15th March 2020
As I constantly inform my students, IELTS is not a typical English class … it is IELTS English by which I mean, students have to demonstrate a command of the language that includes a wide range of vocabulary, the confidence to speak fluently, the correct stress and intonation to keep your listener engaged, the ability to form complex sentences and link them with appropriate discourse markers. Additionally, a knowledge of how English is REALLY spoken, to wit, sounding like the student has been interacting with real native-speakers, not merely repeating verbatim from a text book, is a must.
Piece of cake, no ? (an English idiom – you will need to learn some basic expressions, phrases and idioms to make your spoken language more natural and interesting).
OK, let’s break it down. IELTS requires a lot of work, study and practice. Students that come to my class expecting to kick back and be entertained are in for a shock, and then some. As such, I will not be defining the idioms I employ in this blog, e.g. Piece of cake – YOU will have to look them up yourself.
Don’t worry, young lady, I’m here to help you. Having said that, if you’ve been on a three-month course and you’ve left it to the last week to study … then you will probably fail, and deservedly so. Yes, life in the IELTS lane is tough, it’s dog eat dog (though ‘devour’ would be a more IELTS-friendly word than ‘eat’).
Where to start ?
OK, IELTS wants what they term ‘low-frequency’ words. Basically, look at your English; replace any basic adjective or verb or indeed noun, with a ‘better’ word, a word that would be used by the higher-educated native speaker. Your best tool here is a thesaurus of which there are many online, or downloadable for free.
It works thus: Let’s start with a very basic adverb ‘very’. This is too simplistic for IELTS, so type in the word and click enter.
A number of words will appear. As above, the darker-shaded words are what the computer’s algorithm indicate would be more suitable, while giving additional options in lighter shades.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating – so let’s try it: rewrite these sentences using low-frequency words:
I think Bangkok a better destination than Chiang Mai
She bought a cheap bag
The film was good
Linking ideas with discourse markers. I give all my students a print-out of common words and expressions that must be consulted and utilised. I hope that all my students take them home and study them religiously. Conversely they may use the paper to line the bottom of a bird cage. In all reality, the majority of students say, ‘Thank you,” have a glance, put said sheet in their bag and forget all about it. Consequently, several weeks later, the students are still resorting to ‘and’, ‘but’ with a possible ‘however’.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make the horse drink
Adverbs are incredibly powerful and so easily inserted into everyday text
I worked at another large and prestigious language centre, and had the pleasure of marking some essays by teenagers. From twelve pieces of ‘writing’, I found only ONE adverb.
Adverbs add information and interest to your language, but my students seem to avoid them like the plague. They may deign to insert a ‘very’ to please me … but it doesn’t ! I expect, nay, DEMAND more.
Without further ado
An example. IELTS will give students a very open-ended subject and then expect a well-constructed piece of writing, or fluent, coherent speech upon said subject, with no deviation, hesitation or repetition. It is a chance for the student to perform a solo, to demonstrate how much they have learnt and studied … or otherwise … generally it is ‘otherwise’.
Time for an anecdote. I was teaching one class, and endeavouring to give them ample opportunity to speak and practice English. Nobody spoke. If I selected some students, they would make an appalling act of not having heard the question, or to answer in a single word. Some students even began laughing that teacher was asking the class but nobody was responding. Hilarious … but he who laughs last, laughs longest. I decided this class was a waste of my time (because it WAS a waste of my time) and left them to their fate … CUT TO some weeks later, it’s the day of their speaking test … suddenly, they are running up to me for help, “What should I say ?”, “I don’t know what to do”, “I’m going to fail.” Temptation was to tell them where to go ( that is an expression that does NOT imply direction !), but I gave them what help I could in the minute I could spare. Needless to say … most of the class were disappointed with their score, and no doubt, upon arrival at the family nest, were met were screams and derision. And no doubt they put the blame squarely where it belongs … on the foreign teacher !
The concluding line was an example of irony. I’m not going to tell you what irony is, look it up for yourself ! Do you want a fish or a fishing rod and knowledge of how to catch your own fish ?
So now, a fairly run-of-the mill IELTS question:
Tell me about your favourite gadget
This piece is, as one would expect, quite lengthy and jam-packed with information and detail. I don’t expect you to write or speak at this level … but I expect you to TRY.
As you read, look out for:
complex sentences (sentences which coney more than one piece of information)
expressions, phrases and idioms
THEN – practice reading aloud. Not just once and, “Teacher, finished,” but again … and again … and again. Yes, this is not entertainment but it WILL help you get the score you want from IELTS
One of my favourite electronic devices is my Kindle, an ebook reader, which is small and light. I always take it with me when I travel; I’d be lost without it.
The Kindle is primarily a way to buy, store and read books in electronic format. At first, I wasn’t convinced; I liked reading real books. However, books take up a lot of space and, at least in the UK, are rather expensive. When I saw what a Kindle can do, and that so many books are free, I was hooked ! I had to get one. I bought my device in 2014 and I’m still using it today.
As mentioned, I use my Kindle for reading. Literature, including poetry, is one of my passions. Instead of going to a shop, I just browse the online store, click and wait for it to download. With reasonable wifi, this can just take a minute or so … then I can start reading. It is no surprise that ebooks are ubiquitous in the UK.
Although I read a lot, the Kindle is more than just an ebook. It has wifi so I can access the internet, can play music, write notes and play games.
The wifi is vital, especially when I travel. I can maintain contact with friends and family, watch YouTube if the hotel TV is less than enthralling, or read travel guides such as Trip Advisor. Naturally, I can also book tickets or make reservations and therefore pay significantly less.
I recently travelled to Thailand to meet some friends. I didn’t want to buy a new SIM card, and my friend only had an old phone, so there was a dilemma; how to stay in touch ? Thanks to my Kindle, I had email access, so we could plan when and where to meet.
I can’t watch Vietnamese TV, due to the language barrier. Consequently, the Kindle plays an even bigger part of my life, as I need some way to relax after toiling away for hours at work.
The choice of books is amazing. In the stores, a single book can cost around £10, but recently I downloaded the entire output of the Russian write Tolstoy for less than £1.50 … incredible !
Kindles come in many shapes and sizes, so before you buy, you need to ascertain how you’ll be using it. For example, do you want a basic ebook reader, just for books, or the latest model with wifi ? This will, naturally, affect the cost. Then you have to decide upon the extras, for example how much storage space do you require, or a super-fast charger or protective case ? All of these bump the price up considerably.
If you’re interested in purchasing one, I have some information for you. I did a quick Google search and saw prices started at under 2 million VND, averaged around 5 million, but some were over 15 million. That, for me, is too extravagant.
In conclusion, my Kindle is very much a part of my life. It accompanies me everywhere. I simply don’t know what I would do without it.
Now … YOUR TURN
Write a piece about YOUR favourite gadget, using the above as a model
Best of British to you
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