy 'mateship'), jocular toughness, good humour, and, above all, casual optimism.”

MULTICULTURALISM

Entirely new forms of Australian language are emerging as our accent adapts to the growing value of multiculturalism, says Fiona Cox, a phonetician from Macquarie University in Sydney.

“Changes in accent parallel sociocultural changes, because accent is a fundamental marker of identity,” she says.

“Our dialect is still quite young by global standards but as it matures we can expect some more regional variations and ethnocultural variations to come into the language.”

This would explain why Australia nowadays has a variety of ethnolects such as 'Greek Australian English, 'Chinese Australian English' and so forth.

These are just some of the key Australian cultural values - I am sure there are many more. Can you think of any others?

References:

http://www.smh.com.au/action/printArticle?id=996508410

https://ehopkinsblog.wordpress.com/tag/ethnolects/

http://www.convictcreations.com/culture/egalitarianism.html

An ethnolect? What is an ethnolect!?

One of the key areas studied by students in Unit 4 AOS 1 is ethnocultural varieties in Australia, otherwise known as 'ethnolects'. An ethnolect can be defined as a morphological blend of the terms 'ethnic + dialect', and is a variety of Australian English employed by many migrant speakers and subsequent generations of migrants.

There's a specific reason Australia has many ethnocultural varieties in existence - it's simply due to our value of multiculturalism. Entirely new forms of Australian language are emerging as our accent adapts to the growing value of multiculturalism, says Felicity Cox, a phonetician from Macquarie University in Sydney.

“Changes in accent parallel sociocultural changes, because accent is a fundamental marker of identity,” she says.

“Our dialect is still quite young by global standards but as it matures we can expect somemore regional variations and ethnocultural variations to come into the language.”

This would explain why Australia nowadays has a variety of ethnolects such as ‘Greek Australian English, ‘Chinese Australian English’ and so forth.

So what exactly is the purpose of an ethnolect?

Language is an incredibly important marker of identity - how we perceive ourselves and how we wish others to perceive us can collectively be reflected through our language usage. An ethnolect, therefore, allows migrant speakers or subsequent generations to reflect their ancestral heritage through their language.

Ethnic varieties can become potent markers of a group’s identity, especially in the face of language attrition (erosion)Speakers start to value ethnic features in their English, therefore accentuating ethnic differentiationLinguistic features (often from the first language) function much like ‘clique’ or in-group recognition devicesMany second-generation and later generations of non-English backgrounds employ two different varieties of Australian English – a mainstream variety when they are speaking to most interlocutors and an ethnolect when they are speaking to their parents, people of similar background or sometimes to all members in societyEthnolects are marked variously by lexical, grammatical, phonological and or prosodic featuresPidginised features include auxiliary/pronoun omission o How make Baklava? For: How do I make Baklava?Lexical items are often transferred (e.g. YiaYia for Grandma in Greek)Bruce Moore, head of the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the ANU, in his book, Speaking Our Language, The Story Of Australian English, says that an ethnolect, "is used consciously to separate the speakers from Anglo-Australian values, and at its extreme also to separate the speakers from some parts of their own culture".

I would recommend you identify an ethnolect within Australian society and aim to find unique linguistic features (from any subsystem), which you can then include in your essays! Be original and unique.

These linguistic features often stem from the original language and function as in-group recognition devices. For example, with regards to lexicology, a Greek-Australian may use the interjection ‘-re’ at the end of an utterance that he or she made, which can be seen in the example "I can’t believe you did that, re!". This interjection functions as a form of astonishment, anger, surprise, disbelief, emphasis or merely a marker of social identity.

Are there differences in language between the two genders?

Part of being successful in Unit 4 AOS 2 is knowing the differences in language between the two genders. In fact, in my opinion Unit 4 AOS 2 is the shortest AOS and most students comment that content studied in this AOS has already been learnt before. This leaves the topic of 'gender differences' as one of the key themes and areas.

Today, I'll be summarising the key differences in language between the two genders. Before I delve into the nitty-gritty of this topic, please understand the following features between male and female language.

It must be noted, however, that these are GENERAL observations, and at times this may not prove to be accurate. This is an area of study that still requires more research. 

Female language generally exhibits the following features:

- Rapport talk – show support, build community: "I’m glad everyone had a chance to participate".- Supportive – listen and respond to spoken and unspoken conversational clues about other people’s feelings. For example, "I understand" lets the speaker know they are understood and not alone.- Tentative – create an impression of less authority and less self-assuredness: "The report is due today, isn’t it?".- Conversational initiation – ask questions to get the conversation going: "Did you hear about.....?" "Are you going to......?".

Male language generally exhibits the following features:

- Report talk – focus less on feelings and more on information, facts, knowledge and competence.- Instrumental – report to get things done, solve problems, define status: "Finish that proposal by Monday".- Advice – when dealing with personal problems they try to offer a solution, while empathizing to show solidarity does not seem helpful or appropriate,- Assertive, certain, direct and authoritative – they use statements of fact rather than opinion: "That report is due on Monday" rather than "I think that report is due on Monday".- Dominance or control of the conversation for gaining power.

Lexical and Semantic Differences

The different sexes have different interests and activities, therefore variation in lexicon and semantics would be different. For example, women may have an interest in makeup and so their lexicon will reflect this interest (e.g. bronzer etc.).Many have observed that women’s language is characterised by an excessive use of hyperbole (exaggeration) especially in the form of intensifiers (e.g. Oh my god!).Women have been traditionally described as the strongholds of etiquette and euphemism (e.g. ‘sugar’ as opposed to ‘shit’).According to Timothy Jay, American English speaking males swear about three times more frequently than females and they use stronger obscenities.

Conversational Management

Women are more likely to hold their own in a more relaxed informal environment.Women generally use more question forms in conversation, and use more linguistic hedges such as ‘I think’ and ‘sort of’, more listening noises such as ‘hmm’, and more paralinguistic responses such as smiling and nodding.Some studies indicate that women are more linguistically supportive in interaction -they work harder to maintain and hold the floor.Linguist Pamela Fishman has stated that women do all of the “conversational shitwork”.

Phonological and Grammatical Variation

Women are now seen as the supporters of all that is ‘proper’ and more ‘correct’.Women are more likely to have a cultivated accent than men.Women, when compared with men of the same social class, age and educational level, chose forms closest to Standard English.The use of nonstandard forms correlates not only with the working class speech, but also with male speech.Women are supposed to use more HRT (high rise terminal) or uptalk. Reasons for this usage include a woman's desire to maintain hold the floor (remember that woman work harder to maintain hold of the floor), and their desire to invite their interlocutor to participate in the conversation.Women are more likely to make use of discourse particles such as like, you know, sorta, kinda etc.

In fact, according to Deborah Cameron from The Guardian, women generally exhibit the following characteristics:

Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men.Women are more verbally skilled than men.Men's goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women's tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings.Men's way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women's use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.These differences routinely lead to "miscommunication" between the sexes, with each sex misinterpreting the other's intentions. This causes problems in contexts where men and women regularly interact, and especially in heterosexual relationships.

You can find the resource here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/01/gender.books

Well, there you have it! These are the main linguistic differences between the genders! I sincerely hope this helps you out!

The main linguistic differences between the generations

Differences between the generations can be marked variously by numerous linguistic features, which collectively function as in-group recognition devices. In fact, according to Professor Clive Upton from the University of Leeds in the UK, "it [teen language] is quite clearly the way they get along, the way that they signal they belong in a group, the way that they fit in".

This notion of social inclusion is precisely the reason many adults not part of the younger generation get offended when slang or other generational linguistic choices are used outside of the social group. This notion of social exclusion can be proven by actress Emma Thompson who stated that young people make themselves sound stupid by speaking slang outside of school.

To make your lives easier as English Language students, I have decided to conveniently categorise some of the main lingustic choices employed by younger generations into the common subsystems of language. Please note that this list is my no means complete, rather it is intended to be a summary to allow you research further!

Lexicology

The most prominent lexical choice employed by younger generations would be 'slang'. For starters, let's define what slang means. Slang is:

  • Often spoken, not written (though this is rapidly changing with technology)
  • Informal and nonstandard
  • Short-lived and transient
  • Marks boundaries in a social group (not just generations!)
  • Often amuses, startles and captivates due to its playfulness (e.g. bae, on fleek)

Some current 2015 slang terms that I've personally heard of include 'bae' (babe or before anyone else), 'on fleek' (on point, or perfect) and 'chat' (disgusting). Can you think of any that you social group may use?

As I had stated before, according to Professor Clive Upton from the University of Leeds in the UK, "it [teen language] is quite clearly the way they get along, the way that they signal they belong in a group, the way that they fit in". This is the simplest explanation I can give as to why teenagers use slang.

Another key lexical choice peculiar to the younger generations also include hyperbole (or exaggeration). Humans are natural exaggerators and so certain intensifiers must be constantly created to fulfil this vital function in our society. However, it must also be noted that often forms of exaggeration will intersect with gender differences in language (i.e. females are generally more likely to use hyperbole in comparison to men).

In fact, according to Sali Tagliamonte of the University of Toronto, "young people are notorious for an overabundance of intensification in general (Stenstrom, 2000). Moreover, intensifiers are thought to be increasing in frequency in recent times (e.g., Ito and Tagliamonte, 2003). Further, intensifiers are associated with rapid turnover and lexical renewal and thus are thought to present an excellent means to track language change as well as to tap into current trends in contemporary English (Ito and Tagliamonte, 2003; Stenstrom, 2000)".

Phonology

Another distinct linguistic feature of younger people is the use of HRT, diphthongisation and the Australian accents.

Firstly, let's focus on HRT, otherwise known as the 'high rising terminal'. This can be defined as an upward inflection at the end of an utterance, so that every utterance made by a speaker sounds like a question. This is peculiar feature of Australian English. While being used mainly in younger female speakers, in this article I will examine this striking phonological feature from a generational viewpoint.

In fact, in 1991, Cynthia McLemore had been a postgraduate student in Austin at the University of Texas, working on a PhD thesis about intonation in the speech of a university sorority. Two years later she was a world authority on uptalk (albeit Gorman's coinage). What she noted, she says, was that her seminar class used a rising intonation "to signal identity and group affiliation" - in other words, to establish what might be called a linguistic micro-community.

Another distinct phonological choice is dipthongisation: the process by which a single vowel sound (monophthong) shifts to a two-vowel vocalisation (diphthong). In particular, this can be seen in the auxiliary verb 'do', which nowadays would more likely be pronounced by younger people as 'dooo', so that the original monophthong 'ʊ' becomes extended and elongated.

Moreover, another striking feature is the increasing usage of the General Australian accent in younger people. Why? As we learnt in Unit 4 AOS 1, this has much to do with the perception of the Australian identity, as how Australians are becoming more comfortable with their identity, and therefore no longer have a need for those 'sorts of extreme sounds' (Bruce Moore, lexicographer). This would also explain the gradual disappearance of the Cultivated accent too, and according to linguist Felicity Cox, is evidence of 'sociocultural changes and republicanism'.

Discourse

In terms of spoken discourse, one of the most common features is the use of discourse markers as a means of indicating group solidarity. “Like”, in particular, is prevalent in teenspeak as a marker of social groups, and therefore, subconsciously used by speakers to build social cohesion with other group members. Of course, there are other functions of discourse markers, such as holding the floor and indicating emphasis, however for this article, I'll only be focusing on the solidarity function.

This notion of solidarity can be proven by language specialist, Professor Clive Upton, who stated that using like “is about signalling membership of a club”.

Actress Emma Thompson (from Harry Potter, not Emma Watson!) says young people make themselves sound stupid by speaking slang outside of school. But while the use of the word "like" might annoy her, it fulfils a useful role in everyday speech.

Well, there you have it! These are the main linguistic differences between the generations! I sincerely hope this helps you out!

References:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/21/referenceandlanguages.mattseaton

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-11426737

Recent 2015 Media Examples for Your Essay!

It's that time of year. Everyone is pretty much burnt out from their SACs, but don't give up! It's very easy to slip into lazy habits. VCE is a marathon and not a sprint (sorry for the cliche, but it's so true), so keep pushing, keep working hard and stay persistent! So, with that brief motivational rant out of the way, let's get into the nitty-gritty of what this article is about.

To absolutely DOMINATE the essay section, you must be including recent and modern examples of language usage. Most students just focus on adding linguist example, which are necessary, but this must be supplemented with recent media example.

What do I mean by media examples? Well, this means anything to do with language (formal, informal, identity etc.) that is being actively used in modern society. When you combine a media example with a linguist quote to back up your point, you have a very powerful and potent combination.

Below, I have done the hard work for you. I have scoured the internet and media for recent examples of language usage. By no means is this list definitive; you are still required to conduct your own research, but hopefully this helps!

So, let's start off with slang!

Modern Slang Terms and Usage

  • Bae (a bit overused now though)
  • On Fleek (eyebrows on fleek!)
  • Netflix and Chill (very modern!)

"Netflix and chill" - My 17 year old brother only told me about this slang phrase recently and I had no idea what it meant. He was very surprised that I didn't know this, and then I realised that I hadn't heard of this phrase before because as a slang term, this phrase is restricted predominantly to teenagers.

This is what I found online regarding this slang phrase and what you should be including in your essays at the end of the year!

********************************

It’s a phrase that means, roughly, “hooking up.” But it’s a lot more complicated than that. “Netflix and chill” is a classic case of social media-fueled semantic drift. It began as a plain, descriptive phrase (“Can’t wait to leave work so I can watch Netflix and chill!”), and stayed that way for several years before acquiring a loose sexual connotation (“Wanna come over for Netflix and chill? 

;)

”) and, eventually becoming a known code phrase (“He said he loves me, but I know he just wants to Netflix and chill”).

As with most recent internet slang, “Netflix and chill” seems to have originated on Black Twitter before migrating to Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and the outer reaches of Memeland. And in a way, it’s the perfect teenage shibboleth. If you were 16, and your parents caught you texting “Netflix and chill?” to your girlfriend, they might think you were proposing an innocent night of watching Chopped on the couch.

Let’s take a look at how “Netflix and chill” became every teen’s favorite euphemism for getting it on.

Source: http://fusion.net/story/190020/netflix-and-chill/

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Notice the quote "If you were 16, and your parents caught you texting “Netflix and chill?” to your girlfriend, they might think you were proposing an innocent night of watching Chopped on the couch" - this perfectly proves the function of slang, and that is to create social exclusion of the out-group!

Covert Racism in Media

I was reading the paper quite recently and I came across this title from Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun:

covert-racism

'Our safety must be the top priority'

I feel that the use of the personal pronoun 'our' reinforces a sense of social exclusion of Syrian refugees, while simultaneously creating a fine line between the in-group and out-group.

I believe this is a modern example of covert racism - the idea that language can display an author's or speaker's racist intent in a subtle manner.

Hint: Put this in your essays for Unit 3 AOS 2 (formal language)

Egalitarianism in Modern Media

pollie-photo

Notice the lexeme 'Pollie', which is otherwise known as a morphological diminutive for the lexeme 'politician'. The reason I point this out is that it reflects Australia's value of egalitarianism.

According to Kel Richards, this is semantic solidarity but also the Australian way of using informality to puncture affectation and undercut authority: “This is verbal signage we belong to the same mob. Many an inflated, smug, syllable-heavy word gets a quick snip with the Aussie verbal scissors to reduce it to a bonsai version of its former self.”

This was seen in the Herald Sun in late July of 2015.

Gender Equality in Language

In the UK, the gender-neutral honorific Mx has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary alongside Mr, Ms and Mrs and Miss.

Jonathan Dent, assistant editor on the OED, said the title is the first new honorific to be accepted as an addition to the current set of gender identifiers. He said it is an example of how the English language adapts to people’s needs, “with people using language in ways that suit them rather than letting language dictate identity to them”.

The inclusion of this honorific title in the dictionary shows how our society is becoming more and more inclusive and accepting of all genders. Always remember that 'language runs parallel with social change' - what this means is that when social values change, so does the language. It's simple as that.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/gender-neutral-honorific-mx-to-be-included-in-the-oxford-english-dictionary-alongside-mr-ms-and-mrs-10222287.html

Euphemism in Modern Media

In May of this year, up to 80 staff have recently were sacked by Myer and this is how it was addressed by a Myer spokesperson:

"We have recently restructured and reorganised some areas of the Myer Stores Support Office," said a spokeswoman for the department store. "Regrettably, a number of roles in [the] support office are no longer required or have been consolidated into the business.

"These team members were advised last week and have now left the business. We are offering the team members support through their transition from Myer."

Talk about corporate speak! It seems that 'restructure' is a euphemism for 'sacking', and that 'transition' minimises the seriousness of the situation and in fact downplays the severity of the sacking. I have also highlighted the euphemisms above. Also take note of the agentless passives being used frequently in this excerpt. This allow Myer to distance themselves from the problem and ultimately minimise the blame on themselves!

This is a modern example where euphemisms have been used to 'threaten social harmony', not promote it. Always remember that anything to do with taboo will generally be euphemised to either conceal the truth or prevent causing offence.

http://www.smh.com.au/business/retail/highend-retailer-myer-axes-about-80-head-office-jobs-20150528-ghbpq2.html

Technological Advancements & Influences on Language

In terms of informality, people are very inventive and creative with their language when there is a pressing need to describe new objects or activities in today’s society. You would most probably be familiar with how technology has had a tremendous impact on our language, with the likes of ‘to google’ being created from the brand name ‘Google’ and so forth.

In the English language, we call these new creations ‘neologisms‘ (coming from the Greek word to mean ‘new’ + ‘speech’). Linguistically speaking, to become a neologism, many words succumb to what is known as linguistic conversion where a word is converted to another word class (e.g. ‘Google’ which became ‘to google’).

I am sure many of you (particularly the young generation) would be familiar with the taxi transporation app, Uber. Uber is an app that allows you to hire Uber drivers in seconds (which is often much cheaper than a normal taxi). Now, remember how I said that technology has an impact on our language? Well, let’s examine how Uber is having an impact.

I have been at parties before and have overheard people say:

“I just ubered here… it’s so much cheaper than a taxi”.

Is ‘Ubered’ starting to appear in our vernacular (nonstandard speech)? This trend seems to run parallel with what occurred to Google, and I suspect that it will only increase in usage as Uber becomes more mainstream.

I would recommend including in your essays when talking about technological influences on language!

Holiday Checklist for 2016 - How to Prepare Yourself for Success!

For those entering VCE English Langauge 3/4 in 2016, I'd like to give you a quick rundown of what to do these holidays in preparation for next year. The holidays present the perfect time to not only give your body a much needed break but to also prepare yourself for the following year.

This time last year actually I had published a similar post to those who finished this year. You can read that here as much of that content is still relevant.

I was inspired to rewrite this post again as a new student of mine had told me that he had no issues studying for all of his other subjects (Methods, Chemistry, Physics etc), yet struggled to study for English Language. He actually had no idea how to approach VCE English Language these holidays. So that's what this post will be about today!

SCHOOL HOMEWORK

First and foremost, you must complete all of the prescribed homework from your school. There is a reason teachers give this to you to complete over the holidays - it will allow you to form a foundation for next year. Make sure you complete this meticulously and over time - do not rush it as this will not benefit you at all. Once this is done, then move onto the list below.

METALANGUAGE LIST

You can find the complete metalanguage list here on the VCAA site. Go to pages 17-18 to find the complete list.

Your task over the holidays will be to go through this list and define ALL of these terms. This is very important for next year as metalanguage underpins everything you do in VCE English Language including all sections of the exams and all SACs. I have an online course, which conveniently has all the definitions for the metalanguage list (updated for 2016). You can find that here.

QUOTES AND MEDIA EXAMPLES

Part of being successful in the essay section (Section C) is knowing how to weave in both modern media examples and linguist quotes. What I mean by this is supporting real world examples of language use WITH linguist quotes to prove your claims. Often what you study in English Language will be occurring out in the real world, and assessors LOVE to see this as it shows you're linguistically aware of the world around you!

Take a look at my post on recent media examples for 2015 here. This is what I mean - don't be daunted by it; it's a skill that will take time to develop.

Get your list started early; many students mistakenly leave it until the last minute before exams and this will just cause you stress.

READ SAMPLE A+ RESPONSES AND PAST EXAMS

Firstly, I’d advise reading Kirsten Fox’s English Language Exam Guide (otherwise known as ‘The Green Book’), and in doing so I’d recommend you study the sample responses they provide to you for section A, B and C. To refresh if you don’t know, section A is short answer, section B is the analytical commentary and section C is the essay.

When observing and analysing the sample responses in the green book, look at:

  • The key metalinguistic terms used often
  • The structure of the content (note: a structure is always followed every time)
  • Any noticeable examples or quotations (highlight these!)
  • The sentence structures and the lexical choice (i.e. how the sentences flow on from each other)

Remember this: EXPOSURE = SUCCESS

By exposing yourself to A+ responses, you will begin to subconsciously replicate the structuring and expression in your own pieces. You could even ask your teacher for some A+ responses from past students at your school (if they're happy to obviously!).

READ THE STUDY DESIGN

I guess I should've put this at the start, but it goes without saying that you should familarise yourself with what you're going to be learning. The study design has a wealth of knowledge that will allow you to fundamentally understand they key concepts of this course. When going through it, highlight key terms you may not understand and put this onto a list. Your task then will be to look up and define each of these terms.

PREPARATION FOR UNIT 3 AOS 1

Your first assessment will be for Unit 3 AOS 1 at school. Now, the way your school assesses this will vary from school to school. Some assess this AOS (area of study) in the form of an essay, or an analytical commentary, or even short answer. Some even conduct orals (unlikely). Whatever it is, it would be worthwhile (in my opinion) to go through a spoken transcript and written piece (both informal) and analyse all of the linguistic features. You can find sample informal spoken and written pieces in all past English Language exams, which can be found here.

You may struggle with this at first, but just go through any piece that is informal and ask yourself the question - "if I was this author/speaker, why would I write/speak like this?". Be inquisitive as this skill will allow you to excel in English Language. Upon reflection, I was incredibly inquisitive in Year 12 and so I often did a lot of my own outside research and pondered many unanswered questions myself, which propelled me to do a ton of online research.

I hope this helps any student out there! :)

Positive and Negative Face Needs - What is the Difference!?

I am constantly asked this question by many of my students, and since they've been asking it frequently, I believe others may want to know too!

The study design has been updated for 2016-2020 and part of this update is the inclusion and awareness of ‘positive and negative face needs’.

To keep it really simple to start off with, these are the key definitions of both terms:

  • Positive face refers to a person’s need to be accepted or liked by others, and to be treated as a member of a group knowing that their wants are shared by others.
  • Negative face refers to a person’s need to be independent and not be imposed on by others.

In order to maintain social relationships, people need to acknowledge the face of other people. Thus we seek to make the other person feel good.

People aim to build up the closeness and rapport with each other (their positive face) while trying to avoid being a threat to the other person's social distance (their negative face).

Positive Politeness Strategies:

Shows closeness, intimacy, solidarity and rapportNotices or attends to the other person’s wants, needs or possessionsE.g. That's a nice suit, where did you get it from?Intensifies one’s interest, approval or sympathy for the other personE.g. I am very sorry to hear your grandfather passed away - my condolences to yourself and your family.Uses in-group identity markers e.g. in-group address forms, jargon and slang.What's up Davo? How ya pulling up today after a big night mate?Chooses topics you’ll both agree onE.g. Mutual interests to build social rapportHedges and/or tells white lies to avoid disagreementPresupposes or asserts common ground between peopleE.g. talking about the weather - "it's such a nice day today, isn't it?"Makes offers or promisesAssumes or asserts reciprocityUse of “we” rather than “you” (incl. conjugations of each pronoun)E.g. "Let's go guys!" - creates a sense of social inclusion rather than exclusion

Negative Politeness Strategies

Gives the other person choices, allowing them to maintain their freedomE.g. Would you like to meet up tomorrow night or next week? What suits you?Uses indirect speechE.g. You couldn't possibly tell me the time, please?Does not presume or assume by asking questions such as “could you do this for me?”Begins with “This probably won’t be necessary but...”Minimises imposition on the other person "I just wanted to ask if I could...”Gives deference by the use of certain forms of addressE.g. “We look forward very much to seeing you again" - after you've left a new cafe or restaurantApologises to the other person by indicating reluctance or asking forgiveness "I’m sorry to be asking you this...”Makes requests/statements less personal by using “you” instead of “I"E.g. "You couldn't give me a can of coke, could you?" rather than "I want a can of coke"

To see the list above in a summarised format, please click here.

I hope this helps out with your studies! Please leave a comment below if you have any questions :)

Success tips from a past student who scored a raw 50!

Now, this is a rather long post, so brace yourself, BUT I’d recommend reading the whole article (especially if you want to do well).

I know English Language is not the easiest subject, but with the right guidance (and inspiration), you can no doubt do well. So without further ado, let’s begin…

The following answers below are from Tim, a graduate who scored a raw 50 in English Language. Thank you to Tim for taking the time to answer these questions!

Why did you choose English Language over mainstream English?

I chose English Language because I was intrigued by the subject’s focus on linguistics and the structure and function of language.  I also studied Literature so I felt that a subject that was less about analysing books and other fiction texts and more about analysing language itself would not only compliment my study of Literature, but contrast nicely with it so I wouldn’t get bored.  I am also very interested in the power of language in our lives and our society, so being able to study why and how we use language in particular contexts outside of a work of literature was appealing to me.

What were some factors that helped you attain your study score?

The most important factor in helping me to attain my study score was organisation.  This meant being on top of the work at all times and being fully prepared for SACs and the exam, and I achieved it through things such as recording and scheduling all homework/study for completion in a specific calendar that I could access from my computer and phone, ensuring that I knew when my assessments were and what they entailed so I could prepare for them in advance, and putting in that extra hour when I actually wanted to watch TV so I could complete a piece of work that I would otherwise fall behind on.

Another factor was my creation of a personalised set of notes, including a metalanguage, quotes, and examples table, which was key to helping me structure and organise the information that I needed to know for the SACs/exams.

A little bit of a flair for English also definitely played a role, but more importantly, a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed (which meant I was willing to sacrifice some of my recreation time etc. to do so) were crucial to achieving my study score.

What noticeable weaknesses did you have in English Language and how did you overcome them?

Probably my biggest weakness was my tendency to overwrite.  I had so much to say but nowhere near enough time to say it in SACs/exams.  To overcome this, I had to prioritise and write concisely – what was the most important information to convey and how could I do so in the minimum amount of words to achieve the marks for the question?  For example, if a question asked me to explain how a particular text was coherent (6 marks), in the beginning, I would write hundreds of words explaining all different features of the coherence of the text, and give well-beyond the necessary six marks worth of information, but then I would run out of time later on.  So I had to learn to choose, for example, the three strongest features of coherence in the text, and offer a concise example and explanation, to score the full six marks without compromising myself in terms of time.  The same applied for analytical commentaries and essays – as they say, often less is more and quality is more important than quantity – and although easier said than done, adhering to these two maxims was what helped me to score highly in the exam.

What were your noticeable strengths in English Language and how did you take advantage of them?

My greatest strength in English Language was probably my writing ability.  It’s a common misconception that you don’t need to write essays in English Language – in fact, the exam requires you to write 15 marks worth of short-answer question responses plus an analytical commentary and an essay!  Being able to write well from the get-go made it easier for me in SACs and exams because I could focus more on improving the content of the SAC/exam response rather than the actual quality of the writing itself.  To anyone who wants to improve their writing, there is only one way of doing so – practicing writing!

Another strength was my ability to organise information in a logical and structured way.  Having a set of notes and a metalanguage table that is highly organised makes it really easy when it comes to exam time to study and prepare for the exam.  I would recommend to anyone wishing to receive a high mark to collate all the information you have from a variety of sources into one document, and use that as your one source of study for the exam, employing headings, sub-headings, graphic organisers, tables, and any other forms of organisation.

How did you organise your quotes list for the essay section in the exam? Where did you find quotes and examples?

I love tables, so I made up two tables – one containing all of my recent media examples, and one with quotes.  The subheadings I used for the former table included ‘Example’ (my name for the example), ‘Source’, ‘Notes (including key metalanguage)’, ‘Quotes’, ‘Possible essay topics’, and ‘Relevant subsystems’.  I found most of my examples in the Guardian and Age newspapers.  I especially recommend Gary Nunn’s regular Guardian article on language, published on the last Friday of each month.  However, examples can come from anywhere, not just news articles.  You can even use the latest slang term you hear your friends using!

As for quotes, I created a separate table where I used the subheadings ‘Source’, ‘Quote’, and ‘Possible topics’.  I made sure I had at least one quote for each possible topic.  Quotes need not be as recent as the examples, and often come from linguists and other authorities on language.  My personal favourite is one written by George Orwell – “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

How did you study for English Language before a SAC?

This varied on the basis of the SAC format.

For the analytical commentary SACs, I would follow the following steps:– Read the text to be analysed twice.– A few hours/days later, re-read the text.– Begin annotating the text, focusing on picking out features on each line and matching them to a subsystem.– Leave it for a few hours/days, and then come back and repeat this process, using a metalanguage table as a checklist to make sure I had covered every subsystem and picked up on every possible feature.– ‘Zoom out’ by looking at what the function of these features are in the text as a whole, including their links to context and register.– Group the features into paragraphs with a topic sentence for each.– Plan the introduction, ensuring that I detailed the different sociolinguistic variables.– Write a practice SAC so I knew exactly what the final product will look like.– Edit and revise the practice SAC and either strip it down to dot points if a plan was allowed into the SAC, or commit its structure and key points to memory.

For essays, I would follow a similar process, but instead of reading/analysing the texts, I would scrutinise the stimulus material provided and the topic and determine how I would approach the essay.  I would gather all of the most relevant contemporary examples and quotes and decide how to integrate the best of them into the essay.  Then I would write a plan, and finally, write a practice essay.

Were they any SACs throughout the year that you weren’t happy with? How did you overcome that unhappiness?

I was quite satisfied with all my SAC results, except for my very last one, which I did not feel reflected my full capabilities in that area of study.  I overcame this unhappiness by promising myself that I would write a better essay in the exam!  This included focusing more on embedding recent examples of language use relevant to the area of study into the essay and drawing upon the stimulus material as inspiration, rather than simply inserting the stimuli into a pre-determined essay plan to satisfy the requirement of using it.

Is metalanguage important? If so, how did you study it?

Metalanguage is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the English Language course.  You will not succeed in this subject if you do not know the metalanguage!  I studied it by compiling a massive table of every piece of metalanguage I came across, including a definition, notes on its functions and uses, and an example.  I categorised all of the metalanguage under the subsystems and made sure that I knew every piece of metalanguage included in the study design.  Most importantly, however, I practiced using that metalanguage repeatedly, using it in short answer questions, analytical commentaries, and essays, to the point where it had become like a second language to me!

Where to Find Media Examples for 2016!

Many past high-scoring graduates of VCE English Language have stated to me that what allowed them to attain high scores in the essay section was... the use of modern media examples! Yes, modern media examples. I genuinely believe many students are aware of this, but I also believe that many students don't know where to look or even how to look. My aim is to demystify this dilemma today (well, hopefully!).

Modern examples + Linguist quotes = Great essay!

Pay attention to the equation above. This is what will at least allow you to build a solid foundation in your essay, which in turn will allow you to attain a high score. Of course, there are other factors too such as your expression, structure and grammar, but we'll save that for another time. Today, we'll focus mostly on modern examples and linguist quotes.

Finding modern examples is not too hard, but how on earth do I find modern linguist quotes?

Good question! Finding modern linguist quotes can be very difficult, if you don't know where to look or WHO to look for. Generally speaking, you will not get penalised for using old linguist quotes, AS LONG AS these linguist quotes are backed up by modern examples in the media/world. However, if you do happen to find new linguist quotes, then this will be viewed favourably.

When searching for examples across the web, it's always a good idea to have a sound knowledge of the metalanguage and understand it through and through. You should also not only understand it, but also know how to IDENTIFY it in texts.

So, without further ado, let's look at the various places you can find modern examples. Please also see the screenshots to understand how I find these examples too.

Google News

This is always my first choice. Why do the hard work when Google has already done it for you? Google News acts as a consolidator of information from credible news sites. The easiest way to search for a modern article is to go to Google News and type in key metalinguistic terms, followed by relevant pre-modifiers. For example, you might type in 'Australian slang' or 'euphemism'. See an example below:

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 3.09.01 pm

Newspapers

Yes, many of us don't even read newspapers anymore, BUT they are often full of gold. In particular, when reading either the Herald Sun or the Age, pay close attention to the comments section. Oftentimes, members of the public will complain about archaic or obfuscatory (confusing) language.

In addition, you'll probably notice many examples of Australianisms in many journo's articles (see what I did there?). See some examples below that I found when reading the newpaper:

covert-racism
pollie-photo

Google Search

Another way of finding great examples is through a simple Google search. But this time, we will 'refine' our search. A good way of refinement can be conducted by clicking on 'Search tools' -> 'Country: Australia' -> 'Past Month'. This will ensure your examples are from Australia (if you'd like them to be) and will be modern!

See an example below:

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 2.47.53 pm

On the street (literally)

It's amazing how often you can spot something when you're either driving (or being driven), or just simply walking with friends. I had this moment in October 2015, when I was driving to a tutoring lesson and I happened to come across a big sign on the road reading:

"Road safety cameras save lives!"

Notice something interesting there? You'll notice that 'road safety camera' is a euphemism for 'speed camera'. By appealing to the security side of human beings, the government can effectively persuade you to accept their existence. This is also known as rhetoric.

Conversations

Similar to 'on the street', picking up on certain linguistic choices can incredibly beneficial to you. When you're with your friends, you may pick up on new slang terms such as 'netflix and chill'. In fact, I heard this term from my term and unbeknownst to him, I had no clue what this term meant!

Earlier in 2015, I picked up the brand name 'Uber' being used as a verb by my friends. For example, they may say "I just ubered here". Again, this is all comes back to linguistic awareness.

So there you have it! I hope this helps you immensely with your studies in 2016 and also helps you with finding great media examples!

The Guardian

A special thanks to Tim Lilley for this one! You can find all articles pertaining to 'language' written by the Guardian here: http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language

The main differences between informal and formal language!

All VCE English Language students must complete Unit 3 AOS 1 & Unit 3 AOS 2 of the course before successfully moving onto Unit 4. Today, I will help you demystify the differences between informal and formal language, because Unit 3 is just that: formal and informal language.

Having tutored many students myself, I have noticed an inherent disconnect between students' knowledge and their actual understanding. Yes, students can LEARN the metalanguage for informal and formal language, but that doesn't mean you actually UNDERSTAND it at the conceptual level. I strongly urge all students to think about these questions and aim to do your own research independent of what your teacher tells you. This is what will allow you to get an amazing mark in English Language - independent and unique thinking.

To start off, please see my two previous articles on informal language and formal language before reading the rest of this post (for contextual purposes). 

Let's first look at a few neat comparison pictures (this will help you first understand what informal and formal language looks like):

formal-and-informal-pic
formal-vs-informal

So, based on the pictures above, what makes the left side formal and the right side informal? Let's delve into it.

  1. You'll notice 'smart people words' in the formal column. But surely you can't say 'smart people words' in a SAC? In this case, these lexemes are almost always of French and Latin origin/etymology. Remember the French invasion of English in 1066? When the French invaded, they brought in over 10,000 words of which 7,500 exist today (or thereabouts). During this era, the upper class spoke French, while the lower class spoke Old English (of Germanic origins), and this led to many lexemes of French origin being held in higher regard in comparison to their Germanic equivalents. For example, this can be seen in the couplet 'to begin' vs 'to commence'. Which sounds formal? Of course 'commence' does, but 'begin' is used more frequently. Formal language can sometimes sound pompous (i.e. up yourself), but it is useful in reflecting authority, precision of meaning and seriousness.
  2. This leads me to my next point: informal. One common observation in the right hand column is that many of the sentences are 'cut down' and even the words too. When sentences are incomplete, this is officially known as syntactic ellipsis. Ellipsis is a very common feature of informal language, and oftentimes is used for purposes of efficiency in terms of saving time. Think of a Facebook conversation or even an everyday conversation with friends. You'll try your best to shorten down everything without affecting the intended meaning. Another form of efficiency is through what is known as phonological elision. As can be seen in the second picture above, the lexeme 'you' has been elided (cut down) to 'ya' for purposes of saving time.
  3. Formal language can often be perceived at times as less imposing on someone's freedom (think of negative face needs) due to the sentence structure being impersonal. For example, think of the sentence "We demand that you pay this bill now" in comparison to "This bill should be paid and it is requested that this be done as soon as practicable". Which one sounds more formal? The second example definitely does. You'll notice two observations in the second example:
  4. "This bill should be paid" is an example of an agentless passive voice and depersonalises the text by omitting the agent (the person paying). You'll find many companies employ this technique to be less forceful and therefore attend to the other person's negative face needs. Informal language can often be more direct, emotional and forceful (but not always).
  5. "It is requested that you..." is an example of a lexeme that has more positive connotation (request). Which sounds more forceful - request or demand?
  6. Informal language is more intimate and social. Thinking of slang terms or even colloquial phrases such as 'What's up?' as shown in the picture above. It allows the speaker or author to be perceived as friendlier, more casual and relatable. Let me know the next time you say to your friend 'How do you do?' and watch for their reaction. It will be one of oddity but also one of social distance.
  7. Similar to intimacy and social connection, informal language allows a speaker to reflect their identity, whether it be cultural or social. For example, the Australia colloquial phrase 'how are ya going mate?' is a perfect example to allow a speaker to forge cultural solidarity with their interlocutor (hearer).

Generally speaking, remember this rule:

FORMAL = IMPERSONAL, DISTANT & UNAMBIGUOUS

INFORMAL = PERSONAL, INTIMATE AND CAN BE AMBIGIOUS

So, there you have it guys! These are some of the main differences between informal and formal language! I sincerely hope this helps. I'd also like to mention, however, that this is by no means complete, so please see my other articles on formal and informal language.

Informal Language - How do we economise our speech?

This is it guys - school is now officially back from everyone and it's now time to develop those GOOD habits throughout all of 2016. Part of these good habits include thoroughly understanding terms and how they can be applied to texts at the CONCEPTUAL LEVEL. What do I mean by this? I mean not just creating a definitions list for all metalinguistic terms and praying to God you'll remember it, rather actually understanding these terms and applying it to a variety of texts.

Unit 3 AOS 1 looks at informal language and part of that is what is known as speech economisation. This is is the idea that we 'shorten down' frequently repeated lexemes or phonemes with the intention of saving time in the process. We also endeavour to ensure the intended meaning is comprehensible too.

Economisation happens in a variety of subsystems including phonology and syntax, which we'll look at today.

Phonology

  • Elision
  • This is one of the more common means of speech economisation - elision is the process of omitting (removing) phonemes from lexemes to create a more free-flowing speech. For example, the lexeme 'interesting' would more commonly be pronounced as 'intresting'. Similarly, the lexeme 'library' would be more commonly pronounced as 'libry'.
  • Elision can also be seen in many function words too such as 'going to', which when elided (verb form of elision) becomes 'gonna'. Do not confuse this with the process of assimilation and some students do. Similar examples include 'wanna', 'kinda', 'shoulda' and 'lotsa'.
  • The reason this is elision is because ultimately a phoneme has been removed from one of the two clustered lexemes. For example, 'lotsa' is the combination of 'lots of'. Now, if you say it slowly and stop after you the say the 'o' in 'of' you'll notice you end on sound similar to the schwa sound (like 'a'). Hence, the 'f' is removed from 'of' and you end up with 'lotsa'. This same process can be applied to all of the examples I mentioned above.
  • Assimilation
  • Assimilation is also a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound. This can occur either within a word or between words. In rapid speech, for example, "handbag" is often pronounced as 'hambag'
  • Assimilation has also occurred in Standard English too! For example, the Latin prefix in- 'not, non-, un-' appears in English as il-, im-. and ir- in the words illegal, immoral, impossible and irresponsible as well as the unassimilated original form in- in indecent and incompetent.
  • Some words would only be affected by assimilation, and some words would only be affected elision. But many words would be affected both by assimilation and by elision. And when a word is affected by assimilation as well as elision, its shape changes not just a little, but considerably. Thus, for example, in "went back", the 't' gets elided, and the sequence becomes "wen' back". Now the sound 'n' occurs before the sound 'b'. So the 'n' readily assimilates to 'm'. And the sequence then becomes "wem' back". Similarly, the word group "He isn't coming" becomes "He isn' coming" through the elision of 't', and then becomes "He isng' coming" through the assimilation of 'n'. In the same way, the word "handbag" becomes "han'bag" through the elision of 'd', and then "ham'bag" through the assimilation of 'n'.
  • Insertion/Addition
  • Insert (or addition) is the idea that we add a phoneme to a lexeme for ease of pronunciation.
  • For example, 'athlete' may sometimes be pronounced as 'athelete'.

Syntax

  • Ellipsis
  • Similar to elision, this is the process of omitting 'whole words' out of sentences. Do not confuse elision with ellipsis and trust me, many students do! Also understand that elision has one 'l', whereas ellipsis has two.
  • For example, 'Got the time?' is an example of a fragmented sentence that has succumb to the process of ellipsis. In this example, 'have you' has been omitted and has not affected the intended meaning. You'll often find that words removed are often function (i.e. grammatical) words, whereas the content words remain to ensure intelligibility of information.

In addition to saving time and making our speech much smoother, can speech economisation serve another purpose? Definitely! In casual conversation with friends, it can make us appear friendlier and more socially relatable.

I can definitely relate to this. I have found that when I am tutoring, I try to stay away from the extremities of speech economisation as I wish to appear more professional to my students. However, when I am at a party or a BBQ, I have noticed that I make my Australian accent much 'broader' and therefore more characteristic of the above informal features.

Now, by no means is this list complete - to keep it simple for you, I've named just some of the main forms of speech economisation!

On a side note, I have found this goldmine of a resource: http://english.wellacre.org/year-11/gcse-english-language/spoken-language-study

This website has many examples of spoken transcripts to analyse and definitions for many key spoken linguistic terms!

Formal Language - An Introduction + An Example Analysis

Hey all! As we approach the end of Unit 3 AOS 1 (informal language), that means we now approach the start of Unit 3 AOS 2 (formal language). With holidays being one week away, it's now a good time to do some reflection and self assessment:

  • What went well this term?
  • What didn't go so well this term?
  • How will I improve on these weaknesses next term and beyond?
  • Did I make use of study time effectively and have I developed good study habits?

It's also a great time to have some time to yourself. Some of the highest-scoring graduates were adamant on having time off during the holidays.

Now, with regards to formal language, it's also a good time to start preparing yourself for your assessments in term 2. I'd highly recommend going through the section dedicated to Unit 3 AOS 2 in the STUDY DESIGN and highlighting all key information and keywords. This will give you a massive competitive advantage and the document can be found here: http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/englishlanguage/EnglishLanguageSD_2016.pdf

Before continuing, I'd also highly recommend you read my article here on formal language and a defintion + features of it: http://www.vcestudyguides.com/unit-3-aos-2-what-exactly-is-formal-language-and-what-are-its-purposes

Now, the main purpose of this article today is to explain to you how the information in the above article corresponds with real, everyday examples of formal language. As I went to pay for my VicRoads rego for my car, I realised that the letter was written with formal language and thought this would be perfect for you all! I've only cut out a certain segment of the letter, namely the information about concession card holders, and the various rules and regulations on concession payments. I personally believe the outline these rules in full force to prevent payees from taking advantage of any possible loopholes and paying a discounted amount (when they are not entitled to it). See the complete image below and make sure you read through the entire piece. Apologies for the lack of line numbers as this is a photo taken by my phone.

Formal-Vic-Roads

Make sure you watch my video below too as I explain all of the features above (and this might help with your understanding).

Below I have summarised the main formal linguistic features. By no means is this complete, but these are the ones that really stand out to me. If you have any other features that you think would be noteworthy, please do let me know.

  • The function of this text is to inform VicRoads customers about the terms and conditions surrounding concession cardholders. The wider social purpose would be to ultimately prevent any customers from exploiting any loopholes (i.e. to prevent those who want to pay less, because concession cardholders pay a smaller fee).
  • Subsystem of Lexicology:
  • Modal Verbs. I noticed a frequent use of modal verbs, which ultimately help to indicate modality – that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation. These ultimately help to provide specificity of meaning to customers.
  • Uncontracted verbs. I noticed that to ensure precise communication and unambiguity, the author uses uncontracted verb forms such as 'cannot' and 'you are'.
  • Elevated lexis (fancy-sounding words). You'll notice that much of the lexicon evident comes from Latin/French. This helps to give the text a serious and official tone; that is, a tone of authority and expertise. Examples include 'concession', 'entitlements' and 'request'.
  • With regards to 'request', you'll notice that VicRoads uses this lexeme instead of 'demand' or even 'ask'. Why? It's simple. 'Request' allows VicRoads to appeal to your negative face needs and not impose on your freedom. Always remember that money can be construed as a 'taboo topic' in many societies, so when asking for payment, many companies and governments will use less forceful language to appeal to negative face needs.
  • Subsystem of Syntax:
  • Passives & Agentless Passives. Under the 'Short Fees' paragraph, you'll notice this entire paragraph sounds 'formal'. But, what exactly does formal even mean here? Have a look at the first clause of the sentence "...if paid before or on the registration...". This is an example of an agentless passive whereby the agent has been omitted (if paid by who?). This helps to create a distant tone between the author and the audience, thereby depersonalising the text.
  • Nominalisation. Like agentless passive, nominalisations also create a distant tone by omitting the subject. Looking at that same paragraph, you'll notice the first clause says '...is not valid on payment of the fee...'. Payment in this case is a nominalisation (verb to noun), whereby the verb 'pay' has been converted to a noun 'payment'. This helps to remove the subject as it is already inferred, but also makes the text seem more condensed by omitting unnecessary or inferred parts of the sentence.
  • Compound-Complex Sentence Structures. In formal documents, particularly legal documents, 'long sentence' (compound-complex sentence structures) are very common. Why? This  asserts that by packaging content so close together, it therefore allows the author to show clarity of information by displaying the relationship between ideas. It also elevates a writer's credibility. In our same paragraph example as above, you'll notice this entire paragraph is actually one sentence, particularly a compound-complex sentence structure. You'll notice that the main reason for this being this sentence structure is because it allows the author to show the various conditions of payment (i.e. if you pay at this date etc.), to again ensure CLARITY of information - so there is no ambiguity regarding when payment should be made. This therefore ties back nicely to the function, being to inform. More info on this sentence structure can be found here: http://grammar.about.com/od/c/g/comcomplexterm.htm
  • Discourse
  • For the purposes of ensuring you get practice, I will only discuss coherence. For homework, I'd recommend you try and find cohesive devices between different parts of the text as well as within each paragraph. You can read more about coherence and cohesion here.
  • With regards to coherence, you'll notice that the use of formatting allows for the author to highlight key information (e.g rules about concession cardholders uses dot points). Subtitles also help the author to highlight more key information (like I have done in this article!).

Well there you have it guys! I hope this helps out :) As I said, it's not complete - but that's the whole point! Test and challenge yourself, and try to find more features to add to the list above.

Formal Language: Manipulation & Obfuscation

Did you know that in addition to formal language being incredibly precise, it also can function as a means of obfuscation and manipulation? Quite the contrast and quite contradictory too. As a functioning member of society and a burgeoning linguist, it is your task to differentiate between when formal language is purposefully confusing you or actually trying to painfully clear and precise (think of a terms and conditions document). For the purposes of this article today, we will be looking briefly at this idea of obfuscation and manipulation. But first, let's define them!

Obfuscation can be defined as "the obscuring of intended meaning in communication, making the message confusing, willfully ambiguous, or harder to understand"

Manipulation can be defined as "to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage"

Let's first have a look at modern day politics and how the recent tax saga has caused the leakage of some obfuscatory terms. According to Richard Denniss, the author of Econobabble, "What is econobabble? We hear it every day, when public figures and commentators use incomprehensible economic jargon to dress up their self-interest as the national interest, to make the absurd seem inevitable or the inequitable seem fair." Ultimately in politics, especially with reference to tax and finances, politicians often use 'fancy sounding words' often of French or Latinate origin.

Richard Denniss further states that “unfortunately, the primary role of economics in Australian political debate has become the narrowing of the choices we face and scaring the public into doing things we don't want to do. You know the stuff: if we don't cut the company tax rate we will become "uncompetitive"; if we don't cut the top tax rate then rich people will have no "incentive" to work hard; and if we don't cut the meagre welfare benefits of the poor then the budget will become “unsustainable". These are also examples of ‘public language’.

Let's examine these three highlighted lexemes further. What the hell do they even mean? Seriously. Think about it and you may come to your own conclusion, but it's often murky and riddled with uncertainties. Now, the next time you watch the 6pm news and see the Treasurer speak or any other political figure, listen out for these words or words of a similar structure. When I was reading the newspaper a few days ago, I came across this interesting comment by a Herald Sun reader (see photo below):

public-language-photo

Take a look at the excerpt "living within our means", meaning reduced quality of health, educational and welfare services. Interesting how this term is used so frequently yet we just seem to blindly accept its usage? Whenever I hear this term, my feeling and rationalisation is that it means you accept that you can't afford certain objects or services, but usually without an inkling or questioning behind it.

Furthermore, in early 2015, the then Treasurer Joe Hockey stated, according to Annabelle Lukin of The Conversation “…[recently] handed down what would be its most unpopular budget… [and] Hockey tried to convince us to pay more tax [by using the term] contributing…”. In this example, Joe Hockey makes use of the euphemism ‘contributing’ in order to wilfully influence the Australian audience into paying more taxes, therefore manipulating and obfuscating the truth. How? Because the term 'contributing' creates a greater sense of inclusivity with the Australian audience, as though we're 'in this together'.

To add further fuel to this argument, for those of you who use Adblock (a plugin for your internet browser to block banner ads and other ads), you'll notice that certain sites can detect when it is activated in your browser. Now, oftentimes these sites display advertisements of which they earn revenue from them and so having 'Adblock' enabled will prevent them from earning an income! But rather than state it like that, they say: “You have Adblock enabled. Adblock has been known to cause issues with site functionality. If you are experiencing any difficulties, please try disabling Adblock".

Have a look at those two highlighted words/phrases:

  • 'Has been known to' - wait, by who? This is known as an agentless passive as the author may actually not have any evidence to support this.
  • 'Functionality' - what the hell does this mean? What is functional in this context? It's quite unclear in its definition as functionality is very subjective (depending on context and technology).

In addition, syntactic nominalisations in formal language also serve the profound ability to impede clear thinking and prevent unambiguity. For example, in the Qantas Customer Charter document, the author makes use of bureaucratese in order to minimise clear thinking. This can be seen in the sentence “We aim to minimise the environmental impact of our operations and have targets and commitments to guide our performance”. In this example, the author uses five nominalisations, which according to Henry Hitchings of the New York Times in 2013 “[they] reduce our sense of what’s truly involved in a transaction and as such, they are an instrument of manipulation, in politics and in business”. In this example, I am of the firm belief that the author wishes to either not disclose these environmental policies due to the abstraction of these terms, of may not have them at all!

Well there you have it! My initial thoughts regarding formal language and its obfuscatory purpose. Now, your challenge is to add to this list, which will subsequently allow you to dominate your essays!

Political correctness – can language really be discriminatory?

See Nate's podcast of this study guide below!

[Watch] John Cleese: Political Correctness Can Lead to an Orwellian Nightmare

At the start of 2016, John Cleese suggested that Political Correctness could lead to an Orwellian Nightmare, claiming that nowadays it appears as though any playful language with a hint of satire or criticism can be perceived as ‘un-PC’ and consequently labelled cruel, bigoted or discriminatory. Cleese correctly stated that Political Correctness once started out as a good idea that encouraged us not to be “mean to people who particularly were not able to look after themselves very well” (that is, not to undermine those who are already disenfranchised). Whilst it is clear that there are some bigots, racists and misogynists in Australian society who use language that perpetuate discriminatory biases, the issue arises as to whether language itself can really be discriminatory or that what is deemed PC is merely born out of increasingly sensitive interpretation.

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  1. Playful lexemes interpreted as offensive

In August last year, Eddie McGuire was thrust into the limelight after calling the Muslim Victorian Sports Minister, John Eren, a mussie. Many viewed this as an example of discriminatory language, arguing that it derogatorily represented an unsympathetic and disrespectful attitude towards Muslims. Despite this, others – including Eren – did not see this as offensive, and McGuire himself argued that it was only a ‘term of endearment’. Hence, when observing the lexeme linguistically, mussie can be described as an informal vocative created by the popular Australian morphological construction of adding the suffix –ie to proper nouns. Consequently, diminutive lexemes are produced and can be used playfully by interlocutors to build rapport and reduce the social distance.

A similar issue arose in October last year when a Xavier College student used the colloquialism ‘povo’ on Facebook when referring to public school students. Likewise, although povo may sound un-PC (and therefore ‘cruel), it can be said that it merely represents similar morphological constructions occurring when turning ‘muslim’ into mussie.

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Therefore, perhaps it is not the language itself that causes offence but more rather, playful language that is interpreted by some people as offensive.

  1. Derogatory lexemes used by ‘innocent’ people
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Nevertheless, it still is possible that language can be inherently discriminatory. During the Rogers Cup, tennis player Nick Kyrgios, said to his opponent, Stan Wawrinka, ‘Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend, sorry to tell you that mate’. (The girlfriend referred to here was Croatian tennis player, Donna Vekic).  Kyrgios was not only criticised for his unsportsmanlike conduct, but also for being misogynistic and perpetuating sexism in men’s sport through use of the verb ‘banged’. According to sports and health expert, Joanne Mayoh, ‘Vekic was the invisible victim here’, and an apology should have been directed towards Vekic instead of Wawrinka. However, unlike mussie and povobanged is perhaps an example of language that is inherently misogynistic. This is because in this context, banged refers to sexual conduct but semantically with its violent connotations further suggest some violent sexual conduct against a woman. In this case, perhaps Kyrgios himself is not a misogynist and perhaps men’s sport is not sexist but more rather the word is fundamentally and linguistically offensive.

In discussing whether language can be inherently racist, there are two points of view. On one hand, language that is playful and reflective of a laid-back Australian culture and is not discriminatory could be used by people who do hold prejudiced views, thus generating the illusion of discriminatory language. On the other hand, language that is fundamentally discriminatory could potentially cause people who are not necessarily discriminatory be deemed as such. When linking this back to the issue of political correctness, therefore, what is seen as pc or un-pc depends on interpretation. Is it offence given not taken or offence taken not given?

How ethnolects and idiolects shape Australian identity

Writing about ethnolects in Unit 4

Understanding how ethnolects and idiolects shape the Australian identity is a crucial aspect of Unit 4. This is because there are many different opinions about the Australian identity. On one hand, some believe that there is a distinct and unified national identity centred on values such as mateship, egalitarianism and a laid-back culture. On the other hand, others adopt a cosmopolitan approach, arguing that multiculturalism creates diversity within the Australian context and offers us a pluralistic (rather than unitary) identity.

For much of the course, you may have found it difficult to synthesise all of the information relating to your study of ethnolects and the many varieties that exist across the Australian context. You may be asking yourself, ‘does information like the fact that there are approximately 150,000 Greeks in Melbourne help you understand the impact of Greek English on our language?’

You may have researched and studied a lot about ethnolects and analysed ways in which they shape our culture, identity and society. To support you with determining which information is relevant, the following examples demonstrate how to separate evidence and its significance while planning essays.

Lebspeak and the Australian identity

Evidence 1: Habib (an informal vocative)

Have you ever heard someone say ‘habib’? Besides a select few, many of us have a sound understanding of what it means even if we are not Lebanese-Australian.

Significance: Habib is an Arabic lexeme that has been imported into the Australian English lexicon. Most commonly used with a semantic equivalent to ‘mate’, this informal vocative is frequently used by the Australian-Lebanese community to display their ethnic roots, as well as reinforcing in-group solidarity in a culturally diverse Australia. Their ability to do so, therefore, suggests that Australian English is largely influenced by foreign cultures and various ethnicities, generating more language varieties in the Australian context.

Habib is actually an Arabic name that means ‘sweetheart’ or ‘beloved’. Having undergone a semantic shift in the Australian context, adopting a similar meaning to ‘mate’, suggests instead that there is in fact an overarching national identity – one that influences promotes the ideals of mateship. One can argue, therefore, that whilst foreign lexemes imported into Australia generate diversity in the Australian identity, they too semantically adopt elements of the Australian culture.

Evidence 2: Fully (an intensifier)

Significance: The frequent use of fully as an intensifier by young male Lebanese-Australians has similar application that way is used by teenagers (think way happy). Although the Lebanese community exclusively use this intensifier by means of displaying their ethnic identity, they do so while adopting the Australian cultural tendency to positively exaggerate things.

View these articles for more information:

http://www.smh.com.au/national/its-our-own-strain-of-strine-habib-20090308-8sgx.html

http://theconversation.com/aussie-slang-is-as-diverse-as-australia-itself-27973

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/30/1054177724497.html

Greek English and the Australian identity

Evidence 3: Malaka (a derogatory lexeme)

Significance: Similar to Habib, almost all people understand the lexeme malaka which originates from Greek English, to be a derogatory lexeme. That many people, including non-Greeks, are exposed to such foreign lexis demonstrates the significant influence that foreign language has on Australian English.

These three examples are the easiest and most accessible to use when writing about ethnolects in an essay about language varieties and English in an Australian context. They are easy to remember, easy to understand and fun to write about. Of course, make sure that you don’t restrict yourself to only three examples. Explore a wide variety of evidence before synthesising and extracting the relevant significances for your essays!

Part 1: Why the GAT matters and how to it to your advantage

The General Achievement Test (GAT) is a 3 hour assessment based on your general knowledge ranging from English, mathematics and humanity topics. The general vibe seen from majority of VCE students is that they aren’t really too sure why they have to take part in this ‘exam’ and as a result, most have little care for it. However, the GAT is an important component in the VCE assessment process. Let’s see why:

1. Standardising how teachers grade your SACs between different schools

Have you ever talked to your friend from another school and realised how unfair it was that their SAC length for the same assessment was twice the amount of time you had for your SAC? or that perhaps they received the English prompt a week prior to the SAC, rather than during the SAC like you did? Well, this type of this discrepancy can be compensated by the GAT as it helps to eliminate any biases school to school. This means that ultimately, when SAC marks contribute to your overall study score, you can be sure that your grades have been fairly compared to all other VCE students across the state. This also means that as a whole cohort, the students undertaking VCE at your school should all try to do their best because a better outcome will reflect better on the school’s grading system.

2. Ensuring that your exam marks at the end of year reflect your level and skills

All end-of-year papers are checked twice by two different assessors who independently give you a score for your exam. Now if they both give you a similar score then great, your exam has been marked. If not, a third assessor will then look at your exam in order to reach an agreement. Then, there is a last check against your GAT mark. If it so happens that your exam mark is much lower than what your GAT mark anticipated you to obtain – in other words, if you received a high GAT mark which demonstrates your strong skills in English, mathematics, science or humanities depending on the subject in question, then the paper will be reassessed again. So if you do well in the GAT and receive an excellent score, if for some reason you under-perform in the exam, then the GAT mark can help lift up your score. If your GAT mark is relatively low, then it probably can’t help you, despite you receiving an unexpected low exam grade. Thus, the GAT mark will only ever help you, it can never bring your mark down. That’s another reason why you should try to do well.

3. Derived Examination Score (DES)

Some students apply for a DES when they experience hardship during their VCE exam period such as personal trauma or an accident. In such situations, the GAT is compared with their exam mark to see whether or not the student demonstrated their full potential or if they under-performed because of their current situation. Again, if the student received a lower exam mark but has a high GAT score, it can mean that perhaps the student didn’t do as well as they could have, and thus, their grade may be boosted upwards. Many students believe that they are immune to anything happening to them before or during the exams, but you never know. You may as well take advantage of what VCAA is offering you – basically a ticket to a better ATAR if you’re ever in need.

Now knowing all this, it is often said that there is no preparation required for the GAT. Of course, if you are the type who would like to fit in some practice before the real thing, then have a look at the GAT archive available on the VCAA website. While you may not need to ‘study’ for the GAT, it is definitely worth knowing how you can best approach the examination in order to maximise your score outcome – so have a read of Part 2 of our GAT series: How to perform well in GAT Writing Tasks!

Part 2: How to perform well in GAT writing tasks

In Part 1 we discussed why it’s important to aim for the best in the General Achievement Test (GAT), so now we’ll discuss how you can actually go about doing this. As you know, there are two writing components in the GAT – Writing Task 1 and 2, as well as 70 multiple choice questions (MCQ). This post will break down both the writing components and offer you handy tips on how you should approach these tasks in order to maximise your GAT score and potentially increase your overall ATAR.

Organising your time:

VCAA suggests 30 minutes for both Writing Task 1 and 2 leaving the remainder of your time for 70 multiple choice questions. If you are happy with this approach then by all means go for it. However, considering that English is definitely in your top 4 subjects that contribute significantly to your ATAR, it is worth investing more of your time on the Writing Tasks. Generally, most students spend around 1 minute per multiple choice question which should therefore, only take around 70 minutes to complete the MCQ section. If we bear in mind that some MCQs will be more complex than others, say we dedicate an extra 20 minutes for MCQ, meaning that you should complete the whole MCQ section around the 90 minutes mark. This means that you can spare an extra 45 minutes for both Writing Tasks, which is definitely worth the investment since you’ll have the chance to write a more thoughtful and lengthy pieces. Strategically, this is a good approach for any student studying an English subject – which is well, everyone.

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Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013

Writing Task 1: 

What is it?

Writing Task 1 usually presents you with one or several images along with an abundance of information about a particular topic – don’t be surprised if you don’t know much or anything in regards to the topic chosen either. Over the past few years contents that have popped up on the GAT include Mt. Everest, wolves, the ocean and more. Below is an image of what you should expect (click on the image for a more detailed look):

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 5.20.40 pm
Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013

Instructions for Writing Task 1:

Consider the information on these two pages. Develop a piece of writing presenting the main information in the material. You should not present an argument. Your piece will be judged on:

• how well you organise and present your understanding of the material,

• your ability to communicate the information effectively, and

• how clearly you express yourself.”

What is it really asking you?

To write a creative piece utilising the information available in Writing Task 1. When students read the instructions, they find that it is rather vague and therefore, aren’t too sure on how to tackle the writing piece. The worst thing to do, which unfortunately a lot of students fall into the trap of doing, is to simply write a long-winded essay literally regurgitating the information from the GAT sheet. Instead, in order to demonstrate fantastic organisational skills and ‘communicate the information effectively’, you should aim to create something unique and interesting – for example, for the 2013 GAT on the topic of radios, you could take on a radio host persona or perhaps as someone working behind the scenes at the radio station. This will an excellent way of executing your writing piece.

Writing task 2:

What is it?

Writing task 2 consists of 4 statements on a contentious issue. Some of the issues raised in the past have included: are the elderly wiser than the young?, whether or not material possessions leads to happiness?, who are our heroes? and more. Below is an example from the 2013 GAT:

Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013
Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013

Instructions from Writing Task 2:

“Consider the statements below. Based on one or more of the statements, develop a piece of writing presenting your point of view. Your piece of writing will be judged on:

• the extent to which you develop your point of view in a reasonable and convincing way, and

• how effectively you express yourself.”

What is it really asking you?

To write a persuasive piece debating the topic using one or more of the statements to support your opinion. This means that you can either choose to focus on one of the statements and base your entire contention on that one statement, or alternatively, choose two or more statements as a basis for different arguments (if you wanted to write from a more balanced point of view). Options on how to present the piece include: opinion article, speech, blog post etc. Remember to include language techniques such as rhetorical questions, inclusive language, and more as this is expected in a persuasive piece. It’s also a good idea to include examples from current affairs, events or people in history, or even your own personal experiences to add some extra flavour to your piece.

Remember that the GAT can only help you improve your VCE mark, it can never bring you down – so make the effort and try your best! Good luck!

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