Acing the IELTS Speaking Section (Part 1)

 

Talking about any topic at length, in itself, is never too easy, so imagine having to do it without any prior preparation.

 

Giving an extempore speech, or an impromptu speech, is something that many people find daunting. For one thing, the speaker needs to be able to think on their feet. With zero preparation done beforehand, they have to make up content as they go along. Another challenge is that the speaker also needs to organise the ideas they generate as they speak. If not, there is every chance of the talk becoming directionless, with ideas popping up randomly.

 

An extempore task brings to the fore a person’s ability to think, organise, and talk all at the same time, when little to no preparation time is available. No mean feat, right? No wonder then that B-schools commonly use such tasks to measure the speaking as well as logical thinking ability of applicants. Several international language tests also have a component that assesses the test taker’s ability to speak at length without preparation.

 

In IELTS, the second part of the speaking section, known as the individual long turn, requires the test taker to speak on a particular topic for up to 2 minutes uninterruptedly. Of course, there is the advantage of having a minute to prepare and make notes, but the task is essentially extempore speaking.

 

Here are some ways to perform well in the extempore part of the IELTS speaking test:

1. Use prep time wisely

Test takers do get time to think about the topic and make notes before they start talking, but one minute is not a lot of time. So, do not write in full sentences. Instead, jot down keywords that can help you talk elaborately on the topic. For instance, if you have been asked to talk about an unforgettable meal you’ve had, add words such as ‘exotic’ and ‘flavoursome’ to the notes you make. Once you begin talking, they’ll serve as a reminder to describe the origin of the food and its distinctive flavours.

We’ll be back with more IELTS Speaking tips in the next part. Stay tuned!

 

 

GLOSSARY

at length
Form : phrase
Meaning : for a long period of time
Example : The ministers spoke at length about the need to bring down crime rates.

 

think on your feet
Form : phrase
Meaning : to have the ability to think and react quickly 
Example : Stand-up comedians need to have the ability to think on their feet while doing live shows.

 

no mean feat
Form : phrase
Meaning : not easy to do
Example : He has played in over 300 international matches, and that’s no mean feat.

 

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 3)


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So far in the series, we’ve spoke about four different ways to increase your word power: reading extensively, learning words in context, listening, and practising using new words. Here are two more tips to help build your vocabulary.

5. Keep a dictionary close at hand, always

When it comes to vocabulary building, an obvious place to start would be somewhere you are likely to encounter thousands of new words: a dictionary. If you don’t have one, invest in one, for a good dictionary is worth its weight in gold. Maybe you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way by consulting a printed, unabridged version. Or maybe you wish to have something more sophisticated, such as an app or online version. Whatever your choice, it hardly matters. The one thing that does is that you always have a dictionary close at hand while reading. Why? You are more likely to use it that way.

 

Apart from the meaning of a word, a dictionary also has alternative meanings, pronunciation, word origin, useful expressions and phrases featuring the word, collocations, and lots more. In short, it’s a treasure trove of information, so make the most of it.

 

6. Make it fun

Let’s face it, learning of any kind could be a pretty dreary affair after a while, even if you happen to be an eager beaver! So, try as best as you can to make vocabulary building a fun activity.  A game of Scrabble, for instance, is an enjoyable way of getting introduced to new lexis. If board games aren’t your thing, you can always play a spoken word game. A quick online search should get you a list of ideas. If you wish to push yourself, then try a crossword puzzle or perhaps an anagram. Crossword puzzles can be a right challenge, as creators are typically forced to use unusual words so that everything fits into the puzzles they design.

 

Remember, there’s no one perfect way to acquire an extensive vocabulary. Feel free to chop and change learning strategies so that you find out what works best for you.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

worth its weight in gold
Form : phrase
Meaning : very useful
Example : A good cookery book is worth its weight in gold.

 

unabridged
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes a book or article that has not been shortened in length
Example : I’ve seen the unabridged version of this play, and it is just too long.

 

close at hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : near
Example : Is there a hospital close at hand?

 

treasure trove
Form : noun
Meaning : describes something containing many useful things
Example : The encyclopedia is a treasure trove of information.

 

 

chop and change
Form : phrase
Meaning : to keep changing what you are doing
Example : Football coaches sometimes chop and change players to find the right balance.

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 2)

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In Part 1, we looked at two sure-shot ways to build your vocabulary: forming a reading habit and learning words in context. Here are some more suggestions to increase your word power.

 

3. Listen to natural speech

Want to learn new words and pronounce them right at the same time? Listening to lots of natural speech can be the answer. From a lexical point of view, it can introduce you to several new words within a specific context, making it easier for you to retain them in your memory. Should you choose to give this method a try, be sure to watch videos that come with transcript. That way, you get to listen to new vocabulary as well as see it. A good place to begin is TED Talks (www.ted.com), where there are plenty of short, powerful talks to choose from. When you watch a TED video, see to it that you read the transcript and jot down new vocabulary. You may also want to pay attention to how words are pronounced so that you say them just the right way.

 

4. Try using new words or risk losing them

Learning new vocabulary is one thing, but forming an ability to recall them when needed is something else. Not putting newly learnt words to immediate use could mean losing them in the long run, as they may no longer be fresh in your memory by then. One way of getting round this problem is to focus only on vocabulary that is personally relevant, as you are sure to have opportunities to use them at regular intervals. Keeping this in mind, before you decide to learn new lexis, ask yourself whether the word or phrase is something you would use in your day-to-day conversations. And make an effort only if the answer is a resounding yes! Your task doesn’t end there, though. Use the newly acquired word at the earliest opportunity. Once you’ve used it a few times, it usually sticks in your mind, becoming a part of your active vocabulary.

 

We’ll be back with more vocabulary tips in the next part.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

sure-shot
Form : adjective
Meaning : certain to be successful
Example : Continuous practice is a sure-shot way to improve your sporting skills.

 

transcript
Form : noun
Meaning : the words that someone says in written form
Example : The police have transcripts of all the telephone conversations made by the suspect.  

 

in the long run
Form : phrase
Meaning : at some time in the future
Example : Although expensive, new machinery will help us cut costs in the long run.

 

stick in your mind
Form : phrase
Meaning : stay in your memory for a long time
Example : He has won several tournaments, but his first ever final sticks in my mind.

 

Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (Part 1)

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One striking feature that sets proficient English speakers apart from those less competent is their lexical range. Quite often they exhibit a near-magical ability to summon just the right kind of word or phrase, with the result that they convey with precision what they wish to say.

Considering that words are the basic blocks using which we give and receive information, the broader your lexical range gets the easier it becomes to communicate. Here are some handy tips to expand your vocabulary.

1. Read regularly!

Anyone who has tried to work on their vocabulary must’ve had this advice time and again. After all, reading is the most obvious way to learn new vocabulary, because it exposes you to the same words and phrases at regular intervals. That said, building vocabulary may not be a priority when you are reading interesting stuff. So, note down unfamiliar words while reading. Afterwards pick out useful ones you wish to learn. Remember, reading can also provide reinforcement. When you come across vocabulary you’ve learnt recently, and you understand what it means, it is proof enough that you have learnt it well.

A confusion that many learners face is deciding what to read and what not to. While there are no hard and fast rules, see to it that you pick materials that interest you. And if that happens to be a lowbrow magazine on fashion, so be it. What’s important is to choose something you find enjoyable, with a view to possibly learning new words.

 

2. Learn vocabulary in context

Some learners make the mistake of learning vocabulary in isolation. In other words, they try to learn a random collection of new words off by heart. Instead, learn vocabulary in chunks or sentences so that a context begins to appear, helping you understand when and how the word can be used. The added benefit is that this way you get introduced to a lot of new words at the same time.

If done the right way, building vocabulary can be enjoyable and beneficial.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

reinforcement
Form : noun
Meaning : the act of making an idea stronger
Example : Jokes can sometimes be a reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

 

hard and fast
Form : phrase
Meaning : not able to be changed
Example : There are no hard and fast rules about how a film should end.

 

lowbrow
Form : adjective
Meaning : lacking serious cultural or artistic value
Example : Although his books are quite popular, critics consider them to be lowbrow literature. 

 

in isolation
Form : phrase
Meaning : separately
Example : Environmental damage cannot be considered in isolation, as it affects humans and animals.

 

by heart
Form : phrase
Meaning : to learn something so well that you are able to remember it without having to read it again
Example : Mike knows all the poems in his text book by heart. 

 

British vs American English (Part 2)

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In the first part, we spoke of how Britons and Americans tend to spell and pronounce a lot of words differently. Here are some other ways in which UK and US English differ.

3. Vocabulary

This is arguably the most striking difference between the versions of English spoken on either side of the pond. Let’s do a quick comparison: in British English ‘you take the lift from a friend’s flat to the ground floor of the building’, while in American English ‘you take the elevator from a friend’s apartment to the first floor of the building’.

 

There are hundreds of such everyday things that are described using different terms. That said, Britons and Americans are generally able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context. On rare occasions, though, it could cause confusion. For example, the phrase ‘first floor’ can be found in both versions, but it carries a different meaning in each.

 

Here are some common examples of different words describing the same things:

 

British English American English
biscuit cookie
flat apartment
petrol gas
trousers pants
chips French fries
crisps potato chips
aubergine eggplant
mobile phone cell phone
torch flashlight
football soccer
the cinema the movies

 

4. Grammar

Like spelling, the way speakers of UK and US English use grammar can also be slightly different at times. For starters, Britons use question tags (a phrase added to the end of a sentence to turn it into a question; e.g. You don’t eat meat, do you?) a lot more than speakers of American English.

 

Here are some more grammatical differences:

 

British English American English
Preposition Are you in my team or his?

 

I’ll see you at the weekend.

Are you on my team or his?

 

I’ll see you on the weekend.

Tense Use of the present perfect to describe something that has happened recently

 

I’ve just had dinner.

Use of the past simple to describe something that has happened recently

 

I just had dinner.

Verb forms Some verbs are considered irregular

 

dream, dreamt, dreamt

learn, learnt, learnt

The same verbs are made regular

 

dream, dreamed, dreamed

learn, learned, learned

Collective nouns Collective nouns can be singular or plural

 

My team is / are in the lead.

Collective nouns are always singular

 

My team is in the lead.

 

 

All in all, these two versions of English have a lot more similarities than differences, so if you can understand one, the chances are that you’ll be able to understand the other too.

 

GLOSSARY

 

the pond
Form : noun
Meaning : an informal term for the Atlantic Ocean, which lies in between Britain and America
Example : This rock band is huge in Britain but relatively unknown on the other side of the pond. 

 

British vs American English (Part 1)

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With well over a billion speakers, English is the most widely spoken language in the world by some distance.

Interestingly though, there are only a handful of countries where it is spoken as a native language by the majority of the population. For the rest, English is a language they’ve acquired.

As a result, different variants of the language have evolved over time – Singlish (Singapore English), Strine (Australian English), and Namlish (Namibian English) to name a few.

However, British and American English remain the most widely recognised variants.

So, just how different is the English spoken in the UK to that in the US? Let’s find out….

 

 

1. Spelling

It’s common knowledge that UK and US spellings differ. One reason for this is that American English has modified the spelling of a number of words to reflect the way they sound when they are pronounced.

For instance, while Britons spell the printed form issued by a bank as cheque, Americans spell it as it sounds, i.e. check. Although there are hundreds of such words that are spelled differently, the difference is often minor, so it hardly ever causes confusion. Here’s a quick comparison:

 

2. Pronunciation

This is a grey area, as there are a wide variety of accents within both countries, making it difficult to clearly distinguish between UK and US pronunciation features.

To take one example, a Londoner and Mancunian (someone from Manchester, UK) may sound radically different from each other despite being from the same country, i.e. the United Kingdom.

That said, one easily noticeable thing is how Americans generally accentuate every ‘r’ in a word, whereas the Brits don’t emphasise that sound, or they sometimes omit it altogether if a word ends in ‘r’.

While it isn’t important which version of English you speak, being aware of how accents differ is always useful.

 

GLOSSARY

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 3)

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So far in the series, we’ve discussed three things you should do and one you shouldn’t in order to read faster. Here are a couple more things to avoid.

 

Don’t sub-vocalise

Have you ever caught yourself pronouncing words quietly in your head while reading a text?

This habit of saying words in our mind as we read them is called sub-vocalising.

When we first begin to learn to read as children, we do so by saying words out aloud. This practice improves both comprehension and diction. As we grow older, we learn to be silent while reading, but the habit of pronouncing words one by one sort of stays with us. The difference, of course, is that by then it’s all done in our head.

There’s no doubt that vocalising text helps comprehension, but it also slows us down terribly, so it’s best to kick the habit.  One effective way to overcome this is to move the pointer faster than the speed at which you hear words in your mind.

 

Don’t re-read everything

Do you sometimes go back to a sentence you’ve just read and double-check to see if you’ve understood it correctly?

Don’t worry if the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone here.

When doing a reading exercise, however, fight the urge to re-read, because it may be a total waste of time. Instead, wait till you finish reading an entire section before you choose whether or not to go back to a sentence.

You’ll find that reading some more of the text can help you understand without having to re-read that first sentence.

 

Remember to follow these dos and don’ts, and you should be able to read faster with better comprehension.

 

GLOSSARY

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 1)

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In this digital age, information comes at you with lightning speed.

We are constantly swamped with different types of information too, in the form of messages, posts, emails, news stories, and so on.

 

So, how can you deal with this overload to get the information that’s important to you?

While there is no straight answer to this question, one way to cope with the problem is to use speed reading.

Put simply, speed reading refers to the activity of reading something faster than usual, focusing on the general meaning of a text rather than individual words.

 

Here are some dos and don’ts for training yourself to read faster….

 

1. Use a pointer

When we read, we mainly use two body parts – the eyes and the brain. Our eyes see the text in front of us, moving from left to right to read each sentence. The brain, on the other hand, absorbs this information, leading to comprehension.

In order for us to read faster, our eyes have to be trained to move quicker across texts. One way to achieve this is by using a pointer, such as our finger, a pencil, or a pen.

Initially, the pointer’s job would be to guide the eyes across the text rhythmically, gradually increasing the speed at which our eye balls move. Over time, the speed at which we read should correspond to the speed at which we move the pointer across a text.

 

2. Learn to retain information

Often people have the misconception that speed reading is all about flipping through the pages of a book as quick as they can, retaining very little of what they have read.

Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, if you cannot remember what you read, what is the point of reading something in the first place?

A skilful reader should know when to go at a steady pace and when to slow down. For example, when they come across a challenging concept or complex description, it’s best to go slower so that they are able to retain information better.

 

We’ll have more on speed reading in the next parts so watch this space.

 

 

Record Your Way to Fluent English

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All language learners want to be fluent speakers, sounding both smooth and natural. Unfortunately, getting there isn’t that easy. Fluency is not just about speaking a language without hesitation; organising your thoughts well and expressing ideas clearly are important too.

 

When you’re working towards achieving fluency, regular feedback is a must. So, if you want to find out how well-structured and clear what you are saying is, you may need a listener, such as a study partner or teacher, to give you feedback.

 

What many language learners don’t realise is using an audio recorder can be extremely handy here. In fact, if you have one (and most smart phones will have one), you may not need help from others to find areas for improvement.

So, what exactly can a recording device do for you?

 

 

1. Assess yourself

When you’re giving a talk or presentation, you don’t always listen critically to what you are saying, because all your efforts go into talking for as long as you can and keeping your head above water! So recording your talk and listening to it repeatedly can help identify any language problems you have.

If your ability to use English is limited, it may be hard to notice all the mistakes that you make, but you could still make out things such as: how frequently you pause, what type of vocabulary you fall down on, and so on.

Intermediate or advanced learners, on the other hand, can discover a lot more about their language ability through such an exercise.

 

2. Chart your progress

Quite often, we’re unsure as to how much our ability to speak a language has developed over a particular period of time. Listening to different recordings of ourselves that are made weeks or months apart can tell us just how much progress has been made in that time. It can really spur you on to work even harder on your language fluency and make a step up.

So, put that recording feature on your mobile phone to good use, and start developing your speaking skills.

One Easy Way to Improve Your English Vocabulary

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Anxious to expand your vocabulary but frustrated that you’re not able to memorise words? Mnemonics could be the answer to your problem.

A mnemonic, in brief, is something that helps recall information accurately. It could be a rhyme, sentence, abbreviation, or mental image that helps us remember something, especially information which is complicated.

 

Here are some ways in which mnemonics can help you with spelling.

1. Not sure whether it’s an ‘a’ or ‘e’ that appears in the middle of the word separate?

Here’s a trick to remember the spelling: There’s a rat in the word separate.

 

2. Confused whether the correct spelling of the fuel similar to petrol is deisel or diesel?

Remember this fact: When organisms died millions of years ago and decomposed, it led to the formation of fossil fuels such as diesel.

 

3. Don’t know how to spell the word that means a beauty contest for young women?

Here’s an easy way to remember it: page + ant = pageant

 

Mnemonics can also help to jog your memory when you are trying to recollect a difficult word that you don’t often use. After all, English is a language that is still evolving, so newer words are getting added all the time.

With well over a hundred thousand words already, remembering vocabulary can be a right struggle for learners.

Here is an example of how mnemonics can come to your rescue in such a situation.

The word melange, which comes from French, is used to describe a mixture of different things. As you can see, it may not be easy to quickly summon up such a word if it isn’t something you use regularly.

Here’s an easy way to remember it: Think of two specific fruit – melon + orange = melange

Remember, the only thing that limits the use of mnemonics is your ability to create pictures in your mind, so let your imagination run wild!

 

Glossary

 

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