The language we use to speak to our boss, write a report or give a presentation at school is not the same as the language we use to text our friends, have casual conversations or speak to our loved ones at home.
These two distinct versions of the language are known as formal and informal English. While they are similar in many ways, there are also many important differences, both in vocabulary and sentence structure.
In TOEFL courses, you can learn the distinction between formal and informal English, so that you can use the appropriate version of the language for each situation.
Here’s a quick guide to understanding the difference between formal and informal English, and how a TOEFL course can prepare you tell them apart.
Formal English is used in business contexts and other situations that are more serious or official. Using it indicates respect for the person being addressed, rather than familiarity.
In formal English, the rules of the language are always followed. Each sentence must have a subject, a verb and an object, for example. Sentences can be longer and more complex, as long as they are well-structured, but contractions like “don’t” and “can’t” are generally avoided.
Informal English is typically used when speaking outside of an official or professional setting. It might also be used when writing to friends or casual acquaintances.
When speaking or writing using informal English, it’s more common to bend the rules of the language. Responding to simple questions with one- or two-word answers rather than full sentences, for example, is acceptable. In general, sentences tend to be simpler and shorter.
Slang is informal language that is often restricted to a particular group or area. For instance, in America, a “buck” is slang for a dollar. While some slang terms, like “buck,” are very common across the country, other slang terms are sometimes limited to a particular region or town and may not be widely understood outside of it.
An idiom is a phrase that has an established meaning that is not obvious from the literal meaning of the words. To say that something is a “dime a dozen,” is to say it is quite common. To say that an event happens “once in a blue moon,” is to say it happens rarely.
Students in TOEFL preparation will learn that one of the biggest differences between formal and informal English is that slang and idioms are common features of informal English, but should not be used in formal English.
Another difference between formal and informal English is the vocabulary used.
In a TOEFL preparation course, you can enrich your vocabulary so that you can fluently express yourself in either formal or informal English. Where we might say “help” and “get” in informal English, the more appropriate equivalents in formal English might be “assist” and “obtain.”
Mastering formal English, then, requires building a large vocabulary, as well as learning all of the rules of the language. Immersive experience in an English-speaking environment, however, is very important for developing a strong understanding of informal English. By combining the two, students can learn how to identify and communicate in both forms of English.
Are you interested in an immersive English course that can prepare you to succeed at the TOEFL?
Contact ASC English for more information about our TOEFL test preparation.
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