Tomorrow I have a class taking their IELTS speaking test. Thus, I present a reminder about what you need to say in order to:
ace the test
pass with flying colours
hit that baby right out of the ballpark
I will be listening for the following:
Fluency – use of discourse markers. WITHOUT A WIDE RANGE OF DISCOURSE MARKERS YOU WILL NOT GET HIGHER THAN A ‘5’.
Lexical resources – Low-frequency words (big words). Know synonyms and multi-syllable words to impress the examiner. Not to mention, a sprinkling of idioms, phrases, phrasal verbs. Paraphrasing is very important
Grammar – it’s OK to make a few mistakes, grammatically, but what we want to hear are complex structures – basically, altering the structure of a sentence or including several pieces of information in one sentence by using relative pronouns.
Stress and intonation – listen to native speakers and COPY how we speak, when we stress words, when we ‘swallow’ letters, our body language.
Fluency – Ability to speak at length without noticeable effort. A good range of discourse markers and connectives. Answer is coherent and pertinent. Self-correction is totally acceptable.
Lexical Resources – A wide vocabulary to cover a variety of topics. Low-frequency words. Ability to form collocations. Use of everyday as well as less common idioms and expressions. Paraphrasing, by which I mean rephrase the question you have been asked – don’t just repeat the exact wording.
Grammatical Range – A combination of simple and complex sentences. Generally error-free. Verb tenses must be correct, and subject must agree with verb form.
Pronunciation – Must be clear and easily understood. Effective use of stress, intonation and rhythm. If you are telling a happy story, sound happy.
Friday is Reunification Day in Viet Nam, so provides us with a topical subject for this week’s lessons.
First up, the relative clause game. To encourage students to speak more fluently, and to use complex sentences as a matter of course, a little speaking activity. I shall recite a short extract at various points, I shall stop and ask a student for extra information including the correct relative pronoun. Got it ?
Oh, you know I will ! Let’s invent an English friend, Mr John … use adjectives to describe his personality and appearance, nouns to tell about his occupation and see how far we get. Ready ? Let’s go !
Mr John, WHO is from London, is on holiday in Sai Gon, WHICH is the biggest city in Viet Nam. John, WHO loves history, wants to visit the War Museum WHICH is located in District 1 and is an extremely thought-provoking experience. John, WHO is an estate agent, is quiet and a little serious although he is extremely friendly. John, WHO is 32 and unmarried, wants to learn about the war WHICH ended in 1975.
NOW … YOUR TURN
Ms Kim, WHO ____________, works in Sai Gon, WHICH ______________________. Kim, WHO __________________, wants to visit Ben Thanh Market WHICH ______________________ additionally __________________. Kim, WHO _________________________, wants to buy a birthday present for her mother WHO ___________________.
Mr Peter, WHO loves ______________ , is killing two birds with one stone. He’s using his laptop WHICH _________________ to have a Zoom meeting with his business partner WHO _________________________ as well as drinking coffee at Mario’s WHICH ______________ . Because he lives in Italy, Peter WHO _____________________________ , speaks both English WHICH ________________________ and Italian because his wife WHO _________________________ was born in Rome WHICH ____________ .
Piece of cake, hey ? OK, on to this week’s exercises. We’ll continue with making a narrative.
I had a really bad day yesterday, Sunday. To help explain, here’s some extra vocabulary:
Vocabulary: cancellation / hyper-active / irritating / excruciating / connection / deafening / anti-smoking / culture shock / a real handful / “A plague on both your houses !”
Today is Hung King Festival, a free day in Viet Nam
“The holiday is dedicated to the memory of the Hung line of kings who ruled Vietnam as priestly kings for over 2,500 years up until around 250 B.C. These kings are counted as the nation’s ancient founders.” Read more on:
Elaborate (verb) … tell more, expand on your answer
Significant (adj) significance (noun) significantly (adv) … very important or different from the rest. Special, notable.
Simile … to compare something e.g. he drinks like a fish, she eats like a pig, our campus is like a bloody madhouse.
White collar job … professional, desk job or requires mental skills e.g. lawyer, doctor, office worker, teacher
Blue collar job … manual work, although these jobs can also need a professional qualification, and can be extremely well-paid.
Now, on with the show. Last night was based around the typical IELTS question, “Tell me about your family,” and its derivatives. I tell classes until I’m blue in the face, just saying, “I live with my mum, my dad and my sister,” is not a great IELTS answer, not to mention being tedious in the extreme.
The students mulled it over and came up with the reasonable response that there really was nothing else to say. Au contraire (on the contrary) there is so much to say, and every journey, as my Duchess knows, starts with a single step to wit, a great introduction.
The students, somewhat perplexed, offered:
Well, I don’t know how to give an interesting answer because I just live with my mum, dad and brother …
Even that would qualify as an introduction, but how about:
Allow me to introduce my family to you. Firstly there is …
Here’s where relative clauses really come into their own. Basically, every time you mention a subject, a noun, elaborate; tell the examiner more about said subject.
Oh, you know I will. Let’s start with the matriarch, Mommie dearest. You could say:
My mother has a heart of gold …
…then explain why
… she’s always thinking of other people before herself, as well aslistening to all my problems and trying to help me with everything.
On the other hand, your mother may want you to excel at everything …
Although I love her dearly, my mother is what they call a Tiger Mum by which I mean she always makes me study, do homework and learn piano. I really burn the candle at both ends and sometimes it can be too much for me.
Now, let’s turn to pater, Daddy;
My father, on the other hand, is firm but fair …
My father has a white collar job. He works long hours to provide for his family, he really has his nose to the grindstone …
He’s a little loud and on holidays, he loves singing karaoke with his friends, who are all blue collar workers, and hedrinks like a fish.
Now, a borrowed word to describe sister …
My sister, who is younger than me, is such a prima donna, always (doing what ?) …
My sister is so sweet, she’s like a little angel, and she loves playing with our puppywho is just six weeks old.
How about brother ?
My brother really looks out for me, giving me advice and guidance. I totally look up to him.
On the other hand …
My brother is an absolute slacker, lazy beyond belief. He never helps in the house, or cleans his room. He does his homework once in a blue moon, preferring to play stupid computer games instead.
How was that ? Happy now ?
Now … Your Turn
Last night you encountered these adjectives and occupations:
IELTS students always need to concentrate on expanding their lexical resources. Having said that, I feel this class needs extra work on fluency and pronunciation. To that end, some exercises to assist:
Exercise 1: Just a minute. In pairs, one student has to speak for one minute without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
The subjects are: Your favourite gift // your neighbourhood // what you like about your city // shopping // your family
Exercise 2: Newsreader. Read the following extracts with appropriate pronunciation, intonation and stress, not forgetting body language.
Some stories are sombre (sad, solemn), others convey information that is somewhat depressing or raise concern. However, we end with some lighter entertainment gossip and football transfer speculation.
LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II returned to royal duties just four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, with her first in-person event Tuesday.
The queen hosted a ceremony at Windsor Castle for William Peel, who retired after serving for 14 years as lord chamberlain, the most senior aide in the royal household.
A report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, or WTTC, has revealed the full extent of the damage done to the global travel industry in 2020 after business was devastated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Globally, the sector’s income slumped by almost $4.5 trillion last year. In 2019, travel and tourism was linked to one in four of all new jobs created around the world. But in 2020, more than 62 million jobs were lost.
HCMC – The Ministry of Health has confirmed 16 new imported Covid-19 cases in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Hanoi, Danang, Quang Nam and HCMC, taking the country’s tally to 2,733 as of tonight, April 14.
Five of the new cases were reported in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. The patients, aged between 29 and 39, returned to Vietnam from Russia on Flight VN5062 on April 12. They were immediately transported to Ba Ria-Vung Tau for quarantine after arriving at the HCMC-based Tan Son Nhat International Airport. All of them are being treated at Long Dien District Medical Center.
Who is Hey Stephen by Taylor Swift about?
The song is about a crush Taylor had on Stephen Barker Liles, who’s in the band Love and Theft.
The two reportedly met in 2008 when his band was opening up for her on tour.
Speaking to Access Online, Taylor said: “The song is actually about a guy who I had a crush on and never told him.
“So I wrote everything that I was thinking down in the song instead of telling him.”
Manchester United are eager to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus – according to Sai Gon Post.
The Red Devils will consider an exchange deal that would see Paul Pogba return to Turin in order to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford this summer.
United are on course to receive a big payout for finishing in the Premier League’s top four again, and plan to put those funds towards the re-capture of a club legend.
you get what you pay for (or you pay for what you get) – if you buy something cheap, you get bad quality
to romanticise – to make something ordinary more interesting
to fantasise (fantasize US English) – to wish for something great to happen
use your imagination / give your imagination free reign – it is OK to pretend, to make up a better story
I will give it my utmost consideration – I will think about it very, very carefully (and then say ‘no’).
firstly, secondly, additionally, another point is, on the other hand, however, finally, in conclusion, to sum up, all things considered – all ‘signpost language‘, to help organise your ideas.
Are you ready to rock ?
I’ll be burning the candle at both ends because my IELTS test is _______________ .
Remember, you don’t have to tell the absolute truth in your speaking test. It’s totally OK to ________________________________ .
I picked up this shirt at Saigon Centre and, yeah, it cost an arm and a leg, but just feel the quality … you ____________________________________ .
We booked a really reasonable room at the beach, but the water was cold, the sheets were stained and there were bugs everywhere. We totally _____________________________________ (use past tense).
Thay Paul, we have a new class of students. They are extremely lazy and unmotivated and only want to play with their phones. Would you like to teach them ? ________________________________________________ .
What did you do last weekend ? “I sleep.” Is that all ? Ah, c’mon, do better, ______________________________________ .
Quick – fire round
You planned a day out for my friend Ethan. Describe these photos using as many IELTS features as you can:
Areas to focus on: being confident about answering the Part II questions, so we shall work on fluency and developing the ability to speak for longer periods without hesitation.
Just a minute
Speak for one minute on:
Food in your country
What you do in your free time
Holidays in your country (e.g. Tet, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc)
Thus, a quick warm up featuring standard, run of the mill IELTS topics such as:
Who do you live with ?
An all too familiar answer would be, “I live with my mum, my dad and my brother.”
Remember, you have to impress the examiner with your impressive command of all aspects of English, so get those complex sentences working, flex those adjectives and act out your answers.
Allow me to introduce my family to you. Firstly, there is my mother, who has a heart of gold, always caring about others before herself. My father, who is an engineer, burns the candle at both ends, so I rarely see him. He works extremely hard for his family, I look up to him. Finally there is my brother. Well, what can I say about him ? Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a slackerby which I mean he’s very lazy. Hopefully he’ll turn over a new leaf and start contributing more to family life.
Notice the complex sentences – I explain just a little about each member, while adding two idioms and some fixed expressions into the mix.
Think how you would pronounce this – the mother is positive and sweet, the father is busy, the brother lazy.
NOW … Your turn … are you ready ?
Who do you live with ? Compose an IELTS-style answer
You live with your mother (makes you study very hard), your grandfather (loves swimming) and your sister (spends time making herself beautiful, buying clothes and taking selfies).
Onwards and upwards, try a Part II question. There will be a topic followed by four points for you to include in your answer (here you have a minute to make notes, so try to think of suitable idioms and L-FWs). You are expected to speak for up to two minutes, and the examiner can not assist you.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time ?
You should say what the activity is
Who you do it with ?
Where you do it
And why you enjoy it
Make it easy on yourself
Choose a topic you can speak about at length, one that has many avenues to explore, such as music:
Do you listen to music ? If so, what genres do you like and why ?
Who are your favourite artists ?
Can you play an instrument ? Have you tried ?
Would you like to in the future ?
Have you ever been to a live concert ?
Do you listen or play alone, or with friends ?
We can work on this in class. Remember, if you get under 6.5 in my class, I will KYA !
I took this photo on Nguyễn Huệ Street, which is in District 1, during Tet Holiday. As this is the biggest celebration in Viet Nam, the streets are bustling and vibrant, furthermore it is so uplifting seeing happy, smiling people. Many ladies simply adore dressing up in traditional Áo dài, dresses which are made from silk. In my opinion, these two friends look so beautiful although they tell me that their dresses, which cost an arm and a leg, can be terribly hot and uncomfortable. However they only wear them once in a blue moon. They were so happy when I took their photo as it will enable me to share some Vietnamese culture with the world.
A quick recap – we have encountered these words so far in our 1000 mile journey:
lingua franca / genre / obligatory / compulsory / uplifting
enable / bustling / vibrant / generated / derived from / enable / purchase (buy) / devour (eat or consume a lot)
utterly depressing / simply adore
Not forgetting our arsenal of idioms:
it’s raining cats and dogs
it costs an arm and a leg
piece of cake
I’m burning the candle at both ends
once in a blue moon
pass with flying colours
turn over a new leaf
put your nose to the grindstone
bear with me
kick the bucket
NOW … your turn
Write me a short IELTS-style piece (only three or four sentence) about Tet Holiday – what you do, what you eat, special traditions, personal stories … having said that … you have to include:
two idioms // at least two L-FWs // two adverbs // two great adjectives //
use of pronunciation features
Are you ready ? Yes, Sir !
Piece of cake, right ?
Quick fire quiz – what idioms could you use for ?
money, cost, prices // working or studying //
changing behaviour or bad habits // no problem
weather // something that happens very rarely
Speaking practice – work in pairs or small groups and ask each other about cinema – but – at IELTS standard. To wit, include:
Types of films you like (genre). Give examples.
Where you go or how you watch movies and why
Favourite actors or directors
REMEMBER – give as much information as you can – complex sentences, L-FWs, idioms; remember to speak fluently with discourse markers and, not forgetting, express your emotions in your voice.
Next Lesson, we shall assist Countess Dương in boosting her vocabulary, as well as focusing on listening to native speakers and endeavouring to imitate their speech patterns:
The ability to use complex sentences, fluently and naturally, will greatly improve your IELTS score (in both speaking and writing). Therefore here’s a little exercise I used in last night’s class. Test your ability to speak in IELTS-style sentences.
Quite simply, take a basic subject and see how complex you can make it by adding information to every noun.
Good idea. Here is my friend Tony:
Tony is from Liverpool. He is 32. He is a reporter. He works on ‘The Daily Talk’. This is shown on ICB network.
Remember, relative pronouns who / which / where / whose
Tony, who is 32, is from Liverpool, which is famous for football as well as The Beatles. He occupation (or profession) is reporter, working for ‘The Daily News’ which is a show broadcast on the ICB network, which is located in London, where Tony now lives.
You wouldn’t usually include so many clauses, but it is an exercise, similar to a musician practising scales. Ideally, in the speaking test, you will be able to use complex sentences at the drop of a hat.
NOW … YOUR TURN
Make a complex sentence about your hometown.
Sai Gon / Tp HCM
Sai Gon: in southern Viet Nam / largest city in VN / population over nine million / many museums (such as History, War Remnants, Independence Palace) / traditional food (such as Phố) – what is Phố ? What is it served with ?
Next, tell me about someone in your family.
Who is that person ? What relation to you ? Where do they live, what is their profession ? Describe their physical appearance and personality and try to add an anecdote, to make your presentation more personal.
Finally, in last night’s listening practice, there was mention of the Hearst Castle in California:
William Randolph Hearst, who was a very famous newspaper tycoon, lived in this castle, which is in California. Hearst was immortalised in the film ‘Citizen Kane’, a classic movie from 1941 by Orson Welles, who directed and starred in the film which is often cited as being the best film ever made.
New vocabulary and expressions:
Last night’s class produced these:
The weather is Sai Gon is sweltering and terribly humid
monotonous (mono = one) = very tedious
I don’t give a monkey’s = I really don’t care
occupation (better word for job) / profession = need to be qualified such as doctor, nurse, lawyer, pilot, chef etc
most notably = Orson Welles made many films, most notably ‘Citizen Kane’.
No preamble, let’s just dive in; how to boost your lexical resources.
Firstly, replace all your basic verbs with ‘better’ ones, L-FWs as IELTS refer to them. Thus, fifteen of the most common English verbs:
Activity 1: Assign three verbs to students (individually or in small groups). They must write a sentence (the more complex the better) utilising the substituted verb. Students can use a thesaurus for assistance.
I always donate my old clothes to charity.
Activity 2: Convert a simple sentence into a jaw-droppingly magnificent IELTS sentence, employing the whole spectrum of resources, by which I mean phrasal verbs, adverbs, LFWs, idioms etc.
I always donate my old clothes to charity.
I have to confess that one of my passions is shopping, be it at a mall, a street market or online. As a young person, I adore buying clothes, though I have to restrain myself as many items cost an arm and a leg. Naturally, I accrue a vast wardrobe. From time to time I have a good sort out, sometimes being quite brutal. If I haven’t worn something for, say, two years, then I get rid of it. However, instead of simply throwing them away, or giving to siblings or cousins, I choose to donate to various charities such as UNICEF, Save The Children or Cancer Research. That way, I can contribute to improving the world.
Study the above example. Can you pick out the elements that differentiate this from a basic English class response ?
Write down new vocabulary and make a point of using new words.
Observe how points are introduced, and answers expanded.
How many phrasal verbs are you familiar with ? How about fixed expressions (here I added ‘From time to time‘) which brings us nicely to our next section …
As far as I’m concerned // I can’t wait to … //
If there’s one thing that I (love, hate, detest) it’s … // I’m looking forward to … //
It may surprise you to learn that I … // It’s no surprise that … //
The first thing I’d going to do when I … // There’s nothing I like better than … //
Activity 3: Practice using these expressions
Example: After a hard day of teaching, there’s nothing I like better than watching a great movie. Only last night, I saw a fantastic film, ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ by Aaron Sorkin who is a highly respected American writer.
The previous blog demonstrated how to form complex sentences whereas this one will give you a chance to actually incorporate them into your everyday speech or, more importantly, your IELTS test which you will want to pass with flying colours.
Let’s dive in !
A typical IELTS question will be about your family. Time to show off your knowledge of adjectives and phrases.
Start with mother. Some positives:
My mother has a heart of gold // She is so kind and caring // She always puts others first.
On the other hand:
I’m afraid my mother is a ‘tiger mum’ // She expects too much of me // She is never satisfied with my work.
As for father:
My father is industrious and so hard-working // My father always has his nose to the grindstone, providing for his family // People say I take after my father // He is firm but fair.
On the other hand:
My father never lets me stay out // He drinks like a fish on holidays // He is a very strict disciplinarian.
He is my role model // I always look up to him // He looks out for me and takes me under his wing.
On the other hand:
My brother is a total slacker // My brother gets aggressive when he’s been drinking // My brother lacks ambition and drive.
Don’t forget sister:
My sister is a little angel // She has the sweetest soul // She has a kind word for everybody.
On the other hand:
My sister is such a prima donna // She only thinks of herself // She won’t lift a finger around the house // She spends all her money on herself.
Let’s extend the family: uncle, aunt, cousin etc. Remember, always be thinking of how you can use IELTS language such as idioms and expressions.
Your uncle lives in a different city (how often do you see him ?) He has a great job, a lot of influence (an expression ?)
Tell me about the people you live with
Allow me to introduce my family to you. Firstly, there is my mother, who has a heart of gold, I can tell her anything. She’s always working, cooking or cleaning. I would say she is the biggest influence in my life. My father is very industrious by which I mean he gets up early, every day, works long hours at his office which is very far away. However, he likes to relax at holiday time. His brother, my uncle, who is a mover and a shaker, occasionally pays a visit at Tet (Christmas, Hanukkah etc) and the two of them drink like fish ! That’s because my uncle, who lives in (a far-away city), only comes to (your city) once in a blue moon.
Piece of cake, right ?
First, decide what idioms are appropriate.
Second, select some impressive L-FWs or phrases.
Finally … it doesn’t have to be true ! We are here to check your command of English, we are not going to check if your uncle really is a mover and a shaker !
Ask each other the following questions. Check how many IELTS features the speaker uses, and give encouraging feedback.
Which member of your family are you closest to ?
Which member of your family do you take after ?
How often do you see your cousins, or grandparents ?
Is family important in your country ? Why ?
Do you want to live in a nuclear (small) or extended family ?
What qualities do you admire in your family ?
Now … think on your feet.
Tell me about your brother, who is an actor.
Tell me about your aunt, who teaches music.
Tell me about your cousin, who wants to study at Oxford.
Tell me about your mother, who demands that you get A++ for every exam.