Monthly Archives: May 2014

Vocabulary of Education

Many words discuss education, but they aren’t used consistently from country to country. If there’s one time where you don’t want to make a mistake, it’s when you are talking about your schools! Here are some common words and how they are used in Canada.

  • University: A school that gives a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree. They may also grant certificates or diplomas.
  • College: A school that gives certificates or diplomas only. They cannot give Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degrees.


  • Degree – a Bachelor’s (usually 4 years), Master’s (usually 3 years), or Doctoral (usually 3 years) course of study at a university.
  • Major – the subject that you study in the most detail. (Special note: Many students use the word ‘career’ to mean ‘major,’ but this is incorrect. Your career is related to your work only, and has no necessary connection to your studying.)
  • Minor – a subject that you study in less detail than your major, but more than your electives.
  • Elective – a course that you take that is not related to your degree, diploma, or certificate, but that is required by your school.


Example: I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Victoria. My major was economics, and I completed a minor in business administration. I took electives in music, art history, and biology. After that, I completed a programming certificate at a college for six months. Now, I work designing games for the iPhone. My career is in game development.


  • Diploma – A program that is longer than one year, usually offered through a college or technical school. These programs often train people for a specific job, such as nursing, auto mechanics, legal secretary, or web design.
  • Certificate – A program that is less than one year of study. These programs can also prepare people for specific jobs, but often simply train someone in a general subject. You might find certificate programs for software training, for example.


  • Post-secondary: Any schooling that is completed after graduating from high school.
  • Undergrad – short for undergraduate. Refers to a Bachelor’s degree, or a person studying towards that degree.
  • Postgrad – short for postgraduate. Refers to a Master’s or Doctoral degree, or a person studying towards those degrees.
  • Postdoc – short for postdoctoral. refers to study that is taken after completing a Doctoral program.


Grades 1-12 – In Grade 1, a student is 6 years old, and goes to primary school. The grades progress upwards at a rate of one per year. The last year of highschool is Grade 12, when a student is typically 18 years old. These expressions are used for children and teenagers who are studying in primary (usually grades 1-6), middle (usually grades 7-9), and secondary (usually grades 10-12) schools only.


  • First-year: a person in the first year of their post-secondary education. In America, this person is called a freshman.
  • Second-year: a person in the second year of their post-secondary education. In America, this person is called a sophomore.
  • Third-year: a person in the third year of their post-secondary education. In America, this person is called a junior.
  • Fourth-year: a person in the fourth (or greater) year of their post-secondary education. In America, this person is called a senior. Note: The American names are not commonly used in Canada.


Building your vocabulary with suffixes and adjectives

Two useful suffixes that we use with adjectives are -less and -able.

  •  -less means “without…”
  • -able means “can/be able to…” We can spell it -ible as well, but the rules for the spelling are complex. If you are not sure, check a dictionary.


  1. Care + less = careless (“without care”) John breaks everything because he is careless. He should work more carefully.
  2. Time + less = timeless (“without time, everlasting”) This style will always be popular. This style is timeless.
  3. Point + less = pointless (“without a point, without a purpose”) That class is pointless. I learned all of it last month.
  4. Pain + less = painless (“without pain or discomfort) My dentist is the best. Even fillings are painless!


  1. Move + able = moveable (“someone can move it”) The box is not too heavy. It is moveable.
  2. Do + able = doable (“someone can do it, it is possible”) That plan is doable, as long as we have enough workers. (This is a very casual word.)
  3. Recycle + able = recyclable (“someone can recycle it.”) Did you hear that new technology has made all the parts of this computer recyclable?

There are many more suffixes, but these are two of the most common.

Getting Married

This is a common verb – it seems like many people are getting married recently – but the preposition that it takes changes its meaning.

  •  Robin and Sam got married to each other = Robin and Sam are partners. Two people are now married.
  • Robin and Sam got married with each other = Robin married someone, and Sam married someone else. Four people are now married. This expression is only useful in situations when many people are married in the same ceremony, perhaps in a special religious celebration.
  • Robin and Sam got married for money = Robin and Sam may not love each other, but they love money, and they are married. Two people are married.


We can use the expression ‘married to’ to show that something is very important to someone:

  • Jane is married to her job. She works every day of the week!  = Jane loves her job, and even works on the weekend.
  • Jack is married to the Canucks. He missed his sister’s funeral because they were playing a game! = Jack loves the Canucks hockey team more than other teams, and sacrifices other activities.

(This is slightly negative; it implies that Jane or Jack should love other things more, or that they love something too much.)

Why you should take a reading class

Most ESL students read at about 200 words a minute, which is the same speed that they speak. The average reading speed for native speakers is about 500 words per minute, and you can reach speeds of 1000 words per minute and above with practice.

So what? With a faster reading speed, you can:

  • save time.
  • read more efficiently.
  • spend more time on more important actions.

If you’re taking a test, faster reading will help you in every section. You’ll have more time to consider the answers, and finding the answers will be faster too. Reading for fun will become more fun. Nobody wants to spend a month reading a popular book, but reading it in a week? That sounds better!

Work will become easier too. Think of how much there is to learn about at your company: business reports, emails, summaries, proposals, contracts, and more. With a higher reading speed, you’ll be able to devote more time to doing your job, rather than just reading about what other people are doing.

Here’s a website that has speed-reading exercises and tests. I taught a reading course for many years, and was amazed by how quickly the students improved their speed. Over a month, most students were able to double their reading speed. You can too!

Having Doubts

I hear two common problems with this word.

First of all, the “b” is silent, so don’t pronounce it! It rhymes with “out.”

Secondly, it can be both a verb and a noun. As a verb, it is regular.
Simple present: “I doubt that his story is true.”
Simple past: “She doubted her knowledge.”
Past participle: “They have doubted many things in the past.”

As a noun, it is non-count. “I have doubts about this.” Think of it like  pants – you would never say “I have a hole in my pant,” would you?

“Teacher, I have a doubt” is a common phrase, which shows an influence from a student’s first language. However, in English, it sounds awkward. Say “Teacher, I am not sure about this.” instead.

Now you have no doubts. Good luck!