TOEFL iBT Listening Practice Test 02 Solution & Transcription


Audio Discussion

Narrator. listen to part of a discussion in a linguistics class.

Professor. What comes to mind when I say the word grammar’?

Student 1: Thaf s easy. English dass and lots of rules.

Student 2: Memorizing parts of speech … like nouns and verbs.

Diagramming sentences.


Well, yes. that’s fairly typical. But today we’re going to look at grammar from the point of view of the linguist, and to do that, we really have to consider three distinct grammars for every language. The first grammar is referred to as a mental grammar. And that’s what a speaker of a language knows, often implicitly, about the grammar of that language. This has also been called linguistic competence and from that term competence grammar has become popular. I like to think of it, of mental or competence grammar, I mean … I like to think of it as an incredibly complex system that allows a speaker to produce language that other speakers can understand. It indudes the sounds, the vocabulary, the order of words in sentences and … even the appropriateness of a topic or a word in a particular social situation. And what’s so amazing is that most of us carry this knowledge around in our heads and use it without much reflection.

One way to clarify mental or competence grammar is to ask a friend a question about a sentence. Your friend probably won’t know why it’s correct, but that friend will know if it’s correct. So one of the features of mental or competence grammar is this incredible sense of correctness and the ability to hear something that “sounds odd” in a language. Haven’t you had the experience of hearing a sentence, and it stood out to you? It just wasn’t quite right? For native speakers we can call this ability native intuition, but even language learners who’ve achieved a high level of competence in a second language will be able to give similar intuitive responses even if they can’t explain the rules. So that’s mental grammar or competence grammar.

Okay then, that brings us to the second type of grammar, and this is what linguists are most concerned about. This is descriptive grammar, which is a description of what the speakers know intuitively about a language. Linguists try to discover the underlying rules of mental or competence grammar and describe them objectively So descriptive grammar is a model of competence grammar, and as such, it has to be based on the best effort of a linguist, and consequently, subject to criticism and even disagreement from other linguists. Because no matter how skilled a linguist is. describing grammar is an enormous task. In the first place, the knowledge is incredibly vast and complex; in the second place, the language itself is changing even while it’s being described; and finally, the same data can be organized in different but equally correct ways in order to arrive at generalizations. And the ultimate goal of a descriptive grammar is to formulate generalizations about a language that accurately refled the mental rules that speakers have in their heads.

But, getting back to what most people think of as grammar—the grammar that we may have learned in school. That’s very different from either competence grammar or descriptive grammar because the rules aren’t meant to describe language at all. They’re meant to prescribe and judge language as good or bad. And this kind of grammar is called, not surprisingly, prescriptive grammar because of its judgmental perspective. Again, to contrast prescriptive grammar with descriptive grammar, just think of descriptive generalizations as accepting the language that a speaker uses in an effort to describe it and recognizing that there may be several dialects that are used by various groups of speakers and that any one speaker will probably choose to use different language depending on the formality, for example, of the situation. On the other hand, prescriptive rules are rigid and subject to enforcement. Prescriptivists want to make all speakers conform to. one standard in all situations, and that tends to be a very formal level of language all the time.

Now which of these types of grammar do you think you were learning in school when you had to memorize parts of speech and rules and diagram sentences?

Student 2: Sounds like prescriptive grammar to me.


Precisely. But how did prescriptive rules get to be accepted, at least in the schools? And probably even more important, why are so many of these rules disregarded even by well-educated speakers in normal situations?

Student 1: Did you say disregarded?


I did. Some of you may recall that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, Latin was considered the perfect language and was used by the educated classes. The argument for the perfection of Latin was reinforced by the fact that Latin had become a written language and, consequentfy… Latin had stopped changing in the normal ways that spoken languages do, so the rules were also fixed, and for many writers of English during that period, the rules of Latin were held as a standard for all languages, including English. But the problem was that English had a different origin and very different constructions. For example, how many times have you heard the prescriptive rule, “never end a sentence with a preposition?” This is a Latin rule, but it doesn’t apply to English, so it sounds very formal and even strange when this Latin rule is enforced. Now, how many of you would say, “What are we wait¬ing for?” I think most of us would prefer it to “For what are we waiting?” But as you see, this breaks the rule—the Latin rule, that is.

Student 2:

So we’re really learning Latin rules in English classes. No wonder I was confused. But wouldn’t you think that… well, that things would change? I mean, Latin hasn’t been recognized as a world language for a long time.


You’re right. But the reason that prescriptive rules survive is the school system. Teachers promote the prescriptive grammar as the standard for the school, and consequently for the educated class. And “good” language is a requisite for social mobility, even when it’s very dissimilar to the mental grammar or the descriptive grammar of a language. 



Audio Conversation

Narrator. Listen to part of a conversation on campus between two students.

Man: I didn’t see you at the International Talent Show.

Woman: No time for that kind of thing.

Man: You mean you don’t belong to the ISA?

Woman: The ISA?

Man: International Student Association.

Woman: Oh, no. I don’t belong to any dubs.

Man: But this isn’t like a regular club.

Woman: How so?

Man: Well, we have a house. You know, the brick house on fraternity row and …

Woman: You live there, right?

Man: Yeah. I moved in last year. It’s really inexpensive because we take care of the house ourselves and we cook our own meals.

Woman: That sounds like it would take a lot of time.

Man: Not really. There’s a list of chores posted every week, and you can choose something you like to do, so I usually put my name down for yard work. I like being outside so it’s fun for me.

Woman: But you have to cook too. right?

Man: Okay, it’s like this: twenty of us live there so every night two of the guys cook and two of the guys dean up, so you only have to cook about once a week and clean up once.

Woman: What about breakfast and lunch?

Man: Oh, well, you’re on your own for that, but the dinners are just fantastic. It’s like eating in a different ethnic restaurant every night. You know, because the guys are from different countries.

Woman: That sounds good.

Man: And it costs about half what it did to live in the dorm. But really. I’m doing it because it’s a great experience living with people from so many different countries. My best friend in the house is from Korea. My roommate’s from Brazil. And I’ve got friends from… well, just about everywhere.

Woman: But you don’t have to live in the house to belong to the club.

Man: No, no. There are about a hundred members in the International Student Association. Only guys live in the house, but there are a lot of women in the association.

Woman: I wish I had time to do it. It really sounds interesting.

Man: You’ve got to relax sometimes. Anyway, we meet at the house the first Friday of the month from seven to ten. We have a buffet dinner and after that, we have a short meet¬ing. That’s when we plan our activities, like the talent show and picnics and dances. Then a lot of the people stay for music and a party, but some people leave after the meeting.

Woman: So it’s only a couple hours a month?

Man: Right. Listen, why don’t you come over next Friday for the meeting, as my guest, I mean. You have to eat anyway. And if you have a good time, you can think about joining.

Woman:  Next Friday? Well, I don’t know … I usually study on Friday night, but… I could take a break … Sure I’ll come over… but I might have to leave early.

Man: Great.

Transcripts for Listening 5 + 6