English & EAL

The Keys To English Fluency And Proficiency

July 1, 2019

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As non-native speakers living and studying in Australia, we would want nothing more than to improve our English skills both for the comfort of living in an English-speaking country and our career prospects. This blog aims to change the belief that only the naturally talented language learners can do well in the EAL exams and helps ESL speakers better their writing skills.

Contents of this study guide:
  1. Knowing Your Sentence Structure
  2. Expand Your vocabulary
  3. Grammar
  4. Build Your Own 'Essay Formulas'

1. Knowing Your Sentence Structure

I cannot stress how important it really is to really know your sentence structure and grammar because, without a solid understanding of how it is supposed to be structured, grammatical errors can easily be made which will preclude you from articulating your ideas in the clearest manner possible.

Simplest form: Subject + Verb + Object

Example: Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (S) is (V) an allegory for the McCarthyism trials (O).

While not all sentences have objects, it is not a sentence without a subject and a verb that goes with that subject. Sometimes you can have more than one subject or more than one objects:

Variation 1: Subject 1 + Subject 2 + Verb + Object or Subject 1 + Verb + Object 1 + Object 2

Example: Both To Kill a Mocking Bird (S1) and V for Vendetta (S2) present (V) a strong protagonist (O1) that advocate for their beliefs.

Example: The eponymous character Medea (S1) is (V) a diatribe against the patriarchal society (O1) and a paradigm of Hellenic women (O2).

Dependent clauses and linking phrases can also be added to improve the flow of your writing and enrich your ideas. They can also be used to ensure that your writing remains concise and coherent.

Variation 2: Clause + Subject + Verb + Object or Subject + Verb + Object + Clause  

Examples of dependent clauses:

- In addition (C), Brooks (S) also demonstrates (V) the ways in which individuals can start questioning their ideology in time of crisis (O).

- Set in a patriarchal society (C), Women of Troy (S) warns (V) the audience of the detrimental consequences of wars and the ways in which innocent bystanders are affected by them (O).

- As the story unveils (C), it (S) becomes (V) more difficult for the audience to sympathise with the titular character (O) due to his many flaws (C).

Examples of linking words:

EMPHASIS: Undoubtedly, Particularly, In particular, Specifically, Especially, Obviously, Clearly

ADDITION: Additionally, In addition, Furthermore, Also, Plus, Moreover, Besides

CONTRAST: Unlike, Nevertheless, On the other had, Conversely, Despite, In spite of, Whereas

It never hurts to have some sentence structured memorized if you are not yet fluent. For instance, have a few sentence formulas for each essay type that will be in the exams.

Text response:

- In particular, the protagonist (verb) (object), which enables the audience to (verb).

- This thereby (verb) the audience to (verb).

- While the character (verb) (object), the audience still (verb) as (pronoun) (verb).

- From the outset of the (text type), the writer presents (character’s name) as (adjective), (verb +ing) the audience to (verb).

- This is epitomized/ exemplified through the way in which the writer (EVIDENCE), seeking to (EFFECTS ON READERS) through (TECHNIQUE)

Language Analysis:

- By (TECHNIQUE + EVIDENCE), the writer (ARGUMENT e.g. fortify the notion that technology is more beneficial than detrimental), thereby (EFFECTS ON THE AUDIENCE)

- So as to (ARGUMENT e.g. amplify the cataclysmic effects of such behaviours on the society), the write (TECHNIQUE) This in turn/ thereby/ therefore (EFFECTS ON READERS) as EVIDENCE e.g. the writer posits _______).

- Compounding this notion with (TECHNIQUE) the writer ARGUMENT) in order to (EFFECTS ON THE AUDIENCE) as the (EVIDENCE e.g. term “slaughter” invokes connotations of brutality and destruction).

- This notion is bolstered/ fortified/ augmented/ amplified/ accentuated/ magnified through (TECHNIQUE/EVIDENCE).

2. Expand Your Vocabulary

While it is sometimes helpful to memorise words from glossaries found on the Internet, it is not the most the effective way to thoroughly improve your vocabulary. In fact, learning words from a glossary or dictionary by heart can often lead to students misusing the words due to their misinterpretation of the new words.

From what I’ve seen from my and other students’ experience, the best way to upgrade your word bank for your essays is to slowly word up from what you already know. Start off with a simple paragraph and you will see your writing get better after every time you edit or rewrite your paragraphs.

Avoid generic verbs

Words like “make” or “create” should be avoided at all cost because there are often words with connotation that can replace generic terms. For instance, instead of saying “the writer makes the audience sympathise with the characters, you can say “the writer compels the audience to sympathise with the characters”. Replacing words like “make” with words like “compel” improves your writing because unlike the first sentence which only mentions how the audience feel, the second sentence also focuses on the writer’s intention as the writer is using force or pressure to ensure the audience feels obliged to sympathise with the characters. It is always better to expand your vocab from what you already know rather than learning completely new words with new meanings you have never seen before.

Know the word’s connotations

Most English words have really clear connotation. An example of this would be how the term “slaughter” invokes connotation of brutality and destruction while the term “kill” does not evoke as many feelings within the reader.

Use strong adjectives

This is a way to avoid using generic adverbs such as “very” and “extremely”. “Exquisite” is a much more poetic sounding term than “very pretty” and “daunting” is better than “hard”. Having descriptive and expressive words at the back of your head will enable you to write paragraphs that will resonate within the readers, and by extension, boost your EAL results. I would highly recommend you build your own personal word bank for each of the writing section and re-use those words as many times as possible so those words stay engrained in your mind, making it much easier for you to look for words to write under exam condition.

It is also important to note that there is no fast-track way to improve your writing because memorizing a deck of vocabulary flashcards or a Quizlet topic will not get you what you want regardless of how good your memory is. Out of all the ‘fancy’ words that you learn from a glossary like that, you will probably only remember and use 1 or 2 of them. Vocabulary exercises will help you much more! You need to spend time practice using the words for them to be deeply engrained in your knowledge, which will in turn enable you to instinctively come up with better words to use.

If you’ve got a bit of extra time every week to work in your vocabulary, I recommend using the following books:

- Cambridge English Vocabulary in Use (Elementary or Intermediate): This book is suitable for students whose English is not yet fluent and proficient. Each of the topic only has a small group of words and there are short exercises that allow you to better remember the words.

- Cambridge English Collocation in Use (Intermediate): This book is suitable for mostly everyone because collocations not only will help you show off your English but will also improve your flow and coherence. For instance, “commit a murder” is a collocation, a group of words that go well together. It is not ideal to replace “commit” with anything else because “make a murder” just does not sound right.

- Sadlier Vocabulary Workshop (Level D to Level H): This series of books are not for ESL learners. They aim to strengthen native speakers’ writing skills and vocabulary, which thereby means that they are much more difficult. If you are already fluent and proficient, I highly recommend these books because they have a range of reading comprehension exercises that focus on a group of words and offer you heaps of exercises to practice that particularly group of words in different context as well! (Kill two birds with one stone because this will definitely help you nail that Section C short answer task!)

However, I do understand if you do not have the luxury of time, year 12 is hectic and is never a breeze. If that is the case though, try doing the following steps after finishing every of your essay.

1. Write that one “perfect” essay – doesn’t matter if you take days to finish it

2. Have it marked by your teacher/ tutor and read their feedback

3. Edit your essay/ rewrite them where you take into account people’s feedback – look at sample essays while you work on that one essay

4. Get feedback again!

5. Look at your newly improved essay and highlight all the points and vocabs that your teacher considered as good

6. Write your second essay while trying to use those good points and vocab that you had from your previous essay, you will find that you will not take you way too much time. You can also re-use the structure of your introduction to save time coming up with a new one. Just be careful with your coherence and relevance

7. Repeat the process again!

Well, that’s how I did it do keep in mind that it is merely a suggestion, but everyone is different in away so please do find what works best for you.

3. Grammar

English grammar is often seen as one of the more challenging one due to it having so many tenses and irregular cases. However, if you know how to break it down, it is not that scary because there are actually only 13 tenses and future, past and present tenses. Plus, in our EAL exams, we rarely need to use any other tenses aside from the present tenses anyway.

Also, it is important to pay attention to your subject verb agreement. While it is not a common error for EAL students, many students make careless errors such as this under time pressure. You would be surprised how rusty your writing can get when you are trying to write 700+ words within an hour! If your subject is singular, your verb must also be singular. Compare the following sentences:

WRONG: Hecuba and Helen is both responsible for the Fall of Troy.

CORRECT: Hecuba and Helen are both responsible for the Fall of Troy.

The main takeaway message is that if grammar is not your thing, you should definitely not try to overcomplicate things and because fluency and simplicity are much better than errors and verbosity.

4. Build Your Own ‘Essay Formulas’

In other words, you can try ‘rote-learning’. It saves time and it can ensure that the quality of your writing under exam conditions match up to your actual ability. It worked really well for me as a safe guard because I have a history of freaking out and underperforming in exams. Having pieces of analysis and paragraphs structure at the back of my head definitely saved me whenever I felt sick or overly stressed in SACs and exams.

WARNING: While it saves you so much time and guarantees better outcomes for some people, you should be extra cautious if you decide to use this as a way to tackle the essay sections in the EAL exams because you can also easily fall into the trap of writing essays that sound memorised. This is merely a suggestion different people learn differently – this is what I and some of my peers did and it worked well for us but it does not mean that it will guarantee you an A+.

For each Area of Study, I have a revision document that contains the following:

  • Introduction ‘formula’
  • Sample paragraph
  • Notes
  • Super extensive word bank (my own thesaurus)
  • Practice essays and sample essays

For example, prior to my text response SAC on Euripides’ play Medea, I prepared a writing formula that can be applied to all of my Medea essays that look something like this:

Introduction: Set in a patriarchal society, Euripides’ tragedy Medea expounds the intricate concepts of (theme) through the (characterization of the protagonist/ depiction the norms that pervade the Hellenic society/ vilification of Jason/ victimization of Medea/ portrayal of Medea as the archetypal woman). In particular, he _________________________ , which enables the audience to _____________ . While (argument 1) and (argument 2), (challenge the prompt). Ultimately, Euripides presents an acerbic critique on _________ .

For each of the section, I also have a mini thesaurus of words that I often use. This is just an example. I recommend creating one by yourself that has around 5-10 words in each row if that is possible!

Persuade: compel, propel, manoeuvre, prompt, galvanise, etc

Strengthen: fortify, enhance, bolster, etc

Highlight: underline, underscore, accentuate, emphasise, etc

Tell: insinuate, assert, purport, articulate, etc

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