How to Develop Your IELTS Vocabulary

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

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.

Learn about Jay’s experiences in his IELTS Speaking Exam, on How to get an IELTS 9.

Check out our Free Webinars on YouTube, including our recent IELTS reading webinar:

Do you have any questions about IELTS vocabulary or IELTS preparation? Ask us on our Free Forum!

Follow our social media for more IELTS resources and updates!

 

 

Written by Jamal Abilmona.

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.

IELTS Success Tips: How to get an IELTS 9 in Speaking

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…

IELTS 9
Face to face can be daunting!

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 Interview

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.

15 seconds…

I wrote a single word and then crossed it out.

5 seconds…

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.

The Discussion

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:

Follow our social media for more IELTS resources and updates!

 

Written by Jay Merlo.