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Sierra

March Shares Her Experience on the Speaking Section of the TOEFL iBT

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Recently my lovely student March got a 27 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT

When my students finally finish TOEFL I ask them to share their experience so that other pharmacists, dentists, physical therapists and working professionals can see that they are not alone. The questions I ask them are very specific – the goal is to motivate people who are still struggling and also to explain a little more about my teaching method.
 

I could tell you about my classes, but somehow my students always do a better job!

 
I have been a teacher for almost 15 years now, I have learned how to provide guidance, knowledge and information specific to my field. For TOEFL, I motivate my students, organize their study schedules, their study areas and sometimes, their lives. Over the years I have laughed and cried with my students aged 3 to 63 and I am proud to say that in every teaching experience that I have had, I too have learned something. That is the greatest joy in teaching.
 

March has a lot to say about her lessons with me. I will post more after the New Year because now she is going to take a well deserved holiday with her family.

 
Here’s what she said when I asked her specifically how I helped her on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT.
 
 
“First of all, Sierra helped me to feel more comfortable doing the speaking practice so that way I could speak more naturally. For each task she had a specific exercise or protocol to help me with my specific issues.
 
For example with Tasks 1&2 I used her “Think Fast” protocol to improve my topic development and get familiar how to answer questions within the time limit. This helped me answer questions faster with good examples.
 
Tasks 4&6 were the tasks that I had problems with the most. I used to hate them, but now I love them! Before I studied with Sierra I didn’t know to study them correctly, but after Sierra helped me study them the right way, and taught me to look for keywords and try to understand the readings and paraphrase them using my own words, I could do them so easily.
 
For every task, Sierra helped me by fixing my grammar or helped me find better words or create more natural sentences that were more suitable for speaking, she gave me choices to choose from. I like when she didn’t tell me what I did wrong in the first place. She left it blank and I had to think what I did wrong and fix it myself. It helped me recognize my mistakes and remember not to do it again. If I didn’t know how to fix it, she’ll always be there to help me.
 
During classes, we practiced speaking together. She helped me to pause in the right place, where to link words and how to say them correctly all together. She also recorded my responses speaking them for me so I could practice them and imitate her intonation, her word stress and linking and I improved a lot by doing that.”
 

March’s Reaction to her S27 and W27 on the TOEFL Exam

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Last week my student March texted me to let me know that she finally achieved her target scores on the TOEFL iBT. This week I will ask her some more specific questions about her TOEFL journey so that you can learn more about what we did in our classes. Today’s post is about how she felt when she got her scores! It is an emotional story that captures her excitement and energy and that I hope will inspire other students to stay focused and continue to strive for their goals. Enjoy!

This is what I wrote about what happened when I found out that I passed the test. It’s super long, but I want to share it with you. You helped me to be done with the test and move on to the next part of my life. It means the world to me. Without you, I might be stuck with this test for who knows how long. I can’t thank you enough. I just want to say that doctors might save patients’ lives, but you give a new life to me and your students!!!  Have a great day Sierra!


March’s reaction to her S27 and W27 on the TOEFL exam

After I got an email saying that my TOEFL scores were available online. I jumped and my head started to spin. I took the test in November 17th. It usually takes about 10 days for me to get the result, but because of the holidays it took a little longer. I’d been waiting and waiting and I wasn’t sure what I should expect. I was excited and scared at the same time because I was disappointed before and I didn’t like that feeling. Even though this time I didn’t expect that I would get the score I needed it because I thought that this time I would go in to take the test as my practice test before the real test that Sierra and I planned that I would take it in December. Now,the moment of truth!!!! I opened my laptop with my shaky hands and logged in to see the result. When I saw the result, I couldn’t believe what I just saw because I am nearsighted and my eyes are really poor.

So I squeezed my eyes and looked at it closely, and yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I got it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! R23 L28 S27 W27 OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I did it!!!!!!!!!!!

 

I was screaming like a crazy person, my heart was pounding and my body was shaking. I emailed my husband and called Sanky. Sanky and I have been through a lot together and the amazing thing  is that this time we went to take the test on the same day and we both passed!!!!!!! I’m so happy right now. I told my family over facebook but they didn’t respond  because it was late there. My head hurts right now, I think it’s because I’m so so happy….

I couldn’t have done it without the help of Sierra. She is very organized which I really like. I’m a kind of person who like to see what I have to do step by step so I can do it correctly and she gives me that. We mainly focused on Speaking because it was the part that I had a lot of problems with. First, we started by making a schedule so I could manage my time wisely and knew exactly what I should do and when. In order to improve my speaking, I had to follow it intensively. Then, we started the classes. I liked how she approached them. I always get nervous when I have to speaking in front of other people. So she helped me starting with baby steps and told me to think that I was talking to my friends nothing to be afraid of and it helped. (I’m still nervous when I have to speak on the test but feel so much better than before). We practiced and practiced and practiced.

Sierra made a speaking protocol for me to follow in each task which was very helpful. We practiced “delivery” in class which I really liked because I had problems with intonation, pronunciation, and linking and I recorded video in class and I used them to practice after class. It was really useful. Also, I liked that she created a “skill building” plan for me to improve my confidence to do task 4&6. I really appreciated it. When we practiced Sierra really paid attention in detail when she listened to my responses or when she edited my transcripts and she would point out everything that I needed to improve, pronunciation, language use, grammar and vocabulary. I learned a lot from my mistakes.


She also introduced me to Spaced Repetition for Memorization and how to make efficiently flashcards. It was a life changing for me. I studied my flashcards with space repetition and I remembered them better. I also like that she gave me homework by laying out them step by step in order. For me, it helped me to stay focused and wouldn’t get overwhelmed. I followed what I had to do for homework and how I had to do it.

I’m trying my best to cover everything she has done for me but I couldn’t put them all because they were tons of things.

With her, I know that studying a difficult exam like TOEFL takes dedication not only from students but from teachers as well. They have to meet in the middle and put 50% and 50% to go through it together. Sierra devoted her time with the best knowledge and resources that I couldn’t ask for more. I really appreciate everything she gave to me. Finally, we ended this journey beautifully together! I’m so ready for the next chapter of my life.

Thank you Sierra!

Madonna’s Reaction to her S27 and W26 on the TOEFL iBT

By | Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT | No Comments

That’s it! She’s done! Madonna has finally finished TOEFL!

I have so much to say about our experience together! What a journey it was! I want to take the time to write it clearly and make sure I include as many details as possible so that I can help more students like her in the future so today I’m just going to share what she wrote to me the day she found out her scores. It was a very emotional day for both of us! Below you can see our chats back and forth and of course, I called her on the phone and we both jumped up and down screaming and crying with joy for a while.

That’s what happens when you work with someone on and off for a year and they finally pass the exam. You explode with joy! I hope some of that energy and excitement is captured in our messages below…

 

 

 

Perfecting the /TH/ sound for a 26+ on TOEFL iBT

By | Pronunciation, Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT, TOEFL TIPS | No Comments

Achieving a 26 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT requires targeted pronunciation practice from an exam preparation professional. If you want a 26 your teacher should have experience with the exam as well as with accent concepts such as: pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and linking sounds. One of the sounds that I work on the most with my students is the /TH/.

It’s a tricky one and if you don’t say correctly it can really affect your speech because it is such a common sound!

Just look at this sentence…

“According to the professor the changes that happen to rocks due to their exposure to air and water is called weathering, and there are two ways that weathering can occur. ”

Just in that sentence alone, there are 11 /TH/ sounds!

And in this one, half the words have a /TH/ sound in it!

“The student who wrote the letter thinks that the university should close the theater.”

Watch this video from Rachel of “Rachel’s English” to learn how to pronounce this sound correctly:

https://rachelsenglish.com/english-pronounce-th-consonants/

Learning how to say this sound correctly takes time and practice. Using this video along side many of my own materials and protocols, I have developed a method that I adapt for each student’s individual needs to help them improve this sound. Here’s what one of my students had to say about her experience with the all important /TH/…

“Hi, Sierra. I just want to share with you my experience with /TH/ pronunciation. As you know, I began to do this exercise about 6 weeks ago. And I remember that you sent me the letter where one of your students shared her experience, so something like I’m doing right now. And in that letter, the student wrote that after two weeks of practicing /TH/ she noticed that she actually began sounding the right way. At that time I was kind of skeptical about it, I thought like..O, yes, tell me. On the back of mine mind, I didn’t believe her. So, anyway, because I promised myself to do everything that you told me to do, I followed your recommendations. And guess what? Yes, it works!!! Your method helped me succeed with /TH/ pronunciations. In two weeks I noticed some changes, but I wasn’t sure about it. But now, after 6 weeks of practicing, I feel like my tongue automatically goes to the right place to make /TH/ sound. And now I feel pretty much confident about my /TH/ pronunciation. Thank you so much!”

 

Skill Building for the TOEFL iBT

By | English Fluency, Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT, TOEFL TIPS | No Comments

This week’s TOEFL Tip is about “Skill Building”.

I work with a lot of students who need high scores on the Speaking and Writing sections of the TOEFL iBT. The first question I ask them is what are your Reading and Listening scores?

Language is integrated!

Forget about your target scores for this exam. If you want to speak fluently, if you want to write well you need to have strong reading and listening skills. Yes, you need to expand your vocabulary. Yes, you need to understand the basics of English grammar, but what many students don’t realize is that one of the best ways to do this is by reading English texts and listening to native English speakers every day.

Careful! Just reading ANY text won’t help you on the TOEFL exam. Listening to the news or watching American sitcoms is not a good place to improve your vocabulary or speaking skills when you are preparing for an exam that tests your knowledge of campus situations and academic topics.

If you want to make the most of your time, dive into TOEFL material!

Use the Official Guide to the TOEFL iBT. Read TOEFL reading passages slowly to understand, don’t race against the clock to try to answer the questions. If you read a passage once and you don’t understand the majority of the text, go back and read it again! Learn how to analyze the texts paying attention to grammar, vocabulary and organization. when you listen to a campus conversation or lecture, don’t listen to find the answers, listen to understand! Listen to how the person is speaking! Use transcripts to improve your listening skills.

Once you have built these skills you will see a difference on the exam. Don’t stop building these skills because you have achieved your required score… keep going! Raising your Reading and Listening scores to 26+ will make the Speaking and Writing sections so much easier for you!

If you need help, get in touch!

I am trained TOEFL iBT Exam Preparation Specialist. I am a native English speaker with over 13 years experience teaching students from all over the world. I have helped many students reach their target scores of S26 and W24.

You can find me on Facebook at “Sierra Forest English Academy” or use the contact form below!

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Are you ready to improve your English today? Say goodbye to difficult exams like the TOEFL iBT. Learn what has been holding you back from a high score. Improve your pronunciation and communicate better with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates and friends.

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TED-Ed “The benefits of a bilingual brain”

By | English Fluency, Multilingualism, Speaking 26+ | No Comments

Did you know that “knowing more than one language keeps your brain healthy, complex and actively engaged”?

I’m a native English speaker from the United States and speak Spanish fluently after living in Madrid for six years. I learned conversational Mandarin when I lived in Beijing and I can still order food, and talk (briefly) about my experience as a university teacher there – something I am very proud of!

Now I’m learning my third language here in France! It’s exhausting sometimes but I’m making progress!

If you are bilingual, trilingual or multilingual you are making your brain “more healthy, complex and actively engaged”! Watch this TED-Ed talk by Mia Nacamulli to learn more!

TED-Ed “The benefits of a bilingual brain”

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A pharmacist from India got an S27 and W27

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My TOEFL experience is just like a roller coaster journey. I started this journey in 2013 after I passed my FPGEE exam. Naturally, my confidence was high and I lived in the UK for ten years and also I am from India, where English is almost a second language. First, I thought TOEFL is an easy exam and people just exaggerated it . So the first time when I took this exam I prepared only for a week and I scored 22 in speaking. I thought if I can get 22 at my first attempt I will easily get 26 in my second attempt but that was my biggest mistake. I tried multiple time and worked hard, which had improved my scores in other areas like reading and listening but my speaking and writing hadn’t changed at all. I kept trying for a long time and worked very hard even though my scores hadn’t changed, finally I became a victim of frustration and disappointment. I started losing my confidence and by 2015 my confidence level was at the bottom and I quit. I wanted to become a pharmacist but TOEFL had almost shattered my dream and at one point I tried to join odd jobs at McDonalds and bakery shops. Also I enrolled in the medical transcript and pharmacy technician license course at La Guardia college. However, I wasn’t happy inside because I had a dream to work as a pharmacist in the US. So in 2016 December again I tried TOEFL and this time I found Jaime’s English classes and I contacted her. As a result she recommended me a teacher, whose name was Sierra.

Sierra was my 5th teacher, before her I tried four different teachers at Manhattan Elite prep class, Kaplan classes along with some private tutors. I had worked with different teachers even though the result was same and my speaking scores hadn’t gone beyond 23 or 24. So, when I met Sierra I thought she would do the same thing like my previous teachers did but I was wrong. Sierra was very strict about her homework policy and She never compromised with her homework. First I had a lot of problems and I made so many excuses to skip her homework but she was after me and made sure I do my homework within a time limit. She made a schedule for my daily study and homework and I started following that. The first few weeks were really terrible to follow the schedule but eventually I liked that and started following it. After some time my confidence level increased. Also I’ve noticed that Sierra has a unique quality sometimes she talks like a tough teacher, who doesn’t like a single mistake, sometimes she acts like a good friend, who knows your likes and dislikes and makes you happy and sometimes she acts like a mentor or a coach, who knows how to lift the confidence level in her students. She is the one who brought my confidence back and taught me to believe in myself. I wish I could have a teacher like Sierra for every test in my life.

Now that I finished the TOEFL I am going to India because my parents live there. I haven’t seen my parents for five years because I wanted to go back with success. When I came to the US I promised myself that I would become a pharmacist and get my certificate. Now I have passed this exam, I feel like a winner and I have fulfilled my promise. So I will go to my country and spend a couple of months with my family before I start my Pharmacy internship.

Don't miss out on news about my group classes and workshops!

Are you ready to improve your English today? Say goodbye to difficult exams like the TOEFL iBT. Learn what has been holding you back from a high score. Improve your pronunciation and communicate better with your colleagues, supervisors, classmates and friends.

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Anastasia, a teacher from Russia, got a 30 on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT!

By | Speaking 26+, TOEFL iBT | No Comments

Yes, a 30 in Speaking! Amazing!!!

Ana and I worked together on and off for about 7 months during 2017. I want to take a moment to point out that for some students, taking classes “on and off” is actually the key to their success. It is very common for serious students to contact me and purchase a package of private lessons, study intensively and then take a break. You can read more about studying “on and off” here.

We all have busy lives. Some of us are working parents, some of us are studying and working at the same time and it’s not always possible to set aside the time and dedication required to prepare for the TOEFL exam. The information, strategies and feedback I give to my students is extensive and detailed. Sometimes students just need to take some time to review everything they’ve just learned.

These students always come back to me. We stay in touch. They trust me. I guide them while they are taking these breaks and I am there for them, supporting them whenever they need me.

This is why it is so important to communicate what’s going on in your life with the person that is guiding you through this exam. It’s important to stop and reassess your situation every once and a while.

If you do decide that you need to take a break, it’s ok! Sometimes letting the soil settle in the stream is exactly what you need to keep you moving forward. I will be here to support you through that time and I will be here when you’re ready to come back online and study with me.

After 9 months of private lessons with me, she finally scored R22 L29 S30 W26!!! Read her story below…

“My name is Ana. I’m from Russia, but at present I live and work in China as an English teacher. When people hear that I’m an English teacher they expect that TOEFL must be a piece of cake for me…However, I’d like to mention that although I’m a teacher and I speak English every day, my students level is very elementary, so I can only use simple English to talk to them. So TOEFL was a difficult task for me like for most of students. Plus there were two big BUT setting me apart from the desire score.

Before sharing my experience with Sierra, I’d like to add that I took TOEFL once. In 2014 when I studied in Japan I decided to test my English skills by taking TOEFL. And it was a big mistake for me. It was my second year in Japan and frankly speaking there was very little English left in my head. Back then I had no idea what is the test structure, types of questions and even the time given for tasks. So I went to the exam without any understanding of what I have to do. The test was stressful and I left the auditory with a terrible headache. When I got my score R20, L21, S20, W15 I wasn’t just disappointed, I was destroyed. My confidence in English had disappeared. I even gave up writing my thesis in English and wrote in Japanese instead. It took me a couple years to recover and try to take the test one more time, but this time I decided to find a teacher.

Luckily I met Sierra! Unluckily, I met her too late… I arranged my second TOEFL try on the first week of March and I started my classes with Sierra in January. I was busy working, missing my classes and not doing my homework well, but even though I scored R23 L26 S23 W20. It wasn’t the score I wanted, but I realized I’d found a great teacher who can help me reach my goal if we spend enough time working on it. After the second time I decided to take a brake on TOEFL preparation, since I was busy preparing for other exams. We resumed our classes in July and I was going to take TOEFL the third time in October. However, as I mentioned before I had some issues…

The first big “but” was my time, or it’s better to say the lack of it. My working schedule looks crazy, since I have three jobs. At the time when I was supposed to prepare for TOEFL I even didn’t have any days off. So I really want to thank Sierra for being patient and having classes with me at loud places with a very poor Internet connection during my lunch brakes. I believe that there is nothing like “I don’t have time”, it’s all about your priorities and the right time management. And Sierra was the one who was keeping me on a working mode, motivating and reminding me what are my priorities. She helped me organize my time better, so I had gaps in between to study. She shared very useful apps and studying technics that helped me study more productive in shorter time. And that was exactly what I needed!

However, the biggest BUT for me was the fact that I’m a terrible procrastinator. And if you’re used to postpone every task till the last moment you know that it’s almost impossible to start doing something until “the deadline panic monster” will come. Thanks God I have found this “deadline monster” (P.S. sorry Sierra for calling you so ^^’). She was the one who was texting me one hour after the class and saying “- Ana, one hour has gone, where are your speaking recordings with transcripts?!?! – Ana, I haven’t got your essays yet, your deadline is coming!!” And I’m sure I would never get my score without this supervision. We all have our weaknesses and I was lucky to find a teacher who can understand exactly my needs and find a suitable way for me to study.

So when the exam day had come I can’t say I wasn’t as nerves as I felt the second time taking TOEFL. Sierra was with me on my test day making sure I got to the place on time, supporting and encouraging me. I remember I left the room with this feeling of satisfaction and confidence. Right after the test I texted Sierra that I’m going to get a good score. I just felt it, because I was ready, after a good preparation it didn’t seem to me difficult, I didn’t feel exhausted after the test. I was very exited. And this is how students have to go to exams. Take the test when you are ready for it.

I got my score three weeks later. I remember I just finished my training at the gym I checked my score. When I’d seen 30 I first thought I got 30 for listening, but when I read “speaking” I was like “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!!!” screaming, jumping, laughing. My teammates looked at me like what’s wrong this crazy foreigner. But I just couldn’t keep all those emotions. I couldn’t believe I got this score. It was the life changing moment. I suddenly realized how many doors had just opened for me. And of course I first sent a voice massage to Sierra. I was so insanely happy screaming that I even couldn’t string a sentence together. Later, however, I realized I got 22 on reading section and it was the only bitter moment. Never the less I’m happy with my score and I would never get it without my good friend Sierra. Thank you for being my teacher, my mental supporter and my good friend!”

 

Preparing for an Exam “On and Off”

By | TOEFL iBT | No Comments

Have you read Mary and Ana’s success stories? After reading them, you might notice that I mention that they studied with me, “on and off”. What does this mean exactly?

Well it means that they got in touch with me, started private lessons, and then something happened. For one reason or another, they took a break. During this break they stayed in touch with me and when they were ready, or when I decided they were ready, we started classes again.

For some students, taking classes “on and off” is the key to their success.

It is very common for serious students to contact me and purchase a package of private lessons, study intensively and then take a break. For some students this break may last a week or two while their children are on vacation or they have family visiting, for others it may be a longer, guided break where they do self-study or attend to other professional or academic projects in their life.

These students always come back to me. We stay in touch. They trust me. I guide them while they are taking these breaks and I am there for them, supporting them whenever they need me.

We all have busy lives. Some of us are working parents, some of us are studying and working at the same time and it’s not always possible to set aside the time and dedication required to prepare for the TOEFL exam. Many of us live far from our families and homes. We need to connect, we need to visit with family and friends and invite them to our new home in our new country.

Preparing for TOEFL is part of life, but while we are preparing, life goes on!  

The information, strategies and feedback I give to my students is extensive and detailed. Sometimes students just need to take some time to review everything they’ve just learned. Classes with me are intense! There have also been cases where I asked students to take a break. I told them they needed to rest, or focus on an aspect of the exam that I was confident they could do on their own.

This is why it is so important to communicate what’s going on in your life with the person that is guiding you through this exam. It’s important to stop and reassess your situation every once and a while. If you do decide that you need to take a break, your teacher should support you! Sometimes letting the soil settle in the stream is exactly what you need to keep you moving forward. If you need a break I will be here to support you through that time and I will be here when you’re ready to come back online and study with me.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your exam!

You know what I love about teaching online?

By | TOEFL iBT | No Comments

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Teaching online has allowed people around the world to open their homes to me.

Every day I get to connect with people from different countries and cultures. They share their hopes and dreams and trust me with their future. What a privilege! As you can imagine, I take this very seriously.

Last fall when I gave my Writing Workshop I had students from California, Chicago, China, Turkey and the Philippines all sign-on together as I hosted our lessons live from France!

Most of you know that I’m an American from New York with over 16 years experience as a teacher. I started teaching in the New York City public school system, then I moved to Spain and became a professional ESL teacher. I taught in China for 3 years and now I’m in France teaching English and preparing students for the TOEFL iBT online from my tiny office in the countryside. Isn’t technology amazing?

Even during my first year as a teacher in New York City I realized that this new profession meant I suddenly became a mentor, friend, mother, sister, confidant, support system, role-model and source of inspiration and positive energy.

I give 110% to my students and they in turn give me their trust and allow me to guide them. I take this relationship very seriously. If it works and we both give an equal amount of energy then they are successful.

My private lessons aren’t for everyone. I know that. My schedule is often very full and I have to limit my hours online so that I can spend time with my family and take care of myself.

Setting limits is very important to me and I often have to teach my students how to set limits for themselves. I help them get organized, I guide them and organize their time so they know when to study different parts of the exam and how to stay on track. I remind them to ask for help and to spend time with their family, friends and themselves.

This month I’m leading some group classes so that I can reach out and help more students with the Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT.

These classes are designed to give you the tools you need to create a high scoring essay. It is not an easy fix that will teach you a secret trick to beating TOEFL. After I teach you the strategies you need to practice! Preparing for TOEFL takes time, effort and energy. I put these classes together to be able to reach more people at once.

If this post speaks to you and you would like to join, just choose your day and click the link below.

    

➡️ Wednesday classes will be held at 11:00AM CET.

➡️ Saturday classes are for women only and will be held at 16:00PM CET.

If you are a man and you are interested in a Saturday class please send me an email with your location and time preference so I can offer something for you in the spring.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to guiding you through your TOEFL journey!

To find out more about the Integrated Writing Workshop, click HERE



🍃✨Classes are starting this week! ✨🌿