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Finding Your “Buy-In”

Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines a “buy-in” as “acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something.” As an ESL teacher, I often need to encourage students to “buy-in” to English. There are lots of ways I can try to do this. I draw my own educational comics for my lessons. Sometimes this gets my students interested and helps them “buy in.” I try to figure out what my students are interested in too. Whenever I can, I bring my students’ culture and hobbies into my lessons.

The most powerful buy-ins, however, are the ones that students find for themselves. One of my most accomplished English students absolutely loved the American television show The Simpsons. He loved the show so much that he became determined to watch it and understand it in its original language. He then taught himself how to do near-perfect impressions of the characters’ English. The Simpsons was his “buy-in.” His Simpsons “fandom” helped him actively support and participate in his learning English.

If you’re reading this website and preparing for the TOEFL, you probably don’t need a “buy in” to become more active in the subject of English. You already have an obvious interest in English. Your need and want to pass a challenging English exam. That’s your buy-in right there.

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However, the TOEFL is not just about English. It does focus on English ability, but test-takers need to listen to and read English material on different academic topics. You don’t need to study any of these subjects heavily to pass the TOEFL. But you still need to be comfortable with these subjects. If possible, you should even like the academic subjects on the TOEFL. If you dislike history, find biology to be boring, etc., this may affect your performance when you come across TOEFL listening or reading.

As you prepare for the TOEFL, be aware of possible TOEFL topics you are not yet comfortable with. Then find your “buy in.” For example, maybe you’ve never had much interest in history, but you have an elderly relative you are close to. You could talk to that relative about the “old days.” From there, you could read history texts about the times your family member lived through. Your family could be your “buy in” for that subject. Or suppose you are interested in jewelry, but not comfortable with geology. In that case, you could begin to “buy in” to the language of geology listening to an educational video about precious stones. Do you like science fiction movies or comics? Maybe that could be your “buy in” to appreciating and understanding the basics of physics or biology. (For me, it certainly was.)

You’ll probably never become an enthusiastic expert about every learning subject. And that’s OK! But you can get to the point where you like every subject, at least a little. Finding your buy-in can help you pass the TOEFL and become a more well-rounded person!


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