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Michael Buckhoff

Idiomaticity of Language and the TOEFL iBT Speaking and Writing by Michael Buckhoff

In terms of language use, the human raters on TOEFL iBT speaking and writing will judge the Idiomaticity of your language use. But what does this mean? They will determine how natural sounding your speaking and writing is. In other words, would a native speaker express your idea the same way. One of the more difficult hurdles for advanced learners of a new language, idiomaticity of language requires that you avoid unnatural or odd-sounding words and phrases. For example, a native speaker of American English would never say, Merry New Year? Or, it would be quite odd to ask a native speaker of American English, How many years are you since birth?

Of course, being as natural sounding in your writing and speaking will help you to get a higher score on the TOEFL iBT. It will demonstrate to the human raters that you have had extensive experience using the English language and therefore understand the appropriate words and phrases that should be used in academic contexts.

Despite the importance of this, many of my advanced TOEFL students continue to use expressions like on the other foot instead of on the other hand.

Consider the following two sentences, one of which was written by an Advanced TOEFL student in my class:

Then usually students have two of three part time jobs needless to pay tax as much as extra work.

Then, some students may have two or three part-time jobs without having to pay taxes for this additional work.

Which sentence sounds more natural to you?

Why do advanced learners have trouble with idiomaticity of language? Most likely, it is because of the students lack of experience with speaking and writing the English language. These same advanced learners often depend heavily on translation dictionaries, further worsening their language use problems. Differences between expressions in languages can cause advanced learners to use odd or unnatural sounding expression.

So, what can you do about this? The answer is simple: immerse yourself in the English language so that you get exposure to natural sounding American English from television shows, movies, music, magazines, newspapers, and books. Get more familiar with idioms and phrasal verbs and use them in speech and writing.

For more information, go here: (TOEFL iBT Vocabulary)

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