First Language English

Best of luck for Paper 1 tomorrow!


Good luck to all of you out there who are taking your 0500 paper 1 tomorrow!

I trust it’s going to be an interesting experience, and as you go into the exam, go in the knowledge that you have already prepared your very best, but do remember some of the following small things.

Remember to read your questions.

When you are navigating, you need an address. If you don’t have the address, it doesn’t matter where you go, what you do, at the end of the day, you still won’t get to where it is that you want to go.

So, learn what you’re supposed to do, read the questions carefully, and then go in that direction.

Don’t just throw yourself along a path while hoping that you’ll get somewhere, because you definitely won’t.

Next tip, make sure to plan out your answers.

I know it’s very easy to just think that you should go in guns blazing, writing as fast as you possibly can, but really, planning out something can be helpful in a whole bunch of different ways.

I can’t remember who it was, but someone, perhaps it was Lincoln, said that if you were given 6 hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.

Obviously, you don’t have 4 hours during the course of your IGCSE exam, and if you try that, then you’ll be off and with no grade. So please don’t follow that advice literally; on the metaphorical front, do take some time to think about what you’re going to say, because that is going to pay dividends down the line when you structure, have a clear idea, and then finish in time.

Next tip, make sure to think about time.

Generally, each of the sections that you complete can be thought of as a 40-minute section, a 40-minute section, and a 40-minute section, respectively for your reading comprehension and then summary, then your reading comprehension, and then explanation and writer’s effect, and then finally, the extended response to reading.

Budget your time well, and make sure that you are going ahead and just ensuring that you have ample time to respond.

Next tip, when you are reading, make sure not to deceive yourself.

Remember that you are reading a text. This is not a time for you to impose your own opinions.

It is a time for you to understand, to retrieve, and from there to synthesize. It’s not time to start campaigning.

None of you are going to become Greta Thunbergs and simultaneously obtain an A-star if the cause that you are going for is environmental science when in fact the paper was actually about running a marathon. It doesn’t work that way.

My last tip, just go in with a sense that you are going to learn something along the way and that you’ve already done your best.

So treat it as a good time to go in, enjoy some interesting text, write a response, and know that you’ve already done your best by that point because it is going to be the best that you’ve done by that point.

You can’t really change anything.

I have no idea if any of you are going to retake things but that’s a separate question. Go in with a feeling that this exam will not determine your life because certainly it won’t. It may decide the kind of grade that you eventually get but that at the end of the day isn’t really going to be consequential relative to the other things that could ostensibly affect your life.

So just go in with the knowledge that it’s going to be an interesting time and that there is going to be something cool to gain right here and enjoy yourself.

That’s all there is.

Alright, good luck everyone, have a great time and I look forward to seeing you on the other side!

It’s never too late. 


The scene is familiar. You wake up one morning and the page of the calendar turns. 

Yet again.

Imperceptibly, you’ve crept one day closer towards that test, that exam. 

Maybe time passed and you didn’t realize it. 

Maybe it wasn’t all that important to you. 

Maybe the only reason that you realized that time had passed was because somebody from up above was nagging you, day after day, telling you… 

“Wake up!”, they say.

“You need to study! Don’t you care about your future? What will you do if you rank number 5 again, but from the bottom of the class?”

It’s not a great feeling, is it? 

You stare at the calendar from where you are, and then you look at the books that you have to read, then you stare at the calendar again.

Before long, you sigh, you sit down, and you begin scrolling TikTok.

I know that feeling all too well.

The sense that time is running out.

The feeling that a large, unstoppable force is coming to you.

The feeling that no matter what, you must run away – all too familiar, yet so common to each one of us, a feeling that we should almost always rather avoid, by human nature or instinct.

The teacher, the parent, the educational consultant would tell you, if only you had planned, you would have averted this situation:

The ocean, they would say, is something that cannot be boiled.

The task is something that must be broken down into meaningful and manageable chunks.

Yet at the end of the day, human beings are human beings, subjected to human constraints, inclinations, and also patterns of thought.

It is almost inevitable that somewhere along the way, our foot may slip.

The divine plan that we thought we would execute, we sway away from, forgetting what we intended to do, we find ourselves running away as our hands move from the book to the phone, from English into videos of restaurant workers dancing.

And before we know it, there we are, in the thrall of sweet escape.

I want you to confront that feeling of hopelessness and remember, for a quick moment, that the time has not run out.

You may have that oppressive feeling as if a sword of Damocles hangs over you and before long, perhaps, the usual suspects shall appear. Doubt, guilt, self-hatred – the sensation that “no matter what I do, it will change nothing.”

“Whatever I read at this point, they will just be words.”

There they are, the self-defeating thoughts come one after another, building from a trickle into a flow and eventually into a deluge that comes to define every single day, before which the pages of the calendar themselves are washed away in words that you told yourself, messaging that eventually led the days to come and pass, eventually leading you to the day of the trial, on which you decided that nothing would have changed anyway, and you call the outcome fate.

I want to remind you that it is not too late. You may think that you are unable to do anything. But that is not the reality.

True, you may be one step closer towards a challenge that you find difficult to overcome.

True, you may not be able to accumulate the skill, the perspicacity, the knowledge, ability, that you hoped for or that would bring you beyond the boundary line.

All true.

No problem whatsoever.

But have you ever thought to ask yourself, can it really be that your efforts will mean nothing?

Can it truly be that even if you step forward at this point in time, you will not move further?

What you do in this single moment, you think is but a simple drop in the bucket.

A step that once taken is the end of it.

But I believe something different.

Because I believe that how you made that decision, feeling as if nothing would change, will repeat itself.

If nothing matters in the future, then surely nothing matters now.

Because what is the future but something that is forever becoming the present?

And what is the present, but something that is continually evolving into the past?

When you speak of future outcomes, of which there is uncertain and contingent nature, remember that they are not as far away as you think. Because eventually, they will come.

You say you’ve abandoned the journey because you cannot get the grade that you want.

The A*, the scholarship, anything else at the end of the day.

But right now, I want you to wake up.

Wake up, child.

Did you think this was just about the grade?

Did you forget why you came to this website in the first place?

You didn’t come to just find a random strategy in order to excel.

Well, that was certainly part of it. But if that was all you thought, then you had missed the entire point. Because the point here was that you would learn to appreciate language, its gift, and everything that it would bring along with it.

This was something that had always existed in a plane apart from just your worldly or material achievements. And you are saying now that it is meaningless simply because you only have a month and some change in front of you to make the difference that you thought in the moment of weakness that you should be able to make?

Well, since you are here right now, instead of browsing another 15 TikTok videos that will eventually fade into nothingness but a memory of a dancing girl with no particular talent, you may as well recall for a moment that everything in life builds upon everything else. Because everything is holistic, whether you think so or you don’t.

Every single one of your efforts, in a way that may be unknown to you at this point or at this stage of your life, will somehow count, if not necessarily enough in such a way that it will transform your grade, then definitely still in terms of transforming your mindset towards approaching this world.

Because you are here, you know that there is a chance.

Because you are here, you know that you have the power to change something. Yet you are spending your time avoiding the problem, transforming even this resource into material for procrastination rather than using it in its best form.

Leave that shattered thought behind.

You do not need it and it does not serve you.

Why should you allow an occupier to stand in the fertile territory of your mind when it does not help you?

You don’t believe me?

You want to give up?

Go ahead, drop your First Language English. Maybe you can pick up Cantonese or something like that, although for some reason I don’t think that an IGCSE for that exists. 

Or you could do better.

You could read a single sample essay. You could then write a single essay. You could compare it on that particular day, thinking about the marking criteria, which in your head seem to make sense, yet somehow they differ from what you see on the site.

You could read a single article, thinking about the language it uses, how it affects you, what it impacts, the small little things that I ask you to focus upon, but that often you may ignore. You can ask a friend to read your work, sign up for a last-minute workshop, take a brief moment to reflect on what you are doing, why you want this grade, whatever grade it is, as you realign yourself to the future.

Remember, everything counts.

Even if you feel that you’ve not been running fast enough, don’t look away. The finish line is still ahead. The race didn’t end. And what you need to do right now is move ahead. It doesn’t matter what placing you get, because at the end of the day, you’re all going to the same destination – The destination – not of a grade, not of a specific checkpoint – certainly that of becoming better than you were, even if just by a little bit, as you move forward into a future rife and full of possibilities.

There Are No Miracle People: The Myth of Being “Naturally Good at English”


In a recent class, I talked to some of my students about Greek myths – specifically the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, and I think myths are really cool, the students really liked it, and I think I’ll probably do it again. And so today, what I want to talk about is another myth, and that will apply to many of you out there, the myth of being naturally good at English. 

Now many of you out there are reading this, possibly as second language speakers, or people who just haven’t been doing your best on the First Language English exam, to the point that you need help, you need assistance. 

There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but along the way, some of you may have developed the attitude that maybe some people are just naturally good at English. 

You might think, wow, these people just had a natural talent from the outset, wow, these people had a natural talent from the start, how can I possibly compete? 

It’s fate that they’re doing better than me, and all I can do right now is just read this website so I can get last-minute tips before the exam. 

Uh-huh, I know some of you… All too well!

One thing though… It’s not true. 

Unfortunately though, a lot of people believe it – This idea that there’s an insurmountable divide between those who have talent and those to whom it was not given. 

People blaming themselves for not having talent, declaring that it was fate that they weren’t able to do well, making any number of excuses. 

I won’t say that talent doesn’t exist, because that would be disingenuous, a lie to you and me, but in times like these, I do like to think of a famous scholar from an entirely different discipline –

And with that in mind, I present you the great polymath and scholar Richard Feynman. 

Feynman was an incredible science educator. Feynman was the creator of the legendary theory of quantum electrodynamics, otherwise known as QED, which describes how light and matter interact with one another. 

Widely regarded as one of the smartest people in the world, his contributions have revolutionized the entire world, and continue to do so in fields such as quantum computing, nanotechnology, laser technology, and so on. 

But why I mention him is none of these reasons: It is because of this 50 second YouTube clip, There Are No Miracle People. 

You can go ahead and watch it right down here, and I guarantee you that it will be a better watch than the majority of the 20 minute long, drivel laden motivational videos that you watch on YouTube.

In the video, Feynman says quite simply what I believe: 

“There are no miracle people. It just happens they got interested in this thing and they learned all this stuff. They’re just people. There’s no talent, a special miracle ability to understand quantum mechanics”… and you can substitute that with English… “or a miracle ability to imagine electromagnetic fields that comes without practice, and reading, and learning, and study.” 

I’ve found that that’s true, most assuredly, for almost all of my students. The students of mine who have done the best are the students who have dedicated time towards actually learning the English language. 

And of course you might say, teacher Victor, that’s unreasonable. 

How could you tell people to study day in day out? We all need our lives.

And to that I say, the very idea of First Language English is that you use it in your day-to-day life. Why should an exam that’s dedicated towards assessing your capability to use English as a first language not test your ability to take in your day-to-day conversation and all the things that come into your life on a day-to-day basis? 

Was it supposed to be easy or trivial? Were you supposed to just read this site or get a premium membership and then gain the grade that you wished for?

Sorry, but it’s not that easy.

By spending more time with English, you will gain so many opportunities that you will scarce be able to even count them. 

But whether you can capitalize on those opportunities or not comes down to recognizing what an opportunity actually is. 

It comes from seeing that that movie, that K-drama, that song, or that interesting article about a celebrity that almost nobody cares about except you, is a potential source of reading, listening, speaking, and writing material to inspire your thoughts and to give you things to think about in the English language. 

A lot of this really is stuff that you’re already doing but you might not interpret it as part of your English learning – and so a huge part of even starting to learn and to become one of those miracle people is to accept that you are constantly in a learning environment, immersed in the English language, and opportunities to develop yourself that you might not see unless you start opening yourself up to the sheer variety of language that exists in this world and that you should learn from. 

When you take that extra step of awareness of how others interact and use language, it will impact your life. 

How people speak, how they think, how they articulate themselves natively in English in order to achieve their purposes, to create effects, whether it’s suspense or anticipation – tell stories that captivate your heart, your mind, and your soul in ways that aren’t exclusive to the medium, whether English, Chinese, Japanese, or whatever it is that your native language is, and that transcends every single medium of discovery. 

Remember that First Language English is not just about your vocabulary and your grammar, it’s about how you use the language. Paying that extra attention and realizing the opportunities for you to learn will enable you to constantly immerse yourself in ways that you may never have anticipated before. 

In closing, I’d like to echo Feynman one more time. 

There are no miracle people. 

Every single one of you who is reading this right now and who will get an A* at the end of the day will have worked hard, will have practiced, will have read papers, will have trained your ears, your tongue, your ability to recognize natural speech patterns, and to put them down on paper even as you go through this process of preparing for one of the most important exams of your entire life. 

Whatever you do though, however you feel right now, and if you take nothing else away from this article, consider this: 

I want you not to cut yourself out by thinking that you couldn’t do it because it was fate, because remember, there never were any miracle people. There were just people who spent more time with the language, who wanted it hard enough. 

True, part of that is a person’s nature, but it’s something that if you are thinking about right now, and if you’ve read all the way to the end, I know that you can bring about in your life, here, now, and today, have some faith in yourself, because I know that if you want to become a miracle person at the end of the day, you can, and you will make that miracle happen and it will not be an accident.

Work hard, my friends – I’m confident that you can create your miracles 🙂

Yours as always,