IELTS: Chunking Express. Final Lesson.

4th March 2019

Tonight is my final class before the speaking test, and it’s jammed-packed with language skills such as listening, pronunciation and, not forgetting, speaking.

The words in bold indicate the way native-speakers sometimes link words together, to form one linguistic unit, a process referred to as ‘chunking’ in the IELTS book (though I had not previously come across this term).

This is defined on the Cambridge English Dictionary website as:

chunking

noun [ U ] /tʃʌŋ.kɪŋ/ specialized

a way of dealing with or remembering informationby separating it into small groups or chunkshttps://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/chunking

In terms of the Speaking Test, it will help students sound more natural, more fluid, so is very beneficial, along with learning fixed expressions and an idiom or two. But first, as the students will be arriving in dribs and drabs, we’ll need a warm-up before the lesson can start in earnest. Let’s use some examples from the film alluded to in the heading, Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘Chungking Express’ (1994).

I will show three still of character inter-action. The students have to give me as much information as they can (description) and tell me, in their opinion, what is happening. The stills:

To help the students, I will guide them: where are the characters, how are they dressed, what is their body language ? We can then move on to ‘reading’ a picture. Look at the colours – which are warm, which are cold ? How close are the characters ? The woman in the first picture is wearing sunglasses inside and an obvious wig and heavy coat – why ? What is the relationship between the policeman and fast-food worker in the second ? Follow the eye-lines, look at the space between them look at how the bottles on the counter go from blues (cold) to red (hot, passion, love) as they move from cop to the girl. As a final clue, what symbol is on her T-shirt ? Finally, how would they characterise the meeting in the last photo ? Do they appear friendly ? Is there a social-economic or class issue ?

This is one of my favourite films, the acting is great and the cinematography is breathe-taking. The American director Quentin Tarantino is also a big fan of the film, so here’s a link into a listening exercise. Tarantino is from the US, so let’s see how much the students can understand from a ‘real-life’ video (from 0:00 – 0:45):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX8aUixCpek

What film was Wong Kar-Wai making ?

Who was in it ?

What expressions does Tarantino use to indicate a long time ?

We then move to a controlled practice session. Over the past weeks, the students have learnt new vocabulary and expressions but, unless they are used, they will be forgotten … and we can’t have that. So, time for some small group work:

I’m planning a trip to Nha Trang (a beach town in South Vietnam, about an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City). I have two hotels in mind, but I need advise from some Vietnamese. They also have to use as many of these words as possible:

visually stunning / mouth-watering / you get what you pay for spectacular / a waste of money / significantly / somewhat according to / how can I put it ? 

Students must tell me about the hotels, the area, the food and which one they would choose for me:

Victory Hotel 2* Rooms not very clean, no view. No complimentary breakfast.

Sandy Bay Hotel 4* Much more expensive, although it has breakfast buffet, and room has a balcony with view of the sea. 

Trip Advisor recommends Sandy Bay, but they said Victory was dirty and very over-priced.

Local food is great

WILF (What I’m looking for): can the students describe the scenery and food ? Can they compare the price and quality difference ? Can they use expressions appropriately ?

With the adjectives, I’ll be listening out for intonation – ‘spectacular !’

To quote another source of information, ‘according to’ and for the prices, the 4* is ‘significantly more’ expensive than … Then, in conclusion, can they make a judgement – ‘a waste of money’ or accepting that high quality means high prices, ‘you get what you pay for.’

By now it’s time for the book work, and we have a lot to get through tonight.

The speaking practice involves a two-minute talk about an electronic device. The books offers some ‘stepping stones’, guides about what to say. To help the class, I’ll model an answer showing discourse markers, adjectives and adverbs, as well as some ‘low-frequency’ vocabulary (or ‘better words,’ if you will). My topic will be my Kindle.

A Kindle ebook

There should be a short introduction (one or two sentences), then each point arranged in different paragraphs, then ending with a short conclusion. The book suggests saying:

How long you have had it ?

How often you use it ?

What you use it for and

Why you use it so often.

They don’t all have to be answered, and other points can be made, but the speaker should be aiming for two minutes without repetition, hesitation or deviation.

My Kindle

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 and 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 writer 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.

Speaking for two minutes can be quite daunting and challenging, even for a native speaker. I will try to encourage the class to expand on their work as much as possible. They can do this by giving examples or lists, using personal experiences or giving full reasons for their choices.

This exercise will probably be the centre-piece of the lesson, as they’ll need time to prepare and perform. I won’t embarrass anyone by making them read aloud, but instead, I’ll circulate and offer help and tips where necessary.

As it’s the last lesson, the later part of the class can be for fun activities, maybe some general knowledge questions, or sentence building exercises, where we start with a basic sentence and see how far we can develop the story. Possibly I could show them a clip of English-speakers in Vietnam; what they (the people in the show) think of it, how they react. The clip I have in mind is when the ‘Top Gear’ team arrived, their mission to drive from Ho Chi Minh City to Ha Noi. What could possibly go wrong ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY4AjJmvXBk (0.40 – 02.06)

(‘Top Gear’ is a motoring show on the BBC. In this episode, they come to Vietnam and try to buy cars).

IELTS: Travel follow-up

19th February 2019

Last night’s class threw up several new words, fixed expressions, idioms, cultural notes and even a reference to Thai ladyboys … you had to be there !

Being exposed to new vocabulary is one of the reasons to attend a class, but language is organic; it needs to be nurtured, developed, practised and used.

To wit, here is a list of words that arose last night:

VOCABULARY

accommodate – make space for.

alternate / alternative – one of two choices / a different way of doing something.

car share – people who work or live near each other can give each other a ride, so only one car is used.

congestion / congested – blocked up, unable to move e.g. traffic jam

commuter – a person who travels to and from work.

composite – made from different things.

dozen – a set of twelve (also from French, via Latin).

flexitime – from flexible & time. A method of working where staff can arrive at different times.

fuselage – the main body of an airplane. Word is of French origin. Notice how English borrows many words from other languages.

implement – to use, to plan and then do something.

independent – free, not under anyone’s control or rule.

institute – an organisation usually academic or scientific.

reiterate – to say again, to repeat (see how the ‘re’ often means again – repeat, re-sit, re-do, redesign, re-watch)

The BBC comedy series ‘Car Share

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7uQ4F64Ew8

This show is about two co-workers who ride to and from work every day. It is set (the location) in the north-west of England, around Manchester so the accent may be harder to understand.

Idioms

not my cup of tea – a polite way of saying that you don’t like something

piece of cake – if something is very easy, or if something is not a problem.

Actually, the idiom is ‘like taking candy from a baby.’

I checked at a previous IELTS centre about the use of idioms in the course. The verdict was that one or two are totally acceptable, as it shows a deeper knowledge of English. However, they should be used appropriately, and are more suited to speaking, as opposed to writing.

Fixed expressions / phrases

according to – when you give a fact or information that someone else says.

brand new – totally new, un-used, still in the box or wrapping.

for this / that reason – because of this / that

hard to reach – difficult to get to.

mouth-watering – food that is so delicious, it makes the mouth produce saliva by smelling it or even just talking about it.

off-peak – a quiet time, either for driving and commuting, or for holidays.

off-season – a quiet time for hotels, flights and holidays.

second hand – an item that has been previously used.

turn a blind eye – to see something wrong but pretend not to notice.

Adverbs

remarkably / significantly – strong adverbs of degree, showing a high change.

quite / somewhat – mild adverbs of degree

Exercises

Use the new vocabulary in this conversation.

Peter: Sorry I’m late; the roads are so ——– (very busy). Sally: There was an accident ———-the radio (the radio said). You look ill. Peter: Well, I had —- (12) beers last night ! I’m glad we’re on ——- (not fixed time). Hey, is that a new phone ? It looks ———- (just bought). Sally: No, I got it ———– (previously used). I know an ———–(different) way to get to work. It’s on the back streets so ————– (because of) it’s empty. Peter: Less ———- (people going to work) ! ——————– (no problem !)

IELTS Talking

The student should be prepared to talk for up to two minutes. Having said that, there is one minute allowed for preparation.

The speaking can be planned in a similar way to writing; a short introduction; one idea or subject at a time; mention both something good, then bad; a short conclusion.

Avoid repetition, hesitating and speaking about something not directly related to the question. One way to ‘buy time’ to think is to use one of the following:

How can I put it ?

What’s the word ?

That’s an interesting question

Well, I hadn’t thought about that before

The examiner will also be looking for politeness and eye contact, as well as listening for intonation and pronunciation. Grammar is naturally important, but one or two minor mistakes are acceptable.

Last night we practised talking about holidays, so for practice, talk about a holiday you went on. Try to use some of the new vocabulary from above.

If you need some ideas, use these pictures for assistance:

When did you go there ?
With whom did you go ?
How did you travel there … and why ?
What did you see and do
What were the good points
Was there anything bad about the trip ?


Some extra revision can be found on this website:

http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-speaking-part-2-topics/

Adult Mechanics: Olympics – going for gold.

10th February 2019

This is a lesson plan for an adult class I teach comprised mainly of professional engineers and mechanics. The level is mixed, as is natural with all classes, but I would place most students at Intermediate level. In order to boost them to the next stage, I will introduce more expressions, higher vocabulary and more student talking time.

I’ll be trying to implement a CELTA-style plan: ‘Present, Practice, Produce’ (PPP) which basically means I demonstrate some new language, allow the students to practice and then use the language on their own, checking for pronunciation, intonation and context. The key word is PRACTICE; whatever your field, whatever natural talent you may possess, you have to be disciplined and work, train … which brings us (neatly, I thought) to our subject – the Olympics.

Aside – the themes aren’t really that important, they are merely a starting point for learning. Having said that, they have to hold some measure of interest for the student. Allow me to quote the C15th monk John Lydgate, “You can’t please all the people, all of the time.” Even if some of the students aren’t big sports fans, they will at least be aware of the Games, and should find the videos interesting and beneficial.

I’ll begin with a video about the Olympics. It’s aimed at young native speakers, which is helpful for English – learners as the language will be easier to follow. Additionally, it will introduce some European history to my Vietnamese learners, and afford them the chance to listen to native speakers at a natural pace. And now, without further ado, the video:

Video: Listening practice

Try to watch before the lesson, and make a note of any new vocabulary.

listen for: gather together/ for the length of the games/ common ground/ truce

in honour of/ originally/ ancient/ off and on/ alternating / interlocking/ myth/

Questions – Ask each other Speaking practice

When were the first Games ? When were the final (ancient) games held ?

Who was Zeus ?

How many events were there at first ? What events were later added ?

What were winners given ? 

Where and when were the first modern games staged ?

What are the Paralympics ?

What are gold medals made of ?

Why were the five colours of the rings chosen ?

What is the goal of the Olympics ?

“The most important thing is not to win but to take part.” Do you agree ?

Video:

What do you think of the video ? Give positive and negative reactions.

Try to use some of the following expressions:

specular / impressive / co-ordinated / visually stunning / you get what you pay for

a waste of money / a drain on natural resources / spectacle but no substance

Team work speaking practice

The Olympics are going to be held in Vietnam. Is this good or bad ?

Divide the class into two teams, one ‘for’, the other ‘against’.

Points to consider:

The cost – how will it be financed ?

How can it generate revenue for Vietnam ?

Impact on the environment 

Does Vietnam have the infrastructure to cope ?

Is south-east Asia a good choice in terms of climate ?

Is Vietnam a good choice ? 

Does it have big cities ? 

Does it have space for an Olympic village ?

What about crime and petty theft ? 

Are the police able to deal with the influx of crowds ?

Do the Vietnamese people care enough about sports ?

Is Vietnam enthusiastic about sports ?

Politics – people from all different countries and political beliefs will arrive. Could that be an issue ?

The legacy – what will happen after the Games are over ?

Raising awareness of Vietnam on the world stage. 

What do people think when they hear ‘Vietnam’ ?

Encourage overseas investors

Is the cost worth it ?https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2012/oct/23/london-2012-olympics-cost-total

This is from a ‘high-brow’ newspaper and quotes a figure of £8.921 billion. Can Vietnam afford this kind of money ? In China, a lot of money went on infrastructure such as improving airports, subways and roads, and it has been claimed that a profit of $146 was generated. However, Montreal took over 30 years to pay off debts incurred by hosting the Olympics.

Part of the London Olympic complex with the athletes village and, in the distance, the Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham football club.
Sir Paul McCartney at the Olympic opening ceremony in London 2012

What could Vietnam organise for an opening ceremony ?

Make a plan for the next lesson. Think about celebrating the country’s traditions, nature, economy, history, beauty. What would attract people to Vietnam ?

Welcome to Vietnam – the image
Welcome to Vietnam – the reality