THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pronunciation Starter Pack

The Sounds of English and Minimal Pairs

Pronunciation at FCE level

Communicating effectively in English involves simplicity of form and clarity of sounds. An acceptable pronunciation is certainly useful for the Speaking paper for obvious reasons. Yet, knowing how words are correctly pronounced is also a key to understanding in the Listening paper. Your effort to approximate to the native standard will result in opening up to the oral world of English. For we tend to identify those words that sound familiar -not because of their meaning but for their sound. The ear tends to recognise a word when it sounds just as we pronounce it. So if you improve your sounds, you will naturally listen to a lot more.

How much should you know?

Here is how the Cambridge FCE handbook puts it:

"First language accents are acceptable, provided communication is not impeded.”

This means that although you are not expected to sound native-like, your sentences must be easily understood. This is achieved by learning the “production of individual sounds, the appropriate linking of words, and the use of stress and intonation to convey the intended meaning.” If your sounds hinder communication, you lose marks.

How important are my sounds for the people who listen to me?

People outside a classroom will rarely discuss how you really sound. This article probably breaks sad news for us, but makes a point:

It isn’t simply a question of correct sounds: good sounds are a pleasure to listen to and they certainly invite native speakers to talk more to you.

Learning to Pronounce: Are phonemic symbols important?

Yes, they are. The IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) provides a precise notation for sounds. Good advanced learner’s dictionaries show the pronunciation with IPA symbols at the beginning of their entries.

You probably take notes in class about how words are pronounced. You may do so in standard letters but remember that will only evoke the way you pronounce those letters in your language. Better consult a dictionary.

How do I start learning symbols and sounds?

Are you ready for some practice?

This practice is divided into two steps:

a) Check the pronunciation of individual English sounds: An introduction to vowels, consonants and diphthongs.

This link is from English File 1- a course book for beginners- very helpful if you are not familiarised with the complete English sound system yet. By clicking on the symbols, you’ll listen to the model as many times as you need.

b) Practise the sounds in word context: Minimal Pairs are pairs of words that are distinguished orally by just one sound, e.g. cat/cut; sit/seat; think/sink. This exercise will help you make sure you are saying exactly what you mean.

The sounds exemplify British English pronunciation:

If you are curious to know how the same type of exercise sounds in American English go to

Tip: Choose a few pairs of sounds to study at a time. When you are confident with them, go on to another pair. To get rid of a strong foreign accent, start by practising those sounds that do not exist in your mother tongue.

Related Post: Sounds and Spelling


Monday, July 24, 2006



Sample Answers Awards

The fceblog is pleased to announce the winners of the first edition of the Sample Answers Awards. The student judges –whose articles were also scrutinised- have had a hard time deciding on the three best pieces out of twelve contestants. Evaluation was done in class. Articles were assessed bearing in mind the following FCE exam criteria:

  • Content: the candidate did what he was supposed to do in no more than 200 words
  • Accuracy: the fewer grammar mistakes, the better
  • Range: variety of language used
  • Organisation and Cohesion: clear organisation and paragraph distribution
  • Appropriacy of Register: fairly informal style expected for this task
  • Target Reader: should be informed and entertained. (We certainly were)

And the awards go to...

1st prize. Unanimous decision!

Categories won: Best Balanced Paragraphs; Structural Variety (perceived as pleasurable reading); Clearest Handwriting (perfectly legible –made our reading much easier)

Author: Gustavo

“I’ve always wanted to fly”

Have you ever thought about flying like a bird? Sure most of us have. The good news is that flying is no longer impossible for simple human beings as we are. The key word is Paragliding.

This is a relatively new sport in which you can fly during long periods using only a sort of parachute conected at a chair. No engine is involved. I’ve wanted to try paragliding for quite a long time and I've decided I will.

I used to thought that it would be too difficult to get started on such a discipline but, fortunately, I was wrong. There are many professional instructors who offer “baptism flights” at good prices. In those kind of flights, they use a tandem paraglide where you, first timer, only have to care about enjoying the view.

As soon as I was told about this option, I booked for my “baptism flight” which should be carried out the next weekend. I hope I am still alive to tell you my expierence on the next issue!


2nd and 3rd prizes. (Mind you, these are in no particular order)

Author: Mariano

I've always wanted to do snowboard

Have you ever tried to jump over a mountain with nothing but a piece of wood? It has to be an amazing experience, but certainly not easy.

There are many reasons to try. Think about the places to do it, the conection with nature, the rush of adrenaline when you’re in your way down. You may think there are reasons to avoid doing it: it is risky and fear is an option!

For me, it’s about facing our fears and cross the line between a nice holiday time and an unforgettable adventure. I’ve never stand on skis but with a bit of trainning and the right equipment I'll be ready for action.

All in all, is easier to write than to do snowboard. Either way, is easier to fall down than to jump... But don’t you think it’s worthy to try? Would you get up and go on after the first hit in your face? Of course you will, because it’s more embarrassing to remain down!


Author: Nick

Chess is available at night

Have you ever thought in becoming a chess player? If you have, don’t waste your time and join our new after-school classes club.

It’s a great opportunity for those who never practice this sport, but always wanted to. The tower, the horse and the queen will be no longer extrangers for you.

Also you will meet excellent people, and why not make some friends. Actually, this is one of the aims of the club: to create a place, where we can have fun and move our brains. All at the same time.

So if you want to enroll, don’t forget to put your name on the list, that will be available in your classroom. Your teachers will provide extra information and answer all your questions. So, are you ready?


Important Note: Works have been transcribed without the teacher’s corrections; they naturally include slips of the pen. Regarding Chess is available at night, the chess expert in the group suggests changing the words “tower” for "rook" and “horse” for “knight”. You may add your own comments below.

The articles presented in this posting are property of their authors and have been reproduced with permission. Surnames have been avoided for the sake of privacy.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

English Grammar

The Structures of English: How to say it

Needless to say, we all want to obtain an A in the FCE exam. (If you have any doubts about it, this is definitely not your blog. You may stop reading now).

A sound knowledge of syntax will be a key to help you shape a proper sentence –be it written or oral. However, FCE level requires that you go beyond the sentence level, that is to say, that you can also master a certain degree of usage and register choices. So your target knowledge base is a two sided coin: ‘How to say it' and 'When to say it’. Correct form in the appropriate context.

So let’s begin at the beginning. In this posting we will focus on the question of form and how to go about studying it when teachers are not around to help.

Best case scenario: you have a grammar book in your hands. If you are lucky, it will have clear explanations for your FCE level and a collection of exercises with answers. In general, those books cover grammar points not only for FCE but for CAE and CPE too. When information seems to be too much and you get the feeling that you will never be prepared enough to sit for the test, you can go to the grammar summary of your FCE course book to have a clear idea of how much you are expected to know at this point. Focus on that, always.

So with a clear purpose in mind, you can plunge into a grammar book or website and not get lost. The following is a possible learning path:

  1. Identify your needs: What exactly you need to learn; not just what you feel you need. Are you sure you are aware of your grammar gaps? Perhaps you need to review structures from previous stages of your learning. Perhaps you are ready to go ahead. Here is a site to do different grammar quizzes on practically every grammar aspect you need: The site will only spot your correct and incorrect answers. If you get them wrong, it will not tell you which is correct. It will do for a diagnosis, though. For explanations, we need another site.

  2. Learning the grammar: There are, perhaps, (too) many sites about this on the web. I’ll recommend just one. This link will take you to the index page of the Guide to Grammar and Writing: The editor, Charles Darling PhD, is a writing and literature teacher. So you can expect to find clear explanations as well as a focus on improving your written style. At the end of each chapter there is a quiz to help you test your knowledge. This time with answers. For the complete collection of quizzes in the site, go straight to:

Note: When dealing with grammar books, specific terminology can be a stumbling block: What’s a clause? What are intransitive verbs? Well, it is time to ask the experts, I mean Oxford. Clicking on Jargon Buster you will land on the grammar glossary.
Explanations are brief and they include examples. Reliable and fast.

So this is a suggestion of how to spot and deal with your grammar doubts. Remember this is just the ‘How to say it’. We’ll talk about usage on a future posting.

Related Posts
Common Errors and Confusing Words
Phrasal Verbs

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sherlock Holmes

How to become a true Sherlockian

Elementary. Here you can read the stories selected as set texts for the Cambridge First Certificate Examination:

(By the way, we’ll read them in this order)

The Five Orange Pips

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet (The Crown of Diamonds)

The following is a Pdf file with summaries of all three stories above from the Penguin edition. There some questions to guide your reading as well.

Please, do not miss STRAND magazine online. This is where the stories were originally published. Strand focuses on mystery story lovers, so you can read about authors, reviews and find modern stories published online.

Liked the previous stories? Want more? I see. Try these links:

The Complete Works

Sherlock Holmes Public Library

Tell me about it!

Some downloadable audio on Sherlock stories:

Are you still reading this post? Mmm... You do seem keen on mystery. Now if you really like Sherlock Holmes and would like to know about films, international associations, museums or where to get yourself a proper pipe, then you definitely need to browse these sites. Can’t miss all that.

Sherlock Holmes International

A blog about Sherlock Holmes

This is it. Hope you enjoy browsing. And once you have read a bit, do come back to this page and drop a comment!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

FCE EXAM What? When? How?

The FCE exam at-a-glance

We all have questions about the FCE exam. Whether you are preparing it on your own, or whether you have enrolled in an exam preparation course, there are always things that need to be clarified. Having prepared most papers and parts in isolation, it is a good idea to put all the pieces together again. Here is the official Cambridge University ESOL website with an outline of the exam parts, dates, set texts for this year and next year too.

You can’t miss it!

Believe me that us teachers do often have questions. When in doubt, we go straight to Cambridge publications. For a deeper treatment of the exam and its parts, see the FCE Handbook (Downloadable PDF). It includes a complete sample exam with all five parts and key.

The handbook also includes some details about the exam administration and assessment. It can get a bit technical for a student, but it is certainly very useful for teachers. The FAQs pages are probably where the typical student’s questions are answered.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


FCE Oral Test: Top FAQs

How long does the interview last?

About 14 minutes

Will I be paired with someone I know from my class?

Generally not.

If my exam partner is nervous and makes mistakes in the dialogue in Part 3, will that lower my marks?

Candidates are assessed on an individual performance basis.

How many people will there be in the examination room?

Two oral examiners: interlocutor and assessor. There may be a couple of exceptions to this. On the one hand, no candidate sits for the exam alone; therefore, when the number of students is not even, there will be one interview with three candidates. On the other hand, there are team leaders who are supposed to audit the job of the examiners from time to time. If a team leader were present during your exam session, remember that they will only be evaluating the examiner’s job, not your oral performance.

Where can I see a script with the interlocutor’s questions and sample answers from students?


You will also find a brief description of the oral exam parts, useful language phrases, typical topics to be ready to talk about and a full script with colour pictures. Quite complete.

Thank you. That is the end of the test, I mean, post!

Related Post: Pronunciation Starter Pack