This blog is aimed at IELTS level students, or anyone who wants to learn how to speak or write in longer sentences.
This involves the use of complex sentences and discourse markers. Furthermore, a wide vocabulary is necessary to prevent repetition and to maintain interest as well as, of equal importantance, to make you feel that you are able to express what you really want to say.
One must not forget that when speaking, intonation, stress and body language will all help to make you sound more like a native-speaker.
To recap, a complex sentence uses different clauses (part of a whole sentence) to make a longer, more interesting sentence.
(I will write a blog just about complex sentences, with examples and exercises, in the near future)
Example: Thay Paul plays guitar. Thay Paul is from London. London is the capital of the UK
Thay Paul, who plays guitar, is from London which is the capital of the UK.
The bold text is the main clause, the plain text is a supporting clause. Which and Who are relative pronouns (Paul = who, & which links London to “capital of the UK”). Therefore, we have three pieces of information in one complex sentence.
Discourse markers link ideas together. Look out for ‘although’, ‘therefore’, ‘furthermore’ which should all be part of your everyday vocabulary.
For vocabulary, you can look at your work; could you replace a basic word with a better one ? Make use of a thesaurus, and note down any new words you encounter.
Now, moving on, today’s theme is cultural differences. This doesn’t have to mean travelling to a different country or continent, but even in the same country. For example, one of my neighbours told me about a business trip she took. Ms Phuong is from south Vietnam, but she had to travel to Ha Noi in the north. This is her account of the journey:
I asked Ms Phuong to tell me what happened.
Last week I went to Hanoi and it was partly business, partly pleasure.
I wanted her to elaborate:
I went to Hanoi, last week, and it was partly business, partly pleasure.Although my expectations were low it turned out to be a greatly rewarding experience.
That was a great introduction, please continue:
I have mixed feelings
I was curious, so I allowed Ms Phuong ten minutes to gather her thoughts, write notes, then tell me:
I have a love-hate relationship, as I believe many south Vietnamese do, with Hanoi. On one hand, I really enjoy the cuisine, the flowers and the colonial architecture. Good points notwithstanding, I have one serious issue with the city and that is the work culture.
Being born in the south, I am used to long working hours, up to ten hours a day and, if need be, working on Saturday mornings. Southern workers tend to be highly focused on work and are always seeking ways to improve their performance. In contrast, workers based in the north seem to lack such a strong work ethic. The working day is limited (is capped) to eight-hours a day and, in my experience, this is a common practice. Furthermore, staff frequently go out for refreshment or leave early.
I noticed this while I was living in Hanoi, and when I return to the city on business. Fortunately, my staff comply with a strict office working policy; I encounter this issue when dealing with suppliers. I have to waste time waiting which makes me feel frustrated as there is nothing I can do to expedite matters.
NOW – what did you make of Ms Phuong’s answer ? I’m speaking in terms of the English, not necessarily the point she makes about Ha Noi.
(make of = think about).
How many complex sentences did you notice ? How about discourse markers ? Were there any words you didn’t know ?
Oh, no … we are not finished, not by a long chalk (not by a long way). Now it’s your turn. Write a short piece based on cultural differences or, if you prefer, write a rebuttal to Ms Phuong’s experience.
A short introduction
First point with reasons to support your view.
A contrary (opposite) view.
For those studying for IELTS, read it to yourself, and use a stopwatch … can you speak for two minutes ?
EXERCISE: What do you think of this painting ? It is by Salvador Dali; what do you know about him ? Prepare a short presentation for next class 🙂
The Persistence of Memory 1931
How to ‘read’ a painting.
Firstly, as with a poem, the title, not to mention the time it was created, can supply us with vital clues and information.
Memory – how well can you remember what you did last night ? Maybe last week ? Last year ? How about what you did at junior school or even, what are your earliest memories ?
Our memories can be unreliable, a mixture of truth, half-truths and maybe fabrications. Therefore, Dali could be saying that the past, as we remember it, may not be the truth – it can be distorted, warped or mutated.
This can be shown by the main subjects: watches. The closed (protected ?) watch is overrun with ants. Could this mean that the ‘truth’ will never be revealed ?
The remaining watches appear to have melted. Have they stopped ? We can see that two of the watches show different times.
What do you associate with watches; time, naturally. Is Dali warning us about how fast time flies, or how we can so easily waste time ? Alternately, is the artist pointing out that human time is nothing compared to time in the universe, which is measured in millions of years and light years ?
How about the image in the centre ? This looks like a self-portrait, also distorted, of Dali himself:
The ‘Dali’ portrait is covered by a distorted watch. Could Dali be telling us how he feels his own mortality – his time left on Earth – or is he being forced down by forces beyond his control – how we can’t escape time ?
Such possibilities show how we can interpret a work of art.
We can say anything we feel provided we can support our ideas.
This makes for some very interesting points of view; even if we don’t agree with the point, we can appreciate the argument.
Now let’s focus on the colour and background. Dali was born in the Catalonia region of Spain, and take a look at this photo of the coastline:
Do you see, it is not entirely unlike the cliffs in the top right of the painting.
Additionally, we have what appears to be the natural realities of sea and sky.
This mixture of reality and distorted, dream-like images is termed Surrealism. It is not pure fantasy, nor is it strict reality, but a hybrid (mix) of the two.
How about the tree ? It looks dead, destroyed, more like a human skeleton. This could be a reference to the horrors of World War I (1914 – 1918), when vast areas of French forest were bombed and shelled into grotesque nightmares worlds:
Interestingly, many of my young students now interpret the tree in environmental terms, how nature is being destroyed by deforestation, by pollution, by human encroachment on the land.
I find that to be a justification for the importance of art; we project our own concerns and issues, factors that affect our current lives onto art that may have been created hundreds of years ago. The art still speaks to us.
SIDE EXERCISE: Which do you prefer, the painting or the photo ? Or, develop your argument to state the positives of both.
Now, let’s move on to the colours. What do you associate, or what is the symbolism of bright blues and yellows ? Conversely, what do you think of when you see dark colours, deep browns and black ?
Finally, let’s focus on the ‘Dali’ image; it is placed at the centre of the painting, like a sun in a solar system about which, everything moves. We have a hybrid of reality (sky, sea, cliffs) and surreal images (the melted, disfigured watches) not forgetting the (war-scarred ?) tree, both real and surreal.
With Dali being the central image, is the painting saying that is a view of Dali’s imagination ? Maybe a dream (don’t dream have a surreal quality ?), maybe his statement on how the world is going ?
All things considered, how do you react now ? Is this optimistic or pessimistic ? Do you consider it realistic or fantastic or surreal ?
Now you try
I previously mentioned World War I. For the first time, war was industrialised, soldiers died in incomprehensible numbers from heavy artillery, bombs, machine guns, gas, flame-throwers, airplane attacks, as well as hand to hand fighting.
Despite the huge loss of life the politicians and leaders persisted in fighting. As a reaction to this madness, a new art movement was formed in Switzerland, central Europe, and was named Dada.
The Dada artists wanted to attack all in modern life that had lead to, and was prolonging, the war.
To whet your appetite, have a look at these traditional British dishes. Do you know what they are ?
Top left: Sunday roast – roast meat, potatoes, vegetables and yorkshire pudding.
Top Right: cornish pasty – baked pastry filled with meat, potatoes and carrots.
Bottom Left: traditional English breakfast – fried bacon, sausage, egg, tomato and mushrooms, with baked beans and toast.
Bottom right: fish and chips, with mushy peas (the green paste in the small bowl).
Idioms and collocations
tea / cherries / nutshell / cucumber / carrot
Growing up is hard, life isn’t always a bowl of _________ .
He walked in, as cool as a _________ , and told the boss he wanted a pay rise.
We’re going to try using a _________ and stick approach
I’m not a fan of karaoke, it’s not my cup of _________ at all.
To put it in a _________ , philosophy is very difficult.
Answers at end of the blog
Prefer and rather
Which do you prefer ? Which would you rather eat ?
I prefer Indian food to English food. I’d rather have a good spicy curry than boring old meat and potatoes.
Now you try: Which do you prefer … which would you rather have ?
Traditional British Christmas. What do you think of this food ?
Roast turkey with stuffing, roast vegetables (sprouts, carrots, potatoes, parsnips), baked ham
Christmas pudding with brandy cream, mince pies, gingerbread men
What traditional food do you eat in your country ?
What is the most unusual food you have tried ?
As a Brit abroad I have often had comments and questions, such as, ‘So what do you actually eat ?’, ‘I hear British food isn’t so great …’ or ‘Do you even have a traditional meal ?’ At first I thought this was just a stereotype that existed in Europe, but I have recently begun to ask myself, is our food really that bad?
In comparison to our neighbours, British food has never been seen as a delicacy like French cuisine. Perhaps when people think of British food they think of sandwiches, or the simple and unhealthy fish and chips. Although perhaps simple and unhealthy, fish and chips is delicious, as is a cornish pasty(meat and vegetables in pastry).
We have a meal for breakfast: the incredible combination of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, mushrooms and bread (the cooked Breakfast), we have a meal for Sundays (roast lunch) with meat, vegetables and gravy (sauce), and we even have a tradition for between lunch and dinner (afternoon tea) with the two best things: cake and tea.
So it may be because I’ve eaten British food all my life, but I personally think that it is much better than its reputation!
Vocabulary to learn: look these up if you don’t know the meaning.
in comparison to …
bowl of cherries / cool as a cucumber / carrot and stick / not my cup of tea / in a nutshell.
WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS IMAGES OF WAR THAT ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNG READERS
April 30th is a national holiday in Vietnam. My Vietnamese students should know why, other students can probably guess.
Describe this photo:
What is the subject ? What is the background and history ? Why is this picture significant ?
What happened after this snapshot?
background– recent story or history to some event.
significant (adjective) – very important or large.
significance (noun) / significantly (adverb)
snapshot– a moment in a photo – captured by time.
In this photo we can clearly see …
The photo shows …
The photo depicts …
war / conflict / civil war / agent orange / reunification / peace treaty / ceasefire / chemical warfare / the seat of government / reeducation / education growth / Le Duan / public opinion / anti-war sentiments / Vietnam War Memorial, Washington DC / My Lai / Kim Phuc
Use the above vocabulary to describe the following photos. Organise your thoughts, then employ discourse markers to link your ideas together.
If you are not certain, you may use expressions such as:
I’m not entirely sure, but I think …
This would seem to show …
I’m not familiar with this image …
Practice speaking in complex sentences by using relative pronouns (who, where, which, whose)
This is a great opportunity for IELTS students to interpret the information represented on this graph. What is the trend ? What is the anomaly ? How would you categorise the fluctuation in figures from 2007 – 2010 ?
NEXT PHOTO MAY DISTURB SOME READERS
THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC PHOTOS, NOT JUST OF THE WAR IN VIETNAM, BUT OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.
THERE ARE NO ADJECTIVES CAPABLE OF DESCRIBING THE IMAGE.
THE PHOTO HAS BEEN CREDITED WITH TURNING AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION AGAINST THE WAR.
The story so far … we have two young Asian cousins who are about to meet each other, after a long time. Boram, a caring, thoughtful young music student, is going to the train station to meet Leon, also a musician, who is travelling to Seoul but doesn’t know the city. Despite having a busy schedule, Boram insists upon meeting Leon and making sure he is safe.
After his journey, Boram feels certain Leon must be hungry and in need of coffee. She decides to take him to a great cafe near the station. They can talk and get to know each other.
Boram pays for the drinks, and they go to find a table:
Here, there are introducing themselves. The conversation may go something like this:
Boram: How was the journey ? Are you tired ?
Leon: No, I’m Ok, thanks. This coffee looks great. Wow, how long has it been ?
Boram: Hhmmm, let me think … it must be six years since we last meet. How are your parents ?
Leon: Both very well, thank you, and they send you a little present. So, mum says you play piano ?
Boram: Violin. I play in the university orchestra. You’ve grown so much !
Leon: Of course, I’m not ten anymore haha. You play ? Can I hear you sometime ?
Boram: Actually, I’m playing this afternoon. If you like, I can take you and introduce you to some of my friends.
Leon: That would be cool. You are so kind. I insist on buying you lunch to say thank you.
That was a fairly natural exchange of pleasantries. They both appear nice people, and very polite. However, it is not very exciting or interesting. So, let’s make Leon less grateful and more self-centred:
Boram: How was the journey ? Are you tired ?
Leon: Oh, man … it was like … boring, you know. No hot girls on the train.
Boram: Oh. Sorry. How is your coffee ?
Leon: It’s terrible, We have much better in Busan. This place is lame. Don;t you know any cooler joints ? You look a bit boring. Mum says you’re a musician ?
Boram: Yes, I play vio…..
Leon: I’m a musician, I play bass in a radicle hip-hop, thrash-metal band.
Boram: I’d love to hear your band.
Leon: Ha ! I don’t think so. We don’t make music for little girls. This is real music.
Boram: Oh, well, would you like to hear my orchestra play ?
Boram: Great ! We are playi …
Leon: No, idiot, I’m joking, I can’t listen to that old crap ! Hey, can you give me some money ?
What do you think of Leon now ? Not so nice, hey ? See how he interrupts Boram, mocks her music and then demands money ? He’s a ‘nasty piece of work.’
Let’s turn the tables. How about if Boram, despite looking angelic and ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt- in-her-mouth’ appearance, is in reality arrogant, impatient and thoughtless.
Leon: It is so nice of you to meet me. I haven’t been to Seoul before on my own.
Boram: I had no choice. My mum made me, I don’t want to waste my time here.
Leon: And thank you for buying the coffee. I was really tired.
Boram: Mum gave me the money. Come on, drink it then I can go. I’ve got more important things to do.
Leon: Oh, I don’t want to keep you if you’re busy …
Boram: ‘Busy’ ? I have rehearsals in two hours and I have to go all the way across the city to meet you. Ridiculous, a grown man like you needs me to hold his hand.
Leon: Really, if you need to go, it’s ….
Boram: Well, if you say it’s Ok, I’ll go. You know the way ? If not just ask someone or, I don’t know, get a taxi. Do you have my phone number ?
Leon: No, what is i… ?
Boram: Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’m to busy to pick up. I gotta go.
That should change our perception of Boram. Not so friendly now, is she ?
Try writing short dialogues for different situations:
1: Leon really wants to see the top museums
2: Boram wants Leon to meet her friend, she thinks they would be good together
3: Leon is having an interview for a job and he is very nervous. Boram supports him.
4: Boram wants to take Leon shopping for new clothes. Leon likes his clothes and they have a playful argument.
5: They discover they really don’t like each other but they have to stay together because they are family.
And now … what to do if you’re stuck at home, self-isolating, and have lots of time to kill. My internet friend, Rachel Kim, from South Korea has a tip about a new craze sweeping her homeland:Dalgona coffee:
Please Note: All photos are taken from Google Images or free photo sites, and are used for educational purposes only. No copyright infringement or offense is intended. If I have used your photo or image, and you wish me to remove it, just ask. This site is not monetized, I run it on my own dollar. Thank you.
Wow, hot dog ! What a list, extensive, exhaustive, exhilarating. See how your language can improve. However, it is always a good idea to check the definition first, as the words are all slightly different, and some may not be appropriate. For example, ‘foxy’ and ‘shapely’ are more sensual, while ‘refined’ and ‘angelic’ are more innocent.
You may be as descriptive as you wish, for example, Boram has:
stunning, high cheek bones / luscious almond-shaped eyes / long wavy brown hair, enticingly and charmingly wrapped in a soft pink bow.
Continue by describing her clothes and setting (where she is). Now, compare this with Leon. Follow the pattern, tell me what you think of Leon, what he looks like, how he’s attired (dressed), where he might be and what that tells us about his character.
In a standard lesson, I would emphasis that we DON’T know the person, so we cannot say, for example, Boram is sweet and cheerful. Instead, we have to use expressions such as:
In my opinion / I feel Boram is / Boram seems to me / I get the impression that Boram is …
But we are now in the realms of creative English and this is YOUR story … use your imagination … tell me what Boram is like.
The following are my thoughts – you may well disagree, in fact I hope you do. I want YOU to think and create your own character.
In MY story, Boram is incredibly sweet and thoughtful. She is such a caring lady, the radiance of her face is a physical manifestation of the purity and honesty of her heart.
However, she will often put other people first and can be disarmingly vulnerable and perilously innocent.
Do you see how the adjectives were intensified by adverbs – ‘disarmingly vulnerable’, ‘incredibly sweet’. By now, you should be able to use basic adverbs such as:
very / so / extremely / unbelievably / incredibly /
Therefore, try to find new adverbs. Watch out for adverbs as you listen to music, watch films or TV, read books, newspapers, online media and even this humble blog.
Now, repeat with Leon. This is YOUR story, so Leon can be whatever you decide.
Finally today, think about the story. Boram lives in Seoul (but you are free to change her name, location etc) and her cousin Leon (again, change his name if YOU wish) is coming to visit.
Boram is worried that Leon will be lost in the big city when he arrives (by bus, or train, or even plane), so she insists on meeting him, despite having commitments (she is a musician and needs to rehearse with her orchestra in the afternoon).
They meet at, for example, the train station. Leon is very hungry and tired, so Boram takes him to a cafe for some food and coffee. Here they have a chance to catch up (to talk about what they have been doing). What do they say ? What phrases or expressions could they use ? Is Leon grateful or arrogant ? Will be look after Boram, or exploit her kindness ?
We can decide that in the next blog … so get thinking !
Stay safe, stay healthy. From Thay Paul in Sai Gon … Goodnight and good luck
This lesson is to encourage students to think creatively, and to help them with sentence buildings by encouraging the use of discourse markers and complex sentences.
Additionally, here is a golden opportunity to utilise adjectives and adverbs, so often conspicuous by their absence, not to mention a chance to create dialogues where characters can use idioms, expressions and features of everyday real English.
Let’s kick off (start) with an example.
Describe these two people. What are they wearing ? What are their personalities ? What do you think they do ?How do they meet ?
Students can here perform a task suited to their level.
Firstly, just describe the photos. Remember do not start with a pronoun (he, she, it). Instead, tell me what you see.
Example: I see a young lady with a bow in her hair NOT She has a bow in her hair.
For more advanced students, explain more about the young lady. Do you think she is beautiful (or pretty, cute, adorable, gorgeous) ? What are her origins ? She looks Asian, but she could live anywhere in the world. Describe how she looks and what she’s wearing. What do you think her personality is ?
After, do the same with the young man.
For advanced students, look at the background. The young lady is standing in a white room, with a book and some flowers. What does that suggest to you ? White is often associated with purity and innocence. Flowers could be sweet and feminine (although different flowers have different significance in different cultures), while the book indicates education and intelligence. Her hair bow appears to have musical notes as a pattern, so possible she is a musician ?
As for IELTS students, write a description then replace any basic words with low-frequency vocabulary (example, replace beautiful with gorgeous, stunning etc).
Now, let’s get creative:
Write a short story using dialogue and adjectives.
MOTIVATION: why do the characters do what they do ?
PLOT: what happens … and why ?
CHARACTERS: make sure each one is an individual and speaks differently.
Where do they meet ?
How do they meet ?
How do they know each other ?
What do they think of each other and how do they express it ?
Boram, a young Korean lady, is at home getting ready to go out. She has put on her favourite white and pink dress and, with her lucky pink bow in her luscious chestnut hair, looks absolutely stunning.
Today she is going to meet her cousin who is coming to Seoul for the first time. Boram needs to practice violin, because she plays in the university orchestra and they have an important concert coming up, however, she is concerned about her cousin getting lost in the big bewildering city. That is typical of Boram, always putting other people first. She is a very sweet and thoughtful caring lady.
[In the first sentence I named the lady – Boram. Therefore, we can use a pronoun – she – because we know the subject]
Tell me about her cousin, Leon.
Now, try the same exercise with any of these situations:
Next time, we can work on dialogue … have fun and STAY SAFE
Making the news, across the world, is the continued spread of the Corona Virus.
This is a topic which is affecting millions of people, and having a significant impact on the global economy but of course … health comes first.
I’m writing from Vietnam, where precautions were implemented rapidly. Schools were closed, for example, so my centre is offering online-classes.
I recommend students read as much ‘real-life’ English as possible, not rely solely on the text books, so I was interested by this clip from the BBC, specifically aimed at Vietnamese.
This is a speech by POTUS (President of the United States), Donald Trump. The purpose of this blog is not politics BUT to encourage students to listen to the language and thereby learn new words and expressions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twd60cPH7t0
The clip has Viet subtitles so is a great way to learn expressions, vocabulary as well as HOW native speakers speak … where we put the stress and intonation.