Let’s talk about IELTS Speaking. More specifically, it’s time we focus on those common IELTS speaking mistakes.
This article addresses each section of the Speaking test and shares the most common IELTS speaking mistakes test-takers “trip up” on during each part.
Common IELTS Speaking Mistakes #1
Part 1: Answers are too short.
In this part of the test it’s important to elaborate! Provide enough information to make the interaction feel “conversational”.
You should try to aim for a 2-3 sentence answer.
Here’s an example:
“Where did you grow up?”
Bad Response: “A small city in Nigeria.”
Good Response: “I grew up in a small city in Nigeria. It’s about 2 hours from the capital city. The surrounding area is known to be very beautiful. But I moved away when I was only 4 years old. So… honestly, I don’t remember it clearly.”
Now, let’s talk about these responses.
Remember, during this portion of the test the examiner needs to evaluate the quality of your spoken English! Therefore, it’s important that we give them something to evaluate!
Of course you need to stay on topic and answer their question directly, but, don’t be afraid to also add details to your responses.
Watch this speaking simulation for Part 1:
Common IELTS Speaking Mistake #2
Part 2: Not elaborating enough.
In any of the three parts, giving responses that are too short is one of the most common IELTS speaking mistakes.
It can be quite hard to speak for such an extended amount of time!
Especially in PART 2 where you are required to speak continually for two minutes. (Note: IELTS time specifications are important!)
It helps to try and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. This will help you produce a lengthier response while still giving a “well-organized” and clear answer.
For more help with Part 2 watch this webinar:
Common IELTS Speaking Mistake #3
Part 3: Silence … is not golden?
This section of the Speaking test can be intimidating. It requires you to think critically and give your opinion.
Remember, it is important to not only give your opinion but also explain your reasoning. You may want to give an example or even explain by using a story from your own personal experience.
You want to avoid false starts during any part of the Speaking test.
So, if necessary, you may need to think about your answer. In particular, when you are asked to give these opinion type responses in Part 3, you may feel the urge to pause.
But rather than thinking silently or mumbling, “Uhhhhh..”, try to save yourself time.
While you think start by saying, “That’s a good question…” or, “Wow, I really haven’t thought of about that before… ”
For more tips on Part 3 check out this short Lesson video:
3 Most Common IELTS Mistakes Recap
Overall here’s what to remember:
In general, avoid pauses and false starts. If you make a mistake, keep going. The examiner wants to see that you can have a conversation and express yourself without issues. Mistakes are okay – just keep talking!
You need to remember that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. You are not being judged on the opinions you give! So try to relax and keep all your responses as conversational as possible.
Some of the most straightforward advice we can give you is to stick to what you know and use on a daily basis. This way you will avoid long pauses and eliminate stressing yourself out.
Again, it comes down to how well you can communicate fluently. It’s not about speaking absolutely perfectly. You just need to make sense.
So, to fine-tune your presentation skills practice with this webinar:
Another great way to improve is by recording yourself as you answer different questions. This way you’ll be able to critique your own mistakes and better notice subtleties that may make your speech a little harder to comprehend.
Remember, these common IELTS speaking mistakes are easily avoidable. With the right amount of revision and practice, you’ll be well on your way!
Let’s say you’ve passed your IELTS exam with flying colours after 3 attempts! Imagine if you could’ve passed on your first attempt … (perhaps you hadn’t seen anything on IELTS general tips before!)
Looking back is easy, but having the foresight to realize your success in the future is more difficult. Hopefully this article from E2Language will equip you with tips and knowledge for success!
Alright! I know you want to see ALL the best IELTS general tips in one spot … So here they are!
There’s not a lot of free quality IELTS study material on the internet. So, it’s important to have a study strategy and learn some crucial tips that will guide you in the right direction.
The TOP 3 IELTS general tips you can’t miss!
#1 Know the format
You’ll see this repeated throughout this article and that’s because it’s NO JOKE. Having a familiarity with the types of questions you’ll get on test day will save you the time of figuring out “what is being asked of you” for each task.
#2 Timed Practice
Whether preparing for writing or speaking, reading or listening, practice with a TIMER! The time restrictions within the exam is often what trips up test takers! Adding this pressure will make you comfortable with responding to questions in a timely manner.
#3 Strengthen your language skills
Grammar, spelling and vocabulary MATTER! Make sure you use the correct articles, and be careful you don’t record a noun as singular if it was supposed to be plural! These seemingly “little” mistakes can cost you your desired score!
IELTS General Tips for Listening
Read the questions before the audio starts. This will help you pick out the right information! I used this same tip in my French Language Fluency exam and it made all the difference!
It’s important to write down your answers in the booklet you’re given! TRUST ME! Under that kind of pressure you’ll need the notes! Be sure to transfer them onto the answer sheet correctly.
WRITE IN ALL CAPS. Handwriting is important! Because if the examiner marking your test can’t read your answer, it will be marked as incorrect! Don’t lose points on a question you know the answer for.
If you think you’ve missed an answer … stay focused! You may miss the next if you spend your time freaking out. Move on and try to answer the next question.
Follow directions! If they specify “write no more than one word”, don’t write more than one! It’ll be marked as incorrect! So pay attention to word count specifications!
If you don’t already, read plenty of English books and articles in your spare time! Practice summarizing, identifying key information, and main ideas within texts.
Know the format! Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this section simply because you’re an avid reader and you feel like the Reading section is the last thing you need to spend time preparing for.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: IELTS success is largely centered around whether or not the test taker knows the format of the test.
Not only should you know the test’s format but practice answering those same type of questions! Having a strategy for each task is as important as knowing what they are.
For more on IELTS reading tips, check out the E2Language article here!
IELTS General Tips for Writing
Have an essay structure! This is a tip I use regardless of whether I’m writing in my second language or first! Having a clear structure and flow is CRITICAL. The best way to write is by following a structure!
Practice! Just like summarizing articles try writing about a passage you’ve read! Use a variety of essay question types and recreate your own scenario.
Here are the 5 types of IELTS essay types:
Writing is hard for everyone and it most definitely does NOT come easily. So be patient with yourself. Practice, read it over and try to learn from the mistakes you make.
Don’t forget Task 1! It’s easy to get scared and focus only on practicing for Write Essay. But remember that there are other tasks in IELTS General Writing!
Use videos like this one to prepare for Task 1:
IELTS General Tips for Speaking
Find a TV series in English you like. Or maybe, movies are more your thing. The most important thing is you watch regularly. This is a great way to improve your pronunciation.
Read out loud. Grab a book or pull up an article and find a place you can comfortably read out loud. Listen to yourself. I promise it’s worth every minute of practice! Sometimes you feel silly but I’m telling you: the better you get the more confident you’ll feel!
Recording yourself as you speak is another great way to evaluate where you’re at. Try answering simple questions about your hobbies, your family, where you grew up, and your favourite movies.
NOTE: Make sure your answers aren’t too short. But don’t make your responses too long it’s easy to get off topic, and it’s more important to directly answer the question.
Now, rewatch the recording. Do you have a “nervous tick”? Maybe you use a certain word or phrase too often when you’re thinking.
Others have a certain sound that they repeat which can make understanding them difficult. Sometimes it’s a “Mmmmh..” or “Urrrrmms”. These ticks are all giveaways that you’re struggling to find the right words.
REMEMBER: Confidence goes a long way. Try to cut back on any habits that make you look hesitant.
If you slip up, try not to let that distract you. Keep going! It’s easy to pause or stutter when, in your mind, you’ve realized you’ve made a mistake on the way you pronounced a word.
But focus on what you’re saying. Don’t try to apologize too much. If you can finish your answer and show confidence in your speaking the examiner is less likely to focus on tiny mistakes.
Make eye contact! This is a great way to show your confidence. Try not to end up staring down too often or spend your time looking at the table. I know it can be scary, but you’ve got this!
Another great way to make yourself seem very confident and comfortable speaking the English language is to use common phrases, and slangs.
You may even want to try turning “It is” to “it’s” or “He is” to “He’s”. These little changes will make your speech sound smoother and more natural.
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Note to ESL learners: This article about the IELTS speaking test contains a lot of complex vocabulary words. Some of them are written more than once. Many of these words are underlined, and this means that you can place your mouse/cursor over a word to see its definition. Try to check a definition only when a word stops you from understanding the whole sentence you are reading.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of teaching English at the College of Language and Culture Studies (CLCS) in the beautiful and remote country of Bhutan. While I was there, I also had the opportunity to teach an IELTS speaking workshop for the college’s English lecturers. The experience was incredible, and – as is the usually the way with intercultural opportunities – I learned a heck of a lot more from my students and colleagues than they did from me.
In general, the Bhutanese are friendly, inclusive and community-focused people who place great importance on cultivating relationships. Having previously spent time in Bhutan, I knew this but did not think it would have any bearing on the workshop I had been tasked with: teaching IELTS-specific speaking strategies to my colleagues. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The IELTS Speaking Test Workshop
On the day of my workshop, I began with a quick summary of each section of the speaking test, starting with the “introduction/interview” component. In the first part of the speaking test, the IELTS examiner will “get to know you” by asking several questions about you. In addition, they will briefly interview you about one topic relating to your life (e.g. “What is your hometown like?” “How many people live there?” etc.) To get a sense of everyone’s level for this task, I broke my colleagues into pairs and assigned each person the role of interviewer or interviewee. It was up to the interviewer to ask the interviewee about themselves in the same way an IELTS examiner would on the real test.
Let me just preface this by saying that the introduction/interview part of the speaking test is supposed to take four or five minutes in total. My Bhutanese interviewees lasted less than two minutes. As the room fell silent around me while my timer was still obediently ticking down the minutes, I felt a wave of panic. Had my colleagues misunderstood the exercise? Had I poorly explained the time limit and made it seem like it was optional? I was dazed for a moment, but then someone spoke up: “Madame, we Bhutanese are not so used to talking about ourselves like this”.
The statement hit me like a ton of bricks, as did the realization that I had completely ignored a fundamental piece of Bhutanese culture; the Bhutanese almost never talk about themselves. You want to talk about the road conditions, the weather or your wife’s delicious cooking? You got it. But if you ask a Bhutanese person how their life is going, they usually re-direct the conversation away from themselves.
Why? Because the Bhutanese are careful not to be too proud, boastful or arrogant, and talking excessively about yourself can be seen as a demonstration of such traits. In a country that is built on modesty, public-service and collectivism, how could I possibly expect my colleagues to abandon their cultural values so easily?
It was at that moment that I understood just how much easier it is to succeed on the IELTS speaking test when you come from a culture that values individualism. With individualism comes a sort of forced extraversion in which people are encouraged talk openly and often, using themselves as the reference point for the world around them.
Generally, individualism and extraversion are part and parcel of Western culture. But here is the thing: IELTS takers very rarely come from a Western context. As a matter of fact, a substantial proportion of test-takers come from traditionally collectivist cultures such as India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Having said that, here is the other thing: English is not just a language. It’s the representation of a culture, one in which individualism and extraversion are both valued and encouraged. It is imperative for us to teach this concept to IELTS hopefuls before they take the test. If IELTS tutors aren’t aware of a test-taker’s cultural background and its inevitable differences to our own, we will fail our students time and time again.
The road is often difficult and frustrating for newcomers to Western countries, and everything begins with an arbitrary English proficiency exam that is riddled with hidden cultural assumptions. It’s our responsibility to explain these assumptions, just as much as we teach the fundamentals of language proficiency.
What do collectivists need to know about the IELTS speaking test?
IELTS Speaking Part 1
If you come from a culture that places emphasis on community harmony, it’s important to know that you will not be judged for talking about yourself on the IELTS speaking test. IELTS assesses your English proficiency based how well you can express yourself when speaking about a topic that relates to you. It’s crucial to practice talking about your personal experiences, background, goals and so forth so that you aren’t going to run out of things to say to your interviewer! Five minutes is a long time when you have nothing to say.
IELTS Speaking Part 2
If you come from a storytelling culture, you probably need to practice keeping your sentences short and concise. In part 2 of the speaking test, you have two minutes to read a topic on a card and make notes. You must then speak about the topic consistently for 1-2 minutes. In my workshop, I thought this task would be no problem for my colleagues because Bhutan is a nation built on storytelling; in fact it’s not uncommon for someone to spend hours presenting a single point in a workplace meeting! However, I quickly realized that this style of expression does not necessarily translate well to the IELTS criteria.
In Dzongkha (Bhutan’s national language), you almost always express one idea many different ways and, in addition, you must constantly communicate your respect if you are talking to someone with (any!) authority. In fact, a request that is not prefaced by at least five minutes of polite conversation could be considered quite disrespectful. Although I really enjoyed receiving class assignments from my students that began with the salutation “Dearest most respected and appreciated Madame”, I also had to explain to them that English is a language of “getting to the point”.
This applies when it comes to your IELTS presentation too; you must speak in an organized fashion that includes an introductory sentence, key points and a concluding sentence, and you must be careful not to dwell too much on a single point, as you have only 2 minutes to cover every point written on your card.
IELTS Speaking Part 3
If you come from a culture that traditionally “lives in the moment”, you may need to work on developing your abstract side. Western culture places a lot of importance on what we consider to be “critical thinking, in which individuals consider abstract ideas from different perspectives. Part 3 of the IELTS speaking test employs this concept and requires test-takers to discuss several abstract questions about the topic they presented in part 2. For example, if the topic was “Describe a friend from childhood”, you might be asked “What does friendship mean to you?” or “What does it mean to be a good friend”?
In Bhutan, most people live gloriously in the moment. The future is rarely discussed, and pre-made plans almost never work out because more important things come up at the last minute. This mentality creates a context of concreteness where everyday conversations revolve a lot around what is happening “right now” in the physical world.
Thus, some of my colleagues had difficulty discussing abstract ideas like the “meaning” of friendship at length– and often chose to give concrete examples from their daily lives instead (i.e. “For me, a good friend is someone who calls me every day”). While this approach is certainly not “wrong”, it usually doesn’t take long to describe the concrete aspects of an idea, and therefore many people will run out things to say long before their time is up.
In order to succeed in Part 3, it’s important to practice speaking about intangible ideas like emotions, thoughts and values. For example: “For me, a good friend is someone who displays loyalty to me and listens to me when nobody else will”.
For more IELTS speaking test tips, check out the video Jay made after he recently took IELTS himself!
Overall, I want to emphasize that just because test-takers will benefit from learning the cultural assumptions of the IELTS speaking test, it doesn’t mean that one approach to communication is “better” than another; one is not “right” and the other “wrong”. Rather, it’s important to recognize that there are significant differences in how we use language to communicate based on the cultural norms we have adopted.
The IELTS speaking test was created by native English speakers with the intention of measuring “English proficiency”, and it would seem that Western cultural values are integral to this definition of proficiency. Thus, IELTS caters well to extraverted individualists, and I think it’s important for test-takers to know this in order to succeed.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to magically transform into something you’re not. You just need to adopt some strategies to help you meet the test requirements. That’s where we can help you out! Sign up to an E2Language IELTS preparation course and let us show you how to maximize your IELTS speaking success on the first try.
The development of comprehensive IELTS vocabulary is crucial to your IELTS score.
Vocabulary is one of the building blocks of language and a necessary requirement for success in the IELTS. Being ready for the IELTS requires a lot of preparation, including understanding the test, knowing the strategies, and practicing. In addition to all of that, you need vocabulary. It is essential for the reading section, the listening section, for writing a good essay and for being able to speak impressively in the speaking test. To do well, you need to know words. It is believed that it takes 15-20 exposures to a new word for it to become part of your vocabulary. So here are my top 10 methods for integrating new words into your English library.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Read, read, read!
The more you read, the more words you’ll be exposed to. This is essential for IELTS preparation, and for increasing your English fluency. Reading doesn’t have to be boring. Read about things that interest you: Food, gardening, fashion, celebrity news, economics, science, politics, etc. As you read, you will discover new words in context. You can infer the meaning of new words from the context of the sentence. If not, then look the word up in an English to English dictionary.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Use an English to English dictionary and thesaurus.
You can use hard copies or online versions such as dictionary.com and thesaurus.com. When you come across a new word, look it up in the dictionary. An online dictionary will give you the definition and will let you hear the pronunciation. It’s important not to just use a translation tool. A translation may be helpful for you to understand the meaning of the word in your native language, but it will not help you integrate the word into your English mental library. You need to be able to think of the word in English, and not rely on a translation. Otherwise you will be thinking of the word in your own language and will have difficulty recovering it in English when you need it. Then use the thesaurus to find synonyms. You don’t have to memorise every synonym (there may be too many). Choose a couple of interesting ones and add them to your vocabulary journal.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Use a vocabulary journal.
This can be a little notebook that you keep with you where you record new words that you hear or read. Steps 4-7 will explain useful ways to use a vocabulary journal.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Organise your journal thematically.
Group words together that relate to a similar topic to make it easier to remember and relate them. These categories could be food, hobbies, nature, society, etc.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: List the different forms of the word.
For example its noun, verb, adjective and adverb form, as well as its past participle. Let’s take the word “manage”. It is a verb. The noun form is “management”, the adjective is “manageable” and the adverb is “manageably”. The past participle is “managed. Now you know five new words instead of one! This will impress your IELTS examiner and increase your mental word bank. A dictionary will usually give you the different word forms abbreviated as (n) for noun (v) for verb, (adj) for adjective and (adv) for adverb.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Collocate!
List words that the word collocates with. For example, manage effectively; manage competently; efficient management; competent management, etc.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Write, write, write!
Writing helps to ingrain new words into your memory. When we hear and see a new word, it becomes part of our passive Our passive vocabulary includes words that we can understand but not use. We want to make new words part of our active vocabulary. This means we can both understand and use new words. To do this, we need to use them! One way is to write sentences using the new word in two or more of its word forms. Even better, integrate reading with writing by writing a short summary of an article you have read using 2 or 3 new words from the article in their various forms. Remember to check your spelling! At the end of each week, go back to your list. Pick 10 words from that week and write a short story, even if it’s just 100 words. It can be a personal reflection, a review of something you read that week, or a practice IELTS essay.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Listen!
Hearing words in context will help you hear how words are used and also familiarise you with their pronunciation. Watch music videos or short movie clips on YouTube with English subtitles. When you hear a word that you don’t know, or have difficulty pronouncing, play it again and sound it out. Also, Ted ESL and Ted Ed are great sources for interesting and inspiring talks on a variety of topics. You can watch videos and read the transcripts to see the spelling of new words that you hear in the talks. This will help you understand the pronunciation of words, how they are used in context, and how they are spelt.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Learn a word a day.
Check the English Learner’s Dictionary word of the day for a new word each day with the definition, pronunciation, word form and example sentences. Add them to your journal list and use them in your journal writing and IELTS writing practice.
IELTS Vocabulary Tip: Speak!
Incorporate the new words into your everyday conversation. Talk to your friends about a movie you saw or an article you read, or a hobby you did, using new words you learned that week. The best way to remember words is to use them! This will grow your vocabulary and make the word part of your mental word bank. This will increase your speaking fluency which will help you in the IELTS speaking test, and in your everyday English development.
Jamal Abilmona is an expert IELTS teacher, curriculum designer and language buff. She has taught English for general and academic purposes in classrooms around the world and currently writes e-learning material for E2Language.com.
Recently, I decided I needed to figure out how possible it really is to get an IELTS 9 in speaking.
I’m the co-founder of E2Language, which provides students with online test preparation for their high stakes English tests.
I took the IELTS Academic test today. I woke up at 6.30 a.m. I made sure I ate a big breakfast. I had two coffees. I jumped on the train and walked up the street. I had my passport in my pocket. I was ready to go.
I had also been studying for months, which is odd, because I’m a native English speaker, and an English teacher, and a graduate of a masters in applied linguistics. I’m probably the last person who needs to study for his IELTS exam. To put it humbly, it was a bit like Messi training for a friendly soccer match in the park.
Despite that, in order to write unbelievable teaching materials for IELTS, nothing beats taking the test yourself. That’s why I took it. I wanted to understand what truly results in an IELTS 9 for speaking. There must be a magic trick, I thought!
And there is… I’ve found it. But before I tell you the magic trick — which is in fact ‘scientific’ and ‘linguistic’ — first let me tell you about my experience taking the speaking test…
Before the speaking test
I only had to wait an hour after the first three sections of the test before my speaking test was up. I went outside and got some fresh air and had another coffee. My pulse was racing (from caffeine and nerves!).
I was aware of the speaking section, and I had learned some helpful ‘tricks’ and ‘tips’ from books and Youtube videos but nothing truly helpful – no one had thought truly deeply about it. I knew, for instance, that I had to ‘elaborate’ on my answers and speak more than I usually do. I knew that it’s not really ‘a conversation’; it’s more of me talking and the examiner listening. I knew that I had to speak using complex grammar and less common vocabulary. I knew that all of this could help me get an IELTS 9. But that’s about all I knew and I didn’t really understand how. I had some idea that I wanted to impress the examiner, but I didn’t really know how that would be possible. I mean, he or she was going to give me a Task Card and ask me to talk about ‘bicycles’ or ‘festivals’, right? I mean, how are you supposed to show off your language skills with mundane topics you think so little about?
I went up to the registration room, showed my passport and took my seat. Surrounding me were people shivering with fear. I felt sorry for them. I’ve learned other languages and sometimes you’re ‘on’ and sometimes you’re not… It depends what side of the bed you woke up on. It also depends on how good your grammar is and how large your vocabulary is – and how easily it comes to you. It also depends on psychological factors like how confident you are as a person, or whether you’re naturally talkative, or not.
A number of examiners came through and called out obscure names, a person stood up and then they both left. Finally, my name was called. I greeted a short curly haired woman and we walked down a corridor into a classroom. There was a table set up with a stopwatch and a recorder as well as some documents.
My examiner was Vicky, a friendly looking woman with with a lovely smile that showed crooked teeth. I liked her, which helped. I felt like I wanted to talk to her. She seemed nice.
The first thing Vicky asked me was whether I was a student or I worked. I responded that “I’m an English teacher”, and she smiled.
I quickly realised that what I had learned and what I teach about IELTS Speaking I wasn’t actually doing. ‘Elaborate!’ I thought to myself. So I went on… ‘Oh, I might tell you a little bit more about that”, I said… and I did go on.
A few more questions came and went. I could see that Vicky liked me. She was interested in me as a person for even though IELTS is big mechanical test, Vicky is still a human being.
The Long Turn
“I’m now going to give you a topic to talk about and you should talk about this topic for 1-2 minutes,” she said, and continued, “here’s a piece of paper for you to prepare.”
I read the topic and went blank. It said:
Talk about a time you were recently angry.
Explain the situation.
Say where and when it was.
Talk about whether or not it was resolved and if so how.
I can’t even remember the final statement.
I sat for 45 seconds and didn’t move. I was lost for words. But I wasn’t lost for words because I didn’t have them – remember, I’m a native English speaker! I was lost for words because the most recent time I was angry was a very personal experience. And Vicky, as lovely as she was, was a complete stranger and I did not want to tell her my personal experiences and my thoughts and emotions, yet it was the only thing that I could think of. My mind kept returning to it. I was completely stuck.
I wrote a single word and then crossed it out.
‘I’m going to have to lie…’ I thought to myself.
“Okay,” said Vicky smiling away. “You can start speaking now.”
I spoke and I lied. I used a recent situation where I had been, let’s say, ‘annoyed’, which is not quite angry. But I used that little story and I told an elaborate story that was not at all true. I built a house of cards on top of it. I explained the situation. I said where and when it was. I talked about how I had resolved it. And while I was lying, it dawned upon me that it doesn’t actually matter. You are not being rated on your character. And you have to tell a story. Stories are often fictional.
Keep in mind that: ‘It’s not real life; it’s a test. It’s not a lie; it’s an exaggeration.’
IELTS speaking is much more than a test of your English language skills because there is a social and psychological component to it; you’re not talking to a computer as you are in the PTE Academic. Had I have been speaking to a computer I would have poured my heart out to it and told it everything.
Because you can’t separate language from its content, and content from the language you must be allowed to lie because it is the only fair way that you can say something about a topic that you have no story about.
Vicky stopped me mid-way through my elaborate story. I was shocked. Was she going to judge me? Could she tell that I had just made that story up?
She neither judged nor cared. She just wanted to hear good language being used and I gave her that.
From here, I could see that Vicky was impressed. I had told a good story. I had used intricate vocabulary and fancy grammatical structures. My sentences were flowery and engaging – and very importantly, on topic (even though the topic was make-believe!).
From her IELTS documents she asked me some interesting questions, such as “Do you think that anger affects us physically?”
‘Exaggerate’, I thought to myself and said something like, “Undoubtedly. The scientific literature now fully supports the fact that anger impacts upon the human body. I mean, when you’re angry you can feel it. And this is happening hormonally. Adrenalin is being excreted and your body is priming itself to run. The effect on your heart is particularly profound.”
The combination of the coffee, the hyperbole and the setting was now getting me fired up. I listened like a thief and answered each of her questions politely, intelligently and with a lot of fabrications. I drew upon magazine articles I had read years before and made them sound profound. I drew upon ideas I had had when I was a teenager and made them seem philosophical.
I used vocabulary that I rarely use… And this brings me to the (scientific/linguistic) magic trick.
The (scientific/linguistic) magic trick
There are two ways to talk about the Task Card – in the concrete and in the abstract. Let me compare what would achieve an IELTS 6 (concrete) and what would achieve an IELTS 9 (abstract).
Talk about a time you were recently angry.
Explain the situation.
Say where and when it was.
Talk about whether or not it was resolved and if so how.
Concrete answer – IELTS 6
Train. People. Seat. Old man. Young person. Old man standing. Young person sitting. Old man angry. Me angry. Young person unaware. Old man leave. Young person stay.
These words are what are called ‘concrete nouns’. They are real things. They are things that you can touch. They are things you can see. And they are common words. You sound like everyone else. You are not using less common, more complex vocabulary. If you want to stand out above the rest – above the average (IELTS 9 level) – then you need to use less common, more infrequent language – language that the examiner rarely hears.
Abstract answer – IELTS 9
Train. People. Seat. Old man. Young person. Youth. Impoliteness. Social structures. Ageism. Recklessness. Assumptions. Changing values. Possible resolutions. Mediation. Governmental awareness programs.
These words are called ‘abstract nouns’. They are un-real things. They are things that you cannot touch. They are things that you cannot see. And they are uncommon words. You sound different to everyone else. You put yourself above everyone else. You talk about things that no one else talks about. You extend yourself beyond what’s normal, what’s average. You talk about abstract ideas.
In order to access abstract ideas you need abstract words and abstract words are rare. Vicky wanted me to use words that explained concepts that are interesting and unfamiliar to her. She did not want to hear the same old same old. I can’t imagine how boring it would be to be an IELTS examiner, sitting there every day listening to someone talk about ‘anger’ in mundane ways.
The critical point is: if you want to impress the examiner – which is what you have to do to score a 9 – then you need to speak about abstract concepts. When you speak about abstract concepts you use vocabulary reserved for abstract concepts. As long as you can glue it all together with some simple and some complex grammar then you can rest assured that when you open up your results you will see an IELTS 9 and not an upside down IELTS 9.
Check out our IELTS speaking simulation for more information about how to achieve an IELTS 9:
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Okay! Another tips article… and this time we will discuss IELTS Speaking Tips!
The time has come, you are about to be tested on your spoken English skills for the IELTS exam. In your head you sound great, you’re basically fluent but the moment you open your mouth, the words don’t come out, or when they do it sounds like “blah blah blah.”
What to do? One of the greatest painters of all time, Leonardo da Vinci, said the success of his works were due to the amount of preparation he put into them first.
So in other words, it’s all about the preparation!
What is the IELTS examiner looking for?
Fluency, this doesn’t mean you need to speak with a perfect British or American accent, but you should speak clearly and pronounce your words correctly.
IELTS Speaking Tips: Pronunciation
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog, Peter Piper picked a pickled pepper! These are some of the sentences Australian kids practice in the classroom to help them with articulation and pronunciation.
Pronunciation is sometimes a tricky thing to practice, especially if you don’t have access to conversing with an English speaker. But where there’s a will there’s a way. How? Pick an English speaking series and watch it regularly.
When I was learning German I ended up with a southern accent because the soap opera I used to watch was set in southern Germany. It’s a great way to learn how to pronounce words, listen to the experts.
Now, I suggest you don’t pick a Scottish series, as even the best of us struggle to understand those guys!
Read out loud. Read out loud to yourself when you can, this will help identify words you find difficult to pronounce and it will give you more confidence reading in English.
Sometimes getting stuck on the way you pronounce a word can really affect your confidence, the best way to avoid this is, PRACTICE of course.
But if you do stumble on a word, don’t let it put you off and keep going. If you show confidence in your speaking the examiner will not focus so much on little slip ups.
IELTS Speaking Tips: Grammar and vocabulary
Grammar and vocabulary are also important and count for around 25% of your speaking score.
In the IELTS test, you will be giving your opinion a lot, talking about your likes and dislikes. The IELTS examiner basically wants to know if you can use a range of functional vocabulary such as opinion language to express yourself. For example:
As far as I know …
I agree with the opinion of …
I could be wrong, but …
I’d definitely say that …
I’d guess/imagine that …
I’d say that …
I’m absolutely certain that …
If you want to brush up on your grammar, E2language.com have a wide range of grammar exercises and I highly recommend using them to brush up on your grammar as well as following these IELTS speaking tips.
IELTS Speaking Tips: IELTS speaking topics
Pick out the topics you might talk about (everyday ideas) and practice them in a conversation with someone you know, or record yourself and listen back to see how you sound, and what improvements are needed. Remember it’s not an academic discussion (UNLESS you are doing the academic IELTS test), they really don’t need to hear you express your opinion about the latest research in Quantum Physics, it’s about you being able to communicate in English with confidence. Use Natural English short forms like “it’s” and not “it is”, and commonly spoken phrases like “I guess” and “I suppose”. Prepare a list of Linking Words and practice using them before the test, for example:
Adding more information:
As well as
Another reason is
Make sure it’s not too short and sweet.
Question:” Where did you grow up”
Answer: “In my parents’ house”
Better would be:
Answer: “I grew up in Finland, and I had a lovely childhood. I lived in an old cottage just outside Finnagoo Forest, with both my parents, two brothers and a dog called Pablo.”
Remember, however, that very long answers are not always good answers. It’s rather easy to go off topic and lose coherence. It is ok to give short answers sometimes too.
If you happen to get a question you don’t know very much about, just give a short answer by saying you don’t know a lot about that topic and then wait for the next question.
A great way to give yourself time to think about the question is to repeat/reformulate the question.
For instance in In parts 1 and 3 you are not given any thinking time: you are supposed to start speaking immediately, so a way to give yourself a bit more time is to just repeat the question. “What did I enjoy about my last holiday? Let me see…”
Another great tip is to give examples, this allows you to talk about something you know and gives you the opportunity to add detail to the discussion.
IELTS Speaking Tips: Some extra little tips and hints!
Be sure to correct your mistakes, if you notice you made a mistake correct it straight away (i.e. “I was getting for the train, I mean getting on the train…”)
If you don’t understand the question to be sure to ask the Examiner to explain further.
Make eye contact, make sure you don’t end up having a conversation with the table, acknowledge the Examiner and look at them during the conversation.
Speak ONLY English immediately before the exam. Try to talk to someone or talk to yourself (ideally in your head) “man this is nerve-racking, I can’t wait to go for a victory coffee afterward.”
If you are really serious about getting the best possible result for your IELTS test, I would highly recommend signing up to e2language.com. You will have access to one on one IELTS coaching.
Our IELTS teachers are very qualified and passionate about getting you the score you need. You will also have access to a wide range of test questions, grammar exercises, IELTS secrets to success, webinars and much more.