Category Archives: IELTS

586. The Importance of Listening

Recently I was reading a book about listening and learning English. This episode is a summary of what I read, including details of how listening fits in with learning English, some considerations of the importance of listening and also some tips for how to improve your English with audio.

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Episode Transcript

This episode is all about the importance of listening in the learning of English. It’s full of various thoughts and reflections about this topic and my aim to a large extent is to give you ideas and inspiration to help you keep learning through listening and to keep doing it more effectively, also to consider some things we know about learning through listening, to encourage you to reflect and form some metacognitive strategies towards your listening and also to give you some practical tips to help you learn English through listening and to improve your listening skills. I suppose ultimately I’d like to develop your process of understanding the place of listening in your learning so that you can take more and more responsibility for that learning. So that’s what this episode is all about. It’s quite appropriate I suppose considering this is an audio podcast for learners of English and you’re listening to this as a way to improve your English through listening, it’s worth taking time to think about the academic points on this subject.

Before we start I just want to say to any premium subscribers that I’ve got a series of episodes probably coming out next week all about grammar, focusing on tenses. We’ll be looking mainly at present perfect, but also comparing it to other tenses. So it’ll be a sort of tense review, focusing mainly on present perfect. There’s also going to be a series about the language which came up in my conversation with James that you heard on the podcast earlier in the year. So, grammar stuff coming next week and vocabulary later. If you want to get access to that stuff and all the other premium content go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

Recently I was thumbing through some books at work. One of the books was a copy of Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom by Tricia Hedge, which is something of a bible for English teachers. A lot of teachers use this book during their DELTA and CELTA courses as it is absolutely filled with insights about language teaching and learning, all based on academic studies done over the years. It is a great book and covers most aspects of the work of an English teacher, including how people learn English and how, accordingly, English teachers should adapt their teaching methods.

I remember reading the book intensely while taking my DELTA. You heard me talking about the DELTA course with Zdenek earlier this year.

So I remember reading the book very thoroughly when I was doing my DELTA. Can you believe it, that was 13 years ago! It stuns me to imagine that it was so long ago. Anyway, during that time, when I was taking the DELTA and I had nothing else going on in my life – I used to work, come home from work, make myself tea and then retire to my bedroom where I would listen to ambient music and desperately try to focus on my work without getting distracted by absolutely everything in the universe! Because, somehow, when you’re working – everything becomes a major distraction. Anyway, one of the books I used to pour over was this one. I had loads of post-it notes marking various important pages.

Anyway, the other day I was at work and I noticed the very same book on the shelf, so I picked it up and started thumbing through it. 13 years later my situation has changed a bit. These days I’m doing this podcast and the majority of the people I am essentially teaching English to are not in the same room as me, they’re not even in the same country and in fact the only way I can communicate with them is through the medium of audio. I can also write things and post pics and videos on the website, but most of my audience don’t check the website – only about 10% actually go to the page.

Anyway, the point is – it’s now all about listening, which is amazing.

One of my aims in the beginning was to get people listening more, and it’s working. I have always thought listening to English must be an essential way to learn the language. It’s got to be a vital part of the learning process, surely. It’s like music – there’s music theory, music technique and all that, but for most musicians the best way to learn how to play well is to listen to plenty of music, and to practise every day. Listening probably comes first, right? Then it’s a question of practice x 5 and trying to replicate what you’re hearing. But first you have to get to know what music can sound like and to hear the way it is produced. When I first learned to play the drums I became obsessed with listening to my favourite drummers, who were: Mitch Mitchell, Stuart Copeland and Ringo Starr. Playing the drums at the beginning gave me a sense of how the music was produced, so I could listen to those songs and hear what the drummers were doing. I knew how they were doing it – which parts of the kit they were hitting, how those sounds were made. It was all a question of practising until I could do it too. In most cases I couldn’t replicate what they were doing (except in the case of Ringo!) but in practising like that I developed my own style, my own ease, my own technique and ultimately I was able to do things on the drums, play the kinds of beats I wanted to play, fit in with a band in the way I wanted. Obviously, listening was vital. It sounds ridiculous, obvious, right? To learn music, you must listen to it a lot – pay attention to how it all works. It’s the same thing with learning a language.

Obviously there are differences – the thing about music is that you understand it from birth without having to learn it first, right? It’s just something you feel. But anyway, I think the point still stands – that listening is a vital part of the learning process, just like it is with music.

So, back to the book. Now I’m interested in listening and I’m interested in what Tricia Hedge has to say on the subject of listening. So when I had the book in my hands, I flicked straight to the sections about listening and I made a note of what I found there.

In this episode I’m going to explain some of the things I’ve read and reflect on them.

Academics often write that listening is overlooked in ELT

Think about the average English lesson. Most of the time is spent on other language skills and language systems.

Listening is one of the 4 Skills

It is one of the 4 skills and it is a very important part of Cambridge Exams such as FCE, CAE and IELTS. Those exams give equal weight to the 4 skills, so listening is 25% of the whole exam. Is 25% of your study time in class devoted to listening?

We don’t do much listening in class

The majority of classroom work is devoted to other things, probably speaking and writing skills, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. I totally understand why. I wouldn’t spend all my time doing listening in my English classes. It wouldn’t make sense to get a bunch of learners of English together and just make them do only listening. Class time should be spent on other things, like communication skills, speaking and remedial work by the teacher.

We often listen to scripted listenings in class

Listening is in a lot of course books but the focus still seems to be on scripted dialogues which are designed specifically to present certain language, such as vocab or grammar. There just isn’t time to do extended listening, using unscripted dialogues that don’t follow a pre-planned agenda, but this is the sort of thing people need to practise listening to. Normal speech, which is a bit random, contains things like sentences that don’t end, false starts, moments when people talk over each other, moments of humour or spontaneous reactions and tangents in the conversation. So, real listening is overlooked.

Listening is vitally important in everyday life

The majority of interactions you will have will involve you speaking to a person, and it’s so important to be reactive to what they’re saying, and this relies on your ability to quickly follow what’s being said. It’s like fluency in a way – being able to follow fluid speech without thinking about it too much. That’s very important, of course.

Listening is linked to pronunciation and speaking

Raising your listening skills means raising your awareness of the connection between the written word and the spoken word – meaning that a good listener is able to recognise English as an oral language and this means being able to decode connected speech, elision of sounds, weak forms, how meaning is expressed through intonation and sentence stress. Getting good at listening means getting to know English as a spoken language. This in turn should help you make your English more natural, rather than just a version of the written language which comes out of your mouth, and that is a big problem. When I listen to learners of English (and I have met many thousands of them over the years) it’s amazing how often their mistakes are a consequence of them essentially speaking English as it looks when it’s written down. So many learners of English got to know English as a written language, to the point that the spoken version is so foreign to them that it’s almost like another language.

How much communication time do we spend on listening?

How much time do we spend on listening, when we communicate, compared to the other 3 skills? Research has been done into communication in English, focusing on the average time spent on the different skills of writing, reading, speaking and listening. How much time, on average, do we spend writing, reading, speaking and listening when we are communicating? The research shows that 9 per cent of communication time is devoted to writing, 16 per cent to reading, 30 per cent to speaking and 45 per cent to listening. (Rivers & Temperley 1978, Oxford 1993, Celce-Murcia 1995). There’s no doubt then that listening is really important and is perhaps the first thing you must master when you’re learning the language, followed by speaking. That’s if we decide that time spent during communication is the most important factor. Of course it depends on your situation. Maybe you work in an office and you have to write a lot of emails in English but you never speak it. I guess for you, writing would be the most important thing. But anyway, the numbers speak for themselves. We seem to spend most of our time listening. But we don’t spend most of our learning time on listening. The result is that when we are learning, we focus on learning words, learning structures and so on, but when we actually interact with the spoken version of the language, it all seems totally weird because the way we deliver those words and structures with our mouths often bears no relation to the English we have become familiar with during our studies.

Listening will be more and more important

Listening will only get more important. It’s almost definitely true that society in general is moving away from print media towards sound, so listening has become and continues to become more and more important as we move forward. Much more of our information comes through audio than ever before. With the internet a lot of the news we’re exposed to on social media is small video clips, we send each other audio messages, talk via Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp, there are frequent audio and video conferences at work, we have a plethora of podcasts available to us and much more than ever we are tapping into entertainment on a global level with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime where there are loads of English language TV programmes in the original language version, perhaps with subtitles in your language. The internet has allowed us to use listening as the primary source of information transfer today. So, listening is more and more important all the time.

How do people learn English through listening?

But what do we know about how people can learn English from listening? How does this affect the way I can produce LEP and how my listeners can consume LEP?

Input vs intake

Comprehensible input

This is part of the theory of language acquisition which is very popular. The principle is that if learners listen to English which is understandable but slightly higher than their level, and they focus on understanding the message within a meaningful context, that they can then pick up the language as a by-product of the process. This is good news for LEPsters. It means that you can pick up the language from my episodes by listening carefully to the main message being communicated. By interacting with English like this, you’re just naturally exposed to language and learn the functions of phrases and grammar through context. The argument is that you learn a language when you can understand it, and the process of getting to fluent speech comes first through a lot of exposure to the language, at the right level. It’s important that you understand most of what you hear, and that allows you to learn the new things you are hearing.

Intake

This is the principle that people only learn from the bits which are genuinely important to them. Learners won’t learn everything they hear. They’ll be selective, based on their own personal motivations. For whatever reason, each person will value certain parts of the listening content more than others. This is the stuff they’ll really learn. This means, there are certain things that will make the listeners prick up their ears, and a lot of that is based on the preconceptions of the listeners, their values and so on. For example, learners might believe that they can only learn from an authority figure like a teacher, and therefore their words will carry more value and will become part of the intake. On the other hand, words spoken by someone they don’t respect will just go in one ear and out the other side. It’s not just respect of course. It could be other things. E.g. if a listener is an engineer, they’re naturally going to be more motivated towards the language of engineering. What this means for my podcast is that I have to constantly think of ways to keep you engaged in order to turn most of the listening input into intake. It also means trying to cover a wide range of topics, which I try to do. But I also think it’s something to do with being personable, real and relatable while talking. I try to always address my listeners and think about what it’s like for you and hopefully this keeps you focused, which is good for your English.

The point is that the language should be understandable yet not without challenge, and the content should be presented as valuable but with the understanding that you can’t please everyone all the time – that each individual brings their own personal motivation to the listening experience, which means that different parts are valuable to different people. Each person will focus their attention on slightly different parts based on their feelings and attitudes.

What can I do on LEP?

What I can try to do is make each individual feel personally involved, in any way I can. I believe this is done best when I address the listener directly and sometimes avoid speaking from a script. It’s more human and engaging to talk ‘off the cuff’. Also I should keep the topics varied and also have a variety of people on the podcast.

Why listening is more difficult than reading

The language is transient – I mean, the words are only audible for a moment before they disappear. You can’t normally go back and listen again, unlike when reading when you can simply read the sentence again or scan the text to find something again. Listening comes and goes into the ether very quickly. You need to learn to think in a slightly different way and get used to interacting with the listening text by remembering what is being said, predicting what’s going to come next, and so on.

The written word has a standardised spelling system which everyone more or less follows. Also there are gaps between words on the page, and punctuation to show when one sentence begins and ends etc. With listening you don’t get any of these things. It’s not standardised like writing. You’re dealing with a lot of diversity in terms of accent and different ways the language can sound (and English is an extremely diverse language in which there are many, equally valid, versions of the spoken word).

What can you do?

It’s important to bridge the gap between the spoken version of the language and the written version. One way to do this is to do plenty of listening and reading, so that you’re familiar with the conventions of both versions of the language, but also there are other things you can do.

  • Listen and read at the same time
  • Dictation or listen + repeat dictations (use audio with a script)
    This allows you to turn an interconnected stream of sounds into sentences, words, syllables, phonemes.
    I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and I will no doubt talk about it again because I think it’s a great technique and in fact I’ve been working on some content which is designed specifically for this technique. Basically, listen to some audio, repeat what you hear bit by bit, then compare it to the script. You can then do things like use a pen to mark emphasis, intonation, connected speech, pauses on the script, then record yourself reading out the script, then try and replicate the main ideas without reading (it doesn’t matter if you say it differently – it’s not a memory test, you just have to communicate the main ideas in your own voice – and you might find that you remember some of the lines that you repeated before. You can also try writing down what you’re hearing and comparing that to the script as well. All of it can help you turn fluent speech into individual words, phrases and sentences, helping you work on pronunciation and speaking skills too.
  • Engage with the subject, not just the language. We know that we tend to understand what we hear more when we are engaged in the subject. This means that you should think about the topic being talked about and perhaps predict some of the things we’re going to hear. Basically, before you listen to something, just take a moment to make sure you are intellectually and perhaps emotionally engaged in that subject. Find some way to relate it to yourself personally. Use your imagination to picture the whole subject, issues relating to it and the things which might be said. We know that this helps you to listen more accurately, rather than just going straight into the listening, cold.
  • Learn the phonetic chart and practise it. Get an app, like Sounds or Sounds Right by the British Council. Do all the exercises, learn the phonetic alphabet. These are the basic building blocks of English and can really help you to break down, recognise and replicate sounds, words and so on.
  • When you’re repeating, pay attention to the emphasis. Which word in a sentence is being emphasised? Why? When you repeat, try to say the whole sentence like a word with the emphasis on the same part that you heard it. This can help you not only learn good sentence stress (which arguably is the most important factor in pronunciation) but also can help you identify the key information when you are listening.
  • Listen to a variety of things. Different genres of audio tend to follow their own “macro-script”, meaning that they follow the same kinds of conventions. For example, listening to the news you’ll notice certain things they always say, certain things that they only do on the news. Sports reports have their own characteristics, political speeches have their own style, a radio drama sounds unmistakably like a radio drama, an academic lecture sounds like an academic lecture, etc. You’ve got to get used to recognising certain conventions of different types of audio recording. So listen to a variety of audio.
  • But also, listen to the same thing again and again. Listen to your favourite English podcast every day for a month. You should wait about a month before you make a judgement. Listening to just one episode isn’t going to make a huge difference. Listening to many episodes, regularly, over a longer period – this is what makes the difference. It is a compound effect and to an extent it’s not even noticeable, but keep it up! This is one of the main issues today. People want instant, measurable results, but the reality is that language learning occurs over time and is sometimes not noticable. It sort of happens under the surface. But you have to be in it to win it. If you don’t use it you lose it. So keep listening every day for at least a month, then you’ll see that suddenly you can understand more and more and a whole new world of English can open up for you.
  • Listen to things you enjoy and are really motivated to hear. This helps turn input into intake.
  • Listen several times.
  • Don’t assume that movies and TV series are the best things to listen to. They tend to focus on visuals first. There’s music and other sound effects which actually get in the way. Sometimes dialogue is so naturalistic that it’s kind of impossible to follow. Often I can’t actually hear what’s being said in movies. Audio podcasts are probably better because they’re made for you, and you can just focus on the English exclusively. But, of course, if you like watching films in English don’t let me stop you. If you’re a big fan of the MCU for example – go ahead and watch Avengers: Endgame in English, twice!
  • Watch out for subtitles. Watching Netflix with English subtitles is something that everyone assumes is a great idea, and it is good. You can read what you’re hearing, notice the way the written language is expressed in speaking, you can pick up new words and phrases and so on. But for working on listening skills alone, it’s important to try some other ideas. For example, try to spend time listening without subtitles, then rewind and listen to that section again with subtitles and see what you’ve understood. Use subtitles or scripts after you’ve listened, in order to identify which bits you got and which bits you didn’t. But don’t get too used to always having subtitles when you listen, because this means you don’t develop proper listening skills. Also, don’t feel you always have to have the subtitles on or off. Switch between having them on, having them off, watching scenes several times with and without subtitles. Good learners of English actively use TV and films and think outside of the box a bit. It’s not just a case of switching Netflix to English and then just relaxing on your sofa.

Another thing is this – if you listen to podcasts a lot, then you’re immediately pushing yourself ahead of your peers who don’t do this. Think of the advantage you’re getting over other people who just don’t do any listening.

Motivation, reducing anxiety and building confidence. Listening a lot can really help you with these things, because you become friends with the spoken word. Imagine if you’re a regular and long term LEPster and you have to do a listening test. While other people are probably panicking because listening is a nightmare for them, for you it’s like you’re entering your comfort zone. Make listening your friend. Get to know the spoken version of the language and get a leg up on the competition.

So finally, the points are…

  • Listen a lot! Yey! This is probably good news because if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you just need to keep going! Keep it up!
  • Listen to various things. I’ll try and keep it varied here, but consider checking out some other things. Check out BBC podcasts on different subjects and shop around a bit.
  • Use some techniques, like listening and repeating audio that has a script and learning the phonemic script.
  • But ultimately, just relax and enjoy the process! Take time to reflect personally on what you’re listening to and enjoy yourselves!

I am sure that many of you have some interesting things to add here – either stories of how you’ve improved your English through listening, or specific things that you do relating to learning through listening. So please, add your comments under this episode. Your input is extremely valuable because as well as all these academic studies that underpin many of the things in this episode, it’s the testimony and personal experience of people who have learned English to a decent level that is what counts. So, please, tell us your stories, give us your thoughts regarding learning through listening.

And thank you for listening to this!

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579. [2/2] IELTS Q&A with Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast

More conversation with Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com, talking about English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS. Includes questions from listeners.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners,

I hope you’re doing well. Here is Part 2 of this double episode that I’m doing about IELTS, this well known exam that tests your level of English. Learners all over the world are taking IELTS, preparing for it, suffering from it, recovering from it. So I’m sure most of you are aware of it. Here’s an episode about it.

As usual in these multi-part episodes I suggest that you listen to the first part before listening to this.

In this episode I’m talking to Ben Worthington from IELTSPodcast.com He specialises in helping people get ready for IELTS and in this episode we’re going through questions from listeners on social media about this test.

Listen up if you have experience of IELTS, but equally if you don’t have to take the test I hope you can enjoy this episode in full relaxation mode, since you won’t actually have to take this evil test.

In this episode you’ll hear Ben and me saying various things about IELTS. Here’s a run-down of the conversation and the things we mention.

  • How to prepare for IELTS, self-study and using a course.
  • Tips for writing, reading, listening and speaking.
  • The importance of getting feedback on essay writing
  • Using Scribd.com for past papers
  • Self-study tips for the speaking test
  • Check online samples of people taking the test, like this one

  • The potential risks of taking group IELTS courses
  • Tips for how to get the best out of an online tutor
  • The importance of making a good first impression in part 1 of the speaking test
  • How to get ideas in speaking part 2
  • Using cue cards to practice the speaking test
  • Thinking on your feet and speaking spontaneously
  • Focusing on core skills

So we’re talking about a lot of specific English skills and exam skills, considering the whole approach and mindset that you need to succeed in IELTS.

As a special gift to my listeners, Ben is offering a 15% discount on his IELTS prep course called “Jump to Band 7 or It’s Free”. On his website check out the course and use the offer code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount. Not bad.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

Anyway, you know what to expect from this episode, so let’s carry on.


Ending

There you go. Unfortunately we couldn’t answer all the questions because we ran out of time, but you might find more answers and support on Ben’s website, which is IELTSpodcast.com. You can ask Ben and his team questions and of course Ben is offering you all 15% off his course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”. Just use the offer code LUKE15 at checkout.

Thank you so much for listening, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

What about upcoming episodes of the podcast Luke?

578. [1/2] IELTS Q&A with Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast

A conversation with IELTS teacher Ben Worthington about the IELTS test, with advice for getting your best score in speaking, writing, reading and listening. Includes questions from listeners. Part 1 of 2.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello listeners,

Hope you’re well.

This episode is all about the IELTS test. Yes, that dreaded test that many of you will have either experienced or heard people talking about, probably saying things like “I need IELTS 6.5. HOW CAN I GET IELTS 6.5??” Like they’ve been poisoned, and IELTS6.5 is the name of the antidote that’s going to save their life – I need IELTS6.5! How can I get IELTS 6.5?? Tell me, quickly!!!”

It’s known for being a tough test. Not all the stories are horror stories of course. It’s important to be positive. There are plenty of success stories of people who managed to raise their score to the level they require. It is definitely possible to get success in IELTS. People do it all the time. But how?

Well, in this episode I’ll be talking to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast about various things relating to this test. This episode is full of good advice and insights into how to prepare for this test and ways to improve your score.

Do you know IELTS? I don’t know if you are familiar with it.

I think most learners of English who are serious about doing things in English will probably end up considering taking an exam like IELTS in order to get some kind of certificate confirming your level, which you can then use to do something like get a job, get a visa or get a place in a university. There’s TOEIC and TOEFL as well, but those are the American exams.

Actually I did get some questions about TOEIC and TOEFL, which Ben and I didn’t have time to respond to in this episode. Speaking personally, I am less familiar with TOEIC and TOEFL because I’ve rarely had to work with those tests. I’m much more familiar with IELTS and other Cambridge exams, and so this is what I’m more qualified to talk about.

IELTS is the standard testing system in the UK and also other English-speaking countries such as Australia and Canada and I think IELTS is probably now established as the world’s #1 English test. I wouldn’t be surprised if you, listening to this, have taken IELTS or are thinking about taking it. Or maybe you’ve looked into other Cambridge exams like FCE or CAE or something.

Basically, it’s very common for people to take this test and prepare for this test. So it’s worth talking about again on the podcast.

IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System. It’s administered both by Cambridge English and the British Council and there are centres in most countries where you can take the IELTS test.

It’s a notoriously difficult test. I think anyone who takes it finds it hard, no matter what level you are, even native English speakers would find it challenging to be honest.

Here’s a quick summary of the IELTS test

IELTS tests your skills in 4 areas – reading, listening, writing and speaking.

It takes about 2h45m to complete the test.

The reading section involves a number of texts (3 texts in the academic version and about 5 or 6 in the general version) with comprehension tasks which test various reading skills.

Similarly the listening section has about 4 listening texts with various task types to test a range of listening skills.

The writing part takes an hour and involves two sections. In part 1 of the academic test you have to write a description of a graph, table, chart or diagram. In part 2 of the writing test you have to write an essay which probably involves explaining different sides of an argument with an introduction and conclusion.

The speaking test is in 3 parts and takes about 15 minutes. The first part involves chatting with the examiner for a few minutes, answering some questions about yourself. In part 2 you have to talk on your own for 2 minutes based on a cue card given to you by the examiner, and part 3 is a discussion with the examiner in which you talk about some more abstract things like social issues.

So this test is pretty long and covers all 4 skills. It requires all your abilities in English – accurate and diverse grammar, a wide range of vocabulary, fluency, clear pronunciation and the ability to complete communicative tasks effectively in English.

The way it works is that the overall score you get is converted into a band number which is an indicator of your level across the 4 skills. There’s no pass or fail mark. It’s just a case of the higher your score, the higher your band or level at the end.

So this test reveals your level in English. Levels go from 1 to 9. 9 being the highest.

So, it’s a tough test.

People all over the world need an IELTS score for various purposes, so it is an extremely common challenge for learners of English to undertake.

Schools in many places offer IELTS preparation courses to help people learn exactly how to improve their IELTS score. Preparation courses are obviously important to help you raise your English core skills across the 4 areas, but they’re also important to help you develop exam skills – which means becoming familiar with the test, familiar with the task types, familiar with the way the test is administered, and familiar with the little tricks and traps that are intentionally put into the test. It’s important not only to improve your level of English to prepare for IELTS but also to get an understanding of what the examiners at Cambridge English are looking for. This is also true for other similar tests.

To be honest, the test is so contrived and the marking criteria so specific that it’s very unwise to take an IELTS test without some preparation in advance because you simply must get familiar with it and develop your own strategies for each section. So I always advise students to do some test preparation, be it self-study or by following some sort of course either online or offline.

Offline options would probably be to find a preparation course in a school near you and the online options include finding and using self-study materials and practice tests, taking one to one lessons with a tutor for feedback (using iTalki for example) or finding other online resources that offer alternative ways to work on your exam skills.

One of those resources is IELTSpodcast.com run by Ben Worthington, my guest today.

As the website name suggests, IELTSpodcast.com is a podcast about IELTS with lots of tips about each section, but it’s also a website with lots of resources – videos, blog posts, practice tasks and also paid courses for specific exam skills and services including things like essay correction and feedback from Ben and the other teachers he works with.

Ben Worthington has been training people in IELTS preparation for some time now and has got lots of advice to share, all of which can really help you improve your IELTS score. A lot of his advice is shared on his website and in his courses, but in this episode he’s going to share some of that with us.

You can sign up to Ben’s full IELTS preparation course, called “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free”, which is a confident name if ever there was one. If you don’t get to band 7 then it’s free. You can get it at IELTSpodcast.com and Ben has offered to give a 15% discount on the course for listeners to the podcast. So this episode is all about good advice for IELTS and it should be a genuinely useful episode, but if you want more thorough preparation for IELTS you can get a 15% discount on the Jump to Band 7 Or It’s Free course by using the offer code LUKE15 – if you’re interested.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

Ben originally is from Yorkshire in the north of England. You might notice some slight differences in his accent compared to mine. I’m from the south and the midlands, basically – but I sound mostly like I’m from London probably. Ben has a slight northern accent because he’s from Yorkshire. His accent is not that strong, but you might notice a few differences.

Now, the IELTS test is big and there is a lot to say about it – more than can be covered in just one or two episodes of this podcast (and I think this will be a two-part episode).

If you follow me on social media you might have noticed that I asked my audience for questions about IELTS and I received quite a lot across the different platforms. I’ve tried to include as many questions as possible, but we didn’t have time to deal with every single one.

So, apologies if your question isn’t mentioned in the episode. You can actually ask questions to Ben on his website if you like.

What if you’re not taking IELTS?
This will be relevant to the large numbers of people in my audience who are taking or have taken this test, but also hopefully to those of you who don’t need to take this test right now. I think it’s a good idea for any learner of English to have a sense of what’s involved in the IELTS test and of course the skills you need for IELTS are skills that anyone needs if they want to be more than just a competent user of the English language.

I have done several episodes about IELTS before. If you haven’t heard those episodes it’s probably a good idea to check them out, especially if you’re preparing for the exam.

Episode 256 is called IELTS Tips and Tricks. In that episode I tried to include as much of my personal advice as possible into just one episode, so that should be useful to you.

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

Then there was episode 297 which is all about good approaches to the speaking part of the test, and that was with Jessica from IELTS Energy Podcast.

297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

Anyway, let’s talk to Ben Worthington from IELTS Podcast. He produces lots of content online for learners of English who are preparing to take this test. He’s been teaching students IELTS for a number of years now.

We’ll start by getting to know Ben a bit (this is the first time I’ve spoken to him actually) and then we’ll get into his advice for preparing and taking the different parts of the test, and I’ll ask him some of those questions sent in by my audience on social media.

Let’s see what we can cover about this big test for learners of English.


Outtro

You’ll have to wait for part 2 of this episode to hear what Ben has to say about preparing correctly for IELTS.

This is the end of part 1. Remember if you’re interested in using Ben’s online course for getting ready for IELTS, which is called Jump To Band 7 Or It’s Free, go to IELTSpodcast.com and use the code LUKE15 at checkout to get a 15% discount.

Click to see Ben’s IELTS preparation course – enter the code LUKE15 to get a 15% discount

 

 

 

So, we will leave the episode here and you can pick up the rest of the conversation in the next part.

By the way, there was a short quiet period at the end of February, and that’s because I was uploading a lot of LEP Premium episodes. There are now over 30 full episodes with tons of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, focusing on teaching you the most common phrases and talking points in English and how to say them all clearly and fluently.

There are now premium episodes about language which came up naturally in conversations I’ve recorded for the podcast. Recently I did ones about the episode I did on Paul Chowdhry. In the premium pipeline I have episodes about the conversation with James, my conversation with Jessica from English Across the Pond and also this episode with Ben. I’ve been noting extracts, vocabulary, grammar, phrasal verbs, idioms as we go.

To sign up for LEP premium just go to teacherluke.co.uk/premium and all the details are there. It’s the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month from you to me, that’s less than 10 cents a day. It’s pretty good value I’d say!

Right, in any case I hope you’re doing well. Fun fact, I’ve been using different microphones while recording episodes recently. All the P11 episodes were with different mics and this one that I’m using now isn’t a usual mic I use for intros and outtros.

My question is, outside of IELTS, can you even notice a difference in the sound because I’m using a different microphone? Can you tell the difference between the different mics I use or does it all sound basically the same? Let me know in the comments section.

And the IELTS conversation will continue in the next episode.

But for now,

Bye!

Luke

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.

[DOWNLOAD]

Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

Jilmani
My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!
Cat

Language and Psychology

Wesley
I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!
Wesley

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?
Cheers!

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.

 


Outtro

There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

386. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of this episode about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. Click here for part 1 of this episode wp.me/p4IuUx-6Wl

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Measure your progress – test yourself

Take a test, do an IELTS or CAE simulation. Speak to people and see how it goes. Try to understand a TV show without help. Read authentic material. Try to do exercises meant for a specific level and see how it feels. Take FCE use of english sample papers. Take the grammar test at the back of Blue Murphy. Download Duolingo and take their level test.

Use DIALANG dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

DIALANG is an online diagnostic system designed to assess a person’s proficiency in 14 European languages.[1][2] Competences tested are reading, writing, listening, grammar and vocabulary, while speaking is excluded for technical reasons.[1]

DIALANG was designed primarily for European citizens to assess their language abilities in adherence to Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference – CEFR – as a basis for determining language proficiency. The CEFR is a widely recognized framework used to describe and measure the language proficiency level of a learner in a particular language.[1]

Dialang was funded by the SOCRATES programme and by some 25 institutions, largely universities, throughout the European Union.[3]

Also, ExamEnglish.com www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Practice practice practice practice practice (The 5 ‘P’s)

Practise using it! Again – a language partner on italki can help.

A note about using italki or any 1to1 lessons – make sure you know what kind of teacher you’re looking for. Be clear about what you want from lessons. If you want plenty of speaking, say so – be clear that you want a lot of language feedback. Bring topics yourself. Be imaginative and prepare questions, speaking tasks etc. If you need to do job interviews, ask to do that, and bring some materials to the lessons – e.g. job interview questions. The more involved you are the better. Know exactly what you want before you get into the lessons. In the first lesson or trial lesson, explain what it is you want to practise. This will avoid the trap of just talking aimlessly, or letting the italki teacher talk too much or make it all about them. I think a good italki teacher should do a lot of listening. Make sure you take time to show that you respect them as a teacher and that you’re glad to talk to them, but also make it quite clear what you expect from them.

Attitude

It’s how you perceive your progress. Where are your priorities? What’s making you feel like you’re not making progress? Perhaps you’re focusing on one thing too much that might not be that important. E.g. you might be frustrated that you can’t lose your accent, but in fact that doesn’t matter too much. Understand that some things will just never be perfect, and realise that you’ve made a lot of progress in other areas. Don’t get caught up on your accent – don’t let one thing hold you back. Keep pushing in other areas too.

Be positive!

Yes we can!

A lot of people just tell themselves they can’t do things.

A student of mine recently told me that she couldn’t speak English. She said “I think I can’t speak. I don’t know why but I just can’t speak English. What do you think?” I said – well, you can speak English because you’re doing it right now. What you mean is that it’s difficult.

When you experience resistance, don’t say “I can’t do this”, just say “this is difficult”. It’s all achievable with practice and the right attitude.

Goals

Give yourself little goals, not one big one. Learn English step by step. I know some students who have unrealistic goals, or at least goals that are too high. E.g. I want to become bilingual – it might be possible one day, but at the moment it’s probably best to scale it down to something more achievable, like I want to improve my accuracy, or I want to be able to speak on the telephone about my work more confidently. I want to improve my sales skills in English, for example.

Don’t create a vague goal like “I want to master English”. It’s built for failure.

Create specific goals that will allow you to define a specific set of actions to achieve it.

Goals are pointless unless you have a plan on how to achieve them.

Let’s use the CAE test as a standard. Cambridge English have put a great deal of time and effort into classifying and testing advanced English. Let’s use their test and their assessment criteria to create goals. You’ll see that there are a LOT of goals here! But the point is – they’re specific.

www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-advanced-handbook-2015.pdf

I can/want to/will:

(let’s just use writing and speaking as an example or this will go on forever)

  • Writing
  • Write a structured ‘for and against essay’ in which I compare two opinions on a subject, write in the appropriate register, use the right linking phrases, develop arguments and give a persuasive point of view.
  • Write a business email with the appropriate style, including the right opening and closing parts and the appropriate phrases for making requests, agreeing, disagreeing, asking for and giving information.
  • Write a business report in which I give details of results, numerical data and recommendations for action to be taken.
  • Write a personal email in a friendly style.
  • Learn and use the appropriate phrases and style to achieve all those types of writing.
  • Speaking
  • Use a wide range of grammatical structures accurately and with the right amount of control (note that this aim focuses on being able to use the grammar not just understand it)
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, especially on abstract areas which are unfamiliar. (again a focus on using vocab not just understanding it)
  • Produce longer pieces of structured spoken English with little hesitation, e.g. a 1 minute speech on any topic.
  • Speak clearly and intelligably (not with a perfect British accent!)
  • Use intonation and sentence stress to help me make a point
  • Interact naturally in conversation with others, including negotiating things, managing any breakdown in communication. (this is about effective communicative competence and comes from listening as much as from speaking but must be practised in the context of real communication)

You could even break those things down into more specific goals too. E.g. to be able to talk freely about finance, or to be able to write clearly about facts and figures, or simply to be able to say all the numbers and dates without hesitation.

That all might seem a bit challenging, but it has been proven time and time again that breaking down your learning into small yet achievable goals is the way to deal with the challenge.

Step by step

How do you eat an elephant – one spoon at a time. How do you climb a mountain – one step at a time. Don’t try to leap up it. Take it steadily – it’s a long journey but every step is a step in the right direction. Sometimes you take steps backwards and work out where you’ve gone wrong and then find the path again.

Repetition

Study the grammar again and again and again. Test yourself again and again. Learning a language is difficult. It takes time and effort. Accept that and just keep going day by day. In the end it will all pay off. When I first started teaching English I couldn’t understand a lot of the grammar. I had to study it for ages at the weekend before I taught it, but I learned my own grammar! It helps that I’m a native speaker, but understanding the rules was difficult for me too. Now I know it well and I think it’s because I put the time in and because there was pressure – I had to teach it. Also it’s because I studied and taught the grammar again and again. It’s the same with vocab, and with other areas like listening.

Listen to episodes of the podcast more than once, like this comment from Mayumi

MayumiM 3 minutes ago

Hi, hope you feel better than the day you recorded this episode. Your voice is kinda sexy like you mentioned and I’ll miss that when your voice is fully recovered, though.;) Anyway, you always keep encouraging us to keep listening even though we have some difficulties to understand everything and listen again. That totally worked this time for me. I’ve repeated last Ian Moore episode maybe 3 or 4 times straight. I could do this because the conversation was just fascinating. Maybe I could understand 70% at first and next time, 80% or more and at the end of this routine, I felt I could get almost everything! After that, I did with different episodes and it went well, too.

Thank you for encouraging us as always and I’m looking forward new episodes.

Enjoy it! Take stock. Enjoy the small victories. See progress as achievable.

Grammar

Spend some time learning grammar but do it selectively. Use the murphy grammar test to identify things you need to work on. Notice the grammar you’ve been studying in the real world. You’ll start to notice it everywhere.

Don’t get blocked by your grammar knowledge

I suggest studying the grammar, but sometimes you need to know when to just put the grammar rules away and use the force.

Listening and reading a lot are just as important in learning grammar as focusing on the rules. You need to have seen and heard a lot of grammar to be able to judge if something is right or wrong and to make sense of the rules. Always remember to understand and analyse the language in a meaningful context, not just abstract grammar rules. Everything comes back to the way the language is actually used, not the so-called rules on paper. Understanding this can help you study grammar more effectively.

Notice grammar in the real world. Make your own rules. Test them. Check them with the rule book. Keep going.

Writing to get through the Plateau

I should also mention that writing is a really important way to get through the intermediate plateau.

You can use it to help you find errors that you make in your language, correct them and learn to stop making them. Often these errors are simple fossilised mistakes that you know you shouldn’t make. Your own knowledge of the language plus any research you do can help you identify and correct the mistakes, making it less likely that you’ll do it again.

So you can correct yourself by doing some creative writing and then checking it carefully on your own. But also you might need someone to correct your writing or give you feedback. You might have a native speaker, a teacher, an italki teacher or a relative who can check your work, or  you can you have your writing corrected through sites like Lang-8 and LingQ.

Different skills in English are connected and mutually beneficial. There are basically 4 skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, and they’re all connected. There are receptive skills like listening and reading, and then productive skills like speaking and writing. Listening is connected to speaking because it is the oral version of the language, and reading is complementary to writing because of the syntax, the spelling and punctuation.

Writing is also different to speaking in that you have more time to reflect on what you’re putting down. When speaking you have to be spontaneous and it’s linked to body language. Writing is a solo experience and that allows you to think more clearly about the language you’re producing.

Also, as you correct your writing, this will benefit your speaking by giving you an inner monologue which can be converted to speech. All in all, it’s a good idea to practise writing as well as speaking in order to improve your accuracy and fluency.

Enjoy it 

Enjoy the English you consume and produce. Follow your heart and focus on the aspects of language that you enjoy and that will keep you coming back. Take pleasure in the act of learning a language. Remember that it’s making you a much more rounded and multidimensional person.

Here are some motivational quotes

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
‒Sarah Caldwell

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
‒Chinese Proverb

To have another language is to possess a second soul.
‒Charlemagne

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❝ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Rapping with Fluency MC

253. Rapping with Fluency MC!

mountain-climbing-768813_1280

 

385. Breaking the Intermediate Plateau (Part 1)

This episode is about ways you can push your English to higher levels even if you feel that your progress is stuck or moving very slowly. I’m talking about a very common phenomenon in English learning called the intermediate plateau. It usually happens at an intermediate level. I wonder if this applies to you? I would love to read your thoughts so please do write in the comment section.

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234. Making “Choons” with My Brother

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Mailing List, etc

Subscribe to the mailing list to get a link to the page for each episode sent to your inbox.

LEP Anecdote Comp is almost closed. It closes today. Any entries I get after midnight today (CET) won’t count, and remember you only have 5 minutes. I’ll upload an episode v soon about that to tell you what’s going to happen next, and you’ll be able to listen and vote for your favourites.

So now, let’s talk about the intermediate plateau and how to push your English to new levels even if you feel like your progress has stalled.

Transcription / improvisation

Breaking the Intermediate Plateau

What is the intermediate plateau?  Why does that happen and how can you get out of it? Generally, how do you keep making progress with your English?

People often get stuck at an intermediate level. They feel their English is not improving as fast as before. In fact it feels like you can’t progress further and your learning is blocked. It’s very frustrating.

This applies to moving from intermediate to a higher level, but much of it can be applied to making progress at a higher level too.

What is intermediate?

Moving from intermediate to advanced is a tricky phase and it often takes longer than moving from elementary to intermediate. It’s harder to make the distinction between intermediate and advanced than it is to make a distinction between intermediate and elementary.

CEFR B1 descriptions

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

CEFR C1 descriptions

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

How do you know if you’re at the intermediate plateau? How do you know if your learning is at a plateau in general (not just at intermediate level)?

We’re talking about 2 things – what your level is, and the progress you’re not making.

How do you know if you’re intermediate?

Take a test, use the criteria for the CEFR, consult your teacher. (See links to tests below)

ExamEnglish www.examenglish.com/leveltest/index.php

Dialang dialangweb.lancaster.ac.uk/

How do you know if you’ve reached a plateau – probably at intermediate level?

You started with a low level of English and have made some effort to pull yourself up to a functional intermediate level. Perhaps you studied, maybe you have lived in an English speaking environment in which you were forced to learn the language.

You can basically express yourself and get by in most situations, but when you’re under stress or when it’s a new situation your English crumbles.

Or perhaps you have a jagged profile – you might be good at one area, but other areas are really weak. E.g. you might be good at reading and writing but your spoken English is a disaster. Or perhaps you’re great at oral communication but you can’t write full sentences, can’t spell etc.

You can talk, laugh and have fun in English when you’re with fellow non-native speakers, but as soon as you’re with a group of natives, you suddenly feel lost and don’t understand the humour.

If you really concentrate and focus you can watch a film or TV in English and understand most of it – especially with English subtitles, but if you go to the cinema full of native speakers and watch a comedy film or something you realise how little you understand because everyone else is laughing but you’re just sitting there. You assume that everyone’s a bit stupid or that they have no taste. In fact, you just don’t understand the jokes.

Why do people hit an intermediate plateau?

You can basically survive with an intermediate level of English. In fact, you can get by with about 3000 words whereas the average native speaker is able to use about 20,000. This is the difference between a basic operational intermediate level of English and a fully rounded vocabulary of a native speaker.

Suspected learning curve. You expect learning to be linear. When you start you learn rapidly, the curve is steep. When you have got through the early stages and you can basically express yourself and understand others. It’s harder to see progress. Your progress becomes more shallow and there’s less stress involved.

People expect the learning to continue in a straight line of progress, but they don’t realise that it goes up and down.

The actual learning curve is more like a bell, and it involves many ups and downs too.

The more of a language you learn, the less there is to learn. It’s a process of diminishing returns.

Comfort zone.

Goals and study habits are not well defined. Often the first goal is just to get out of that painful confusion you experience at the start. When you hit intermediate your goals need to be more achievable and specific. Then you need to match them with an organised study plan.

How to break through the intermediate plateau and continue making progress

There’s no magic formula or single way to do it. It comes down to attitude, time and practice.

The study methods you used to get to intermediate might need to change.

Merely ‘getting by’ in the language is not enough any more. You need to explore, push it further, test yourself and increase the challenge.

Follow just one subject in a lot of depth

You want to develop a more advanced level of vocabulary and grammar, especially the vocab but there is so much of it! How can you cover it all? Instead of just scraping the surface of a few topics, try going into loads of depth in just one or two topics.

Following a subject you’re fascinated in will take you down a rabbit hole of English and you will learn a great deal of more complex language on the way. It’s hard to learn all the English of everything, so focus on one specific thing and let that be your entry point to advanced English.

This means finding loads of information on this single topic you’re interested in – reading articles and books about it, finding podcasts and videos about it, video documentaries on youtube and so on. For example, right now I’m reading about The Beatles in French and it’s much better than just reading stuff I don’t care about and it keeps me interested.

Learn how to talk and write about your specialist subject too. Learning one thing in a lot of detail is more achievable than trying to learn the vocabulary of everything. You will learn tons of vocabulary about the subject but also you’ll learn the kind of English you need to construct and understand complex and in-depth ideas – so, not just technical terms but also complex sentences, grammatical forms and linking devices.

Challenge

One of the reasons you made so much progress before was that everything was a challenge. You met a lot of resistance. It was frustrating but you pushed through. Now there is less resistance but don’t stop pushing. Challenge yourself, push yourself out of your comfort zone, teach the language to someone else – or at least prepare yourself as if you’re going to teach, find your weaknesses and push them. Don’t give up. Jump in at the deep end and try to swim.

Habit

Honestly – how many of you are going to do all these things? Not many of you. You’ll probably listen and agree but not take action. Right there – that’s where the difference is between progress and not progress. Choose to do even a couple of these things and you’ll be on the right path. Just make a few little changes and do them regularly and it should become part of your habit. Build habits into your life.

Exposure

Exposure to some comprehensible input combined with some stuff on the verge of what you don’t understand. Some stuff that’s fairly easy to follow, and some stuff that’s hard to follow. So, that means listening to podcasts like this in which you understand quite a lot, but you’re also challenged sometimes, but it also means reading and listening to content designed for native speakers. Get an audiobook, get some real books, listen to BBC radio, subscribe to some podcasts for native speakers (listen for some recommendations soon).

236. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 1)

237. OPP: Other People’s Podcasts (Part 2)

Vocabulary & Mnemonics

Keep an organised notebook for vocabulary and use some mnemonic techniques. They’re proven to work again and again, but how many of us use them?

Listen to an old episode of my podcast called Memory, Mnemonics and Learning English.

Basically, the trick with remembering vocabulary is to a) link the new memory to an existing memory and b) make new memories visual, vivid and attached to a space that you know in the real world. This sounds a bit strange, but it’s proven to work. If you can attach a new word to an existing word somehow, perhaps with a very vivid picture in your mind perhaps connected to a space you know, like your house, then memories will stick like glue.

167. Memory, Mnemonics & Learning English

Part 2 coming soon…

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297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

On the podcast today I’m talking to Jessica Beck who has been working in English language teaching for over 10 years. She is an instructor, a teacher trainer and an author of 14 textbooks for learning English. You may also know Jessica from her work on the IELTS Energy Podcast (www.ielts.allearsenglish.com), which is part of the All Ears English. I talked to Gabby and Lindsay from AEE on LEP last year about culture shock, remember that? Well, Jessica is part of the All Ears English team, and is known there as the “Examiner of Excellence”. So, she knows a lot about the IELTS test, and he’s got some good advice for any of my listeners who plan to take the test, including how you can improve your speaking score if you have a good sense of humour. If you’re not planning to take the test, these skills can also be applied to your use of English in general life too.

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Jessica has kindly written a blog post which includes the tips and useful language she mentions in this episode. You can read that blog post below.

I expect that most of you know what the IELTS test is, In fact, I have done an episode about IELTS before on LEP in which I went through every part of the test in one episode, dispensing various bits of Jedi wisdom to help you get a better score. That episode is called “Tips and Tricks for the IELTS Test”, and is episode number 254 of Luke’s English Podcast.
Check it out here www.teacherluke.co.uk/2015/01/22/254-ielts-tips-tricks/

For those that don’t know, IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System, and it’s now the world’s #1 test of English language level. The test measures your English in 4 areas: reading, writing, listening and speaking. The maximum score in each area is 9 (expert user) and the lowest is 1 (total beginner). Lots of universities, employers and other institutions around the world require an IELTS score as requirement for entry, and 7 is usually the target score, sometimes it’s higher, sometimes lower depending on the institution. Cambridge University in the UK for example requires a minimum of 7.5 overall, with no less than 7 in any of the categories. So, if you want that place at a great British or American university, the first challenge is often to get a really good IELTS score, and what you need is good advice and strategies to help you do your best.

So, in this episode we’re going to meet Jessica, and talk specifically about the IELTS speaking test, in which you have a 15 minute interview with an IELTS examiner and your spoken English is tested in a few ways. Jessica has loads of tips for the speaking exam, and I’m hoping that she can give us some advice on how having a sense of humour can get you a better score in the test. So listen for some more top tips for IELTS in this one.

Also, what do you think would happen if I took the IELTS speaking test? Well, listen to the whole episode and you’ll find out…

Now, let’s meet Jessica the “Examiner of Excellence”.

Read Jessica’s Blog Post:

Humor Increases IELTS Speaking Scores

 Say what??!!

 I’m serious. It does.

 By Jessica Beck from All Ears English IELTS 

Many students, and teachers, for that matter, view all exams as formal and academic. Because of this, they believe that on these exams, test-takers must behave, speak, and write in an academic, formal style all the time.

While this may be true for some tests, there are many reasons why an IELTS candidate should not behave this way on the Speaking exam.

As we discussed on the podcast, a common mistake students make is not learning about what the IELTS examiner is looking for.

Students often look at example questions, memorize high-level words and phrases, and believe this is enough.

It’s not!

You must know what you are graded on, and where to use these words and phrases.

Your score, which can be from 0 to 9, is broken down into 4 aspects- Fluency and Coherence, Vocabulary, Grammar and Pronunciation.

You can read definitions of the band scores in each aspect at www.ielts.org/pdf/SpeakingBanddescriptors.pdf.

What you must notice about the band score descriptors is that the examiner wants to hear a range from you- a range in vocabulary, in your ability to communicate about a variety of topics, and in your pronunciation.

The fact is that in Parts 1 and 2 on the IELTS Speaking exam, almost all of the questions are about you. They are personal and informal. Therefore, if you answer these questions in a formal way, you are showing that you do not have a range of communication ability and that you are unable to talk about personal, informal topics.

So, where does humor come in? How does it help you raise your score? Read on!

  • Humor helps you improve your pronunciation score. It helps you relax, allowing you to show your personality and use emotion in your voice. Showing relaxed and expressive pronunciation can push this score up to a 7 or higher!
  • It improves your fluency and coherence score. If you are able to answer some informal questions with a few informal anecdotes, or very short stories, about yourself, this will show that you can communicate appropriately and effectively in informal speaking situations.
  • It improves your vocabulary score, because you show you can use appropriate vocabulary to the question, and you have some knowledge of more interesting words and phrases. Showing the examiner a range of informal vocabulary in Parts 1 and 2, and formal vocabulary in Part 3, pushes your score up to a 7 or higher.
  • NOTE: Even though I’m encouraging you to communicate in a relaxed way, this doesn’t mean that you slump your shoulders and provide one word answers. You must always sit and behave respectfully, and ALWAYS answer in complete sentences.

We gave some examples of how to answer in a humorous manner on the podcast, and the phrase “self-deprecating” came up a few times.

Self-deprecation is the ability to make fun of yourself, or to share information about yourself that shows you make mistakes.

This is a humble way of communicating, and it can endear you to your listeners.

This is true on the exam and in real life!

For example, if the examiner asks, “Do you enjoy taking photographs?” A self-deprecating answer would be, “I’ll admit, I actually love taking selfies. I know this is a silly habit, and that is honestly a bit embarrassing, but I take selfies absolutely everywhere- at home, on the bus, walking up the stairs, waiting for my dry cleaning. However, I post almost none of them, so I guess it’s not that horrible of a habit!”

Other phrases you can use to introduce answers like this are: You won’t believe this, but…, This is crazy, but… and I’m a bit embarrassed to say this, but….

An excellent way to prepare to communicate in this way, on the exam and in real life, is to watch stand-up comedy, or see/listen to interviews with stand-up comedians.

Some podcasts that I recommend are Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, a news quiz with three stand-ups, How Did This Get Made, a show with 3-4 stand-ups who talk about really bad (but sometimes popular!) movies, and Comedy Bang Bang, an interview show with hilarious skits.

If you challenge yourself to experience this type of Western, English humor, not only will this help you communicate impressively with the IELTS examiner, but it will also help you talk naturally with native speakers, and understand more jokes in movies and TV shows.

Have fun and get your target score!

Click here to get the 7 Easy Steps to a 7 or Higher on IELTS 

Jessica Beck is the IELTS professional at All Ears English IELTS. She has helped hundreds of students reach their target score through her simple, step-by-step systems and strategies. Learn more with Jessica on the IELTS Energy Podcast in iTunes.
IELTSspeaking

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

An episode full of advice for those taking the IELTS test. [Download]

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to Luke’s English Podcast and this exciting and edgy new episode. I hope you are ready physically, mentally, spiritually, because this is going to be epic. I’m attempting to make this sound slightly more dramatic than it actually is. This one is all about the IELTS test, which is not normally an exciting subject, but with the use of this background music and my tone of voice hopefully I can convince you that this really is edge-of-your-seat stuff. If that isn’t enough, and you still need to be convinced of the dramatic tension at the heart of this episode, to keep you fully engaged, I am also expecting a delivery from the post office at any moment. A few days ago I ordered a pair of trainers online – a fresh pair of old-school addidas sneakers, and at some point this morning I expect them to be delivered to my door, by the postman. There could be a buzz at my doorbell at literally any second. I can hardly contain myself, and I hope it’s the same story for you. This is a truly riveting and adrenaline fuelled experience for me, and I hope it is for you too. And it is in this highly tense and gripping context that I bring this episode of LEP to you right now. Now if we can just keep up this level of focus throughout the rest of the episode, that would be great. If it helps you to concentrate, imagine that at any moment my addidas trainers could be delivered. I may even open the package live while recording the podcast. Will they be the right size? Will they be the right colour? Will they suit me? Only time can tell! But one thing’s for sure, it doesn’t get more dramatic than this, as the tension rises ahead of this groundbreaking new episode of Luke’s English Podcast in which we deal with the almost frighteningly engaging subject of the IELTS test, a test which, if you fail it, the penalty is instant death.

Just kidding. It’s not instant death. Usually you have to wait about 3 working days.

Obviously I’m just joking – you don’t die if you fail the IELTS test, and anyway, you can’t fail IELTS. So, that was just a light-hearted introduction to this episode, to make it exciting – because I’m a bit worried that a whole episode about IELTS may be a bit dull – but then again, I’m sure that loads of you out there will find this extremely useful. So let’s get on with it.

Introduction
In this one I’m going to go through all parts of the IELTS test, giving you some tips and general advice. I’m recording this because it is one of the most commonly requested episodes. People are always asking me to do episodes about IELTS and I have never done one until now. So here it is, the eagerly awaited IELTS episode. Loads of people around the world take the IELTS test to get a grade of their English. More and more it is becoming the world’s #1 test of English level. It is a notoriously tough test which challenges many people around the world every day, so what wisdom can I impart to my loyal LEPsters who are hoping to prove themselves in the IELTS challenge? Well, quite a lot I hope.

If you’ve never taken the test, and never plan to (quite a wise move), hopefully there will still be plenty to gain from this episode because advice for the test often works as pretty good advice for study skills in general, and I will be talking throughout the episode about linguistic skills, challenges and advice – so there is bound to be loads of useful language which you can pick up by listening to this, and yes – because I had to prepare this episode in advance, pretty much all of this is transcribed and available for you at teacherluke.co.uk. Just find the page for this episode and away you go!

The IELTS test is administered by Cambridge University and is the UK standard test of English language level. It is used by academic institutions and employers as a way of gauging the English level of potential students or employees. It’s an infamously difficult and is a complete test of your English skills. Many people have to take it before making progress in their career, their studies or just in their life in general, others take it as a challenge or a way to find out their real level in English. In this episode I’m going to impart as much advice as I can for those who are planning to take the test. It is a complex and broad-ranging test and I would need a whole series of episodes to deal with it fully. Here I’m going to give you as many hints and tips for each part of the exam as possible in just one single episode of the podcast. Many of the tips I give here can also be applied to other Cambridge exams like FCE, CAE and BEC as Cambridge tends to use certain question types and techniques across all those tests, although the test formats and levels of challenge are different.

To be completely honest, I wouldn’t normally have done this episode because it requires quite careful preparation, a lot of this advice is quite valuable and I’m a bit reluctant to give it away for nothing, and some people may find it a little dull. That’s why I wouldn’t normally have done this episode, but I am doing it simply because so many people have requested it, and I know that there are some people out there who have no access to affordable resources for IELTS preparation.

People normally pay for this kind of advice for the IELTS test, but I’m willing to give it to you here for nothing. In return please consider making a donation to me if you can. I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time preparing this episode, it includes some wisdom that I’ve developed after years of teaching IELTS classes off and on, and I’ve done it out of generosity and as a favour to many of my listeners who have requested this information. I am not in the business of giving away all my advice and counsel free of charge, as I’m sure you can understand. So, if you find my advice useful, please consider making a contribution by clicking the PayPal button which you will find on the page, and then making a donation. You can choose the amount. The most common amounts are 5-10 pounds but you can give as much or as little as you like. Small Donate Button

Where did I get this info?
A lot of this stuff comes from my own head and my experience of leading students through IELTS preparation, but I haven’t taught IELTS in a while, so I asked my British Council colleagues for their advice, and I looked at some BC published material which also includes lots of good tips.

By the way – I get quite a lot of teachers listening to this, as well as great students who have good IELTS scores. I’m sure you’ve got some great insights and tips as well. Please share them in the comments section. Certainly, if something occurs to you that I have missed, just add it in the comments section.

Download this useful stuff
If you’re serious about taking IELTS you will need study materials. You can buy preparation books from Cambridge University Press, and you should also consider getting one of their books of practice tests too.

Here are some other useful things for you to download:
The IELTS teacher’s guide – contains an overview of the test, explanation of the levels, assessment criteria for the speaking and writing sections (very valuable) www.ielts.org/PDF/Guide_Teachers_2013.pdf

IELTS test sampleswww.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample.aspx This is invaluable because you can see the real tasks you have to do. Particularly useful are the sample writing tasks and answers. You can see the tasks, then read some answers from candidates, and then read the assessment feedback by examiners. I find this to be one of the best ways to get my students to reflect on what makes a good piece of writing. Click here to go straight to the writing part, and the sample answers are the last item in this list www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_writing_sample.aspx

What is IELTS?
IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It is developed and administered by Cambridge University, The British Council and IDP Australia. The main point of the test is to determine language level. It is impossible to pass or fail the test. Instead, you are given scores for your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills and a global mark which is an average of all the other scores.

It’s a difficult test and everyone finds it challenging. Even native speakers have problems with this test and it is very very rare to get 100%.

The score you get from the test is a reflection of your English level. Many people use IELTS levels as a standard for talking about language level. 1 – 9.

There are two types of IELTS test – the general exam and the academic exam. The format is very similar between the two, in fact the listening and speaking sections are the same. For the academic test in the reading and writing sections the topics are more academic, and you have to write a description of a diagram. The academic one is more popular and I have only ever taught that one, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

Universities and employers will often require you to have a certain score (e.g. minimum level 7) to gain access to a course or a job. Many people around the world are attempting to take the IELTS challenge – usually to prove their level of English as part of a university or job application, or just because they are masochists who like to make their own lives difficult!

The American equivalent is TOEFL, which is a completely different test.

IELTS has a task-based approach, and tests you on what you can do in English rather than what you know. For example, there are no grammar gap-fills. Instead your grammar is tested by your ability to achieve tasks in the written and spoken parts of the test. So, basically, you have to do certain tasks in all parts of the test – understand the general or specific meanings of some texts, be able to follow lectures and conversations, write several types of text, and speak about different things on your own or in a dialogue with someone else.

The listening, reading and writing parts happen in the same session. The speaking test is done at a different time but often on the same day.

The whole test lasts just under 3 hours.

General Advice
Before you take this exam you must be prepared. Do not walk into the exam without having at least tried a few practice tests before. You need to be familiar with the format of the test so that it is not all new to you. It’s q complex test. To a large extent, taking an IELTS course will train you on how to deal with the test itself as much as give you English training. So, you need to know the test before you start. Practice tests can be found online.

Know the assessment criteria. You need to know what the examiners are looking for, especially in the writing and speaking parts. Assessment criteria can be found online at the Cambridge IELTS website too.

Do some practice. Do each part of the test a few times separately, and do a whole test in exam conditions at least once before you do it for real. This will help you practice concentrating for a long time, and it will help you learn about timing, and your strengths and weaknesses. Real test practice is vital.

Time yourself when doing exercises. You should always be aware of how much time you have to do each part of the test, and you should know how much time it takes you to do each part.

Get yourself properly ready on the day and do what you can to remove problems so that you are calm and in a good mood. Get a good night’s sleep before the exam! Eat a proper breakfast. Know the route to the test centre. Make the journey before you do it for real so you know how to get there. You don’t want any unnecessary stress, because the day may be pretty stressful.

When you’re practising, stay positive! Remember that this is a difficult test and everyone struggles with it, even native speakers.

Set yourself a goal – aim for a certain percentage (e.g. 70%) for each section.

When you check your answers, learn from your mistakes. Where do you lose points? What do you need to do to fix that?

Maximise your English input generally. Listen to lots of authentic English, or podcasts like LEP. Read a lot of magazine and newspaper articles. Fairly long magazine articles are best. They’re quite similar to IELTS reading texts.

Read some reports on data – anything with a graph, diagram or table and accompanying report. This will help you with writing part 1.

Keep an organised record of vocabulary. Write new words in a notebook, and write whatever you need to remember those words. Add examples to your notes, that’s important, but also add mnemonic notes – just any associations that will help you remember them. They could be vivid images, or connections to things you already remember. For example if you want to remember the word ‘plunge’ – you could connect it to an existing word in your language (plonger for example) or perhaps the sound of something dropping into water from a height. Add anything to help you remember the word. Test yourself using your word list regularly. Cover the word, make example sentences, check the pronunciation in a dictionary etc.

Attending an IELTS preparation course is always a good idea – it will almost certainly help you, but you must remember that you are the only one who is responsible for your success in this test. Even if you have a teacher or a tutor – it comes down to you. The effort, concentration and time you put into it will pay off later. Take responsibility for your own progress.

Don’t forget the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

You’ll probably need to get hold of practice test materials – published books or stuff online that you can find.

Reading Paper
Don’t read the entire text from start to finish before dealing with questions. You don’t have time and it’s unnecessary. Instead, use the questions as a guide and then skim or scan the text to find the relevant answers.

Use the title; introduction and final paragraph to get a general gist of the text to help give you context.

You don’t get transfer time in this section, so make sure you add your answers to the answer sheet properly as you go.

Don’t bother marking your answers temporarily in pencil before finalising them later. Just add your final answer there and then. You won’t have time to come back and confirm later.

You get 60 minutes. If you finish way too early, there’s something wrong. If you struggle to complete in time, there’s something wrong too! Ideally it will take you exactly 60 minutes to complete the test.

Don’t get stuck on one question and dwell on it for a long time. Move on to the next question and come back to it later if you have time. Sometimes people with very good reading skills will lose lots of points because they let one or two questions ruin the rest of the test.

Do not panic! It’s never that bad. Stay positive throughout the test, even if you feel like you’re not doing very well. The test is not designed to make you feel like you’re doing well. It is not supposed to be pleasant and rewarding, so it probably won’t be. Just pick the answer you think is right and move on. Sometimes you’ll need to choose the ‘least bad’ option. Sometimes it will be a question of cancelling out the wrong answers until you are left with just one.

The reading test often tricks you with distractors. You may find many synonyms in the text, but be sure that they are the right answer. Expect distractors and tricks and notice them when you see them.

Synonyms and paraphrasing are often used. Watch out for words or phrases with a similar meaning.

Watch out for reference words – especially when you’re adding sentences into paragraphs. This kind of task tests your understanding of text cohesion. There are lots of words in English that refer to other parts of a text – words before and after. These are words like ‘this, these, that, those, it’ and other devices that allow the writer to repeat him or herself by using different words. Watch out for reference words and identify which other words they refer to.

Like in the listening section, look at the gaps you have to complete and use your knowledge of grammar to predict what kind of word is needed.

Imagine you are a ‘text detective’ looking for clues. It’s more fun that way.

Read in a clever way. Skim for general understanding. Scan for specific info.

Hold the question/sentence in mind while reading the text. You have to multi task a lot. You should be constantly going from question to text, keeping the question in mind while searching for the relevant section of the text with the answer.

Use a highlighter pen to highlight key words in the questions and in the text.

Use a pen to break up the text to help you navigate it.

Remember – the answers must come only from the text, not from your knowledge or deductive reasoning. It’s just based on what is written in the text, even if you disagree with the information or know better. It’s a reading test not a general knowledge quiz.

If a text is on a topic you don’t know, it doesn’t matter. You do not need to be an expert on the subject. It’s all just about language, and no specific terminology or jargon is used in the test.

True/False/Not given is probably the hardest section. Remember: Does the text directly contradict the sentence? If ‘yes’ then it is false. If the text does not specifically deal with the point in the sentence either way, it’s not given.

If you’re guessing the answers in the true/false/NG section, don’t choose NG because it is the least frequent answer.

If you don’t know a word you can pretty often just guess what it means from the context. You’d be surprised at how accurate my students guesses are when I ask them to guess from context. Is the word positive or negative? What kind of word is it? Make an educated guess based on the context of the word – you’ll be closer than you think.

Tolerate a bit of ambiguity and some level of confusion. It’s normal to be confused and you will often be out of your comfort zone. Learn to operate in that place. For practice you should be reading magazine articles that are difficult. You’re not reading for pleasure here, you’re reading to practice reading in adverse circumstances in which you’re guessing what a lot of it means, tolerating not understanding some things, filling the blanks in your head, and doing it all in about 20 minutes.

Texts are often divided into sections. These could be dates, or types of thing, or people. Highlight these so you can navigate the text easily. For example, it could be a scientific article about key discoveries. The text could deal with each discovery one by one. You can then divide the text into sections that deal with each discovery. This will help you scan for specific details.

You can write all over the question paper if you want to.

You need to do loads of reading practice. Read – every – day. Pick magazines or websites that are not too specific. For example, not financial papers or fashion magazines, but magazines that have articles on lots of subjects. Articles should be quite long.

Yes, it is a long test, which confirms to me that episodes of LEP should also be long. I’m convinced that it’s good to practice long-term listening – that means listening for longer periods, but also listening long-term in your life. Regular listening to extended periods, is bound to have a great effect on your English! If you are a regular LEPPER then you’re already at an advantage. Remember that when you’re taking the test. Look at the other candidates and think “Poor them, they don’ listen to LEP. What chance can they possibly have?”

Listening Paper
Usually you have to complete some notes or sentences based on conversations or lectures.

Make sure you know what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Be prepared. Look at the notes you have to complete to get an overall idea of the challenge you face.

Make sure you’ve seen all the gaps and notes you have to complete so you don’t miss anything.

Predict the answers. Use bits of time to look at the questions and predict what kind of thing you’re going to hear. Look at gaps and predict what kind of info goes in each gap – is it a noun, a verb, a number, a date, a name. Maybe you can predict the answers yourself.

Scribble notes on the exam paper.

Sometimes later questions will give you clues about earlier answers, but be careful of jumping ahead or backwards too much. You need to stay with the flow of the listening and follow it in the notes you’re completing.

Don’t get left behind. Keep up with the recording.

If you don’t know an answer don’t get stuck. Move on to the next one and don’t lose the recording! You can use the notes to make sure you are synchronised between listening to the recording and reading the notes. Make sure you are at the right place in the notes.

Again, if you miss an answer just forget it and move on. Don’t let one bad question ruin all the others. Keeping up with the recording is vital.

Pay attention to what is written around the gap you’re expecting. You may find that words in the notes after the gap will help you get the answer. I mean, the recording may refer to some words that follow the gap you’re looking at, and a couple of gaps may be covered by just one sentence in the recording. So be aware of the general context around the gap you’re looking at.

Remember that the answers are based on the content of the listening only. You might know the answer from your general knowledge, but it is vital that you give the answer that is given in the listening.

Watch out for distractors and tricks which are designed to fool you. Listen carefully at all times and be sure your answer is right!

Use your knowledge of grammar to help you predict answers. For example, does the gap contain a noun, verb or whatever, and is it in plural form or third person or whatever?

Pay attention when completing your answer sheet. Make sure you’re doing it correctly. People sometimes switch off when doing this but one simple mistake can make all the answers wrong.

Never leave a blank space on the answer sheet in a multiple choice situation. Put something, and then you’ve got a 25% chance of a right answer.

Remember that you will probably not hear the same words in the recording as you can see written in the sentences you are completing, so you must always be on the lookout for synonyms – different ways of saying the same thing. This is really important in IELTS. It’s all about synonyms – at a lexical and grammatical level.

“He wants to get on but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for university.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“He wants to advance.”

“Get on” and “advance” are synonymous. When you are thinking of what key words to listen for, think of synonyms you might hear along with the word used in the question.

Watch out for paraphrasing (like the previous point) e.g. “Less than a quarter of university students took part.”

On the answer sheet you might see:

“Only 23% of candidates actually sat the examination.”

Get used to listening to numbers in English, like the difference between 13 and 30 etc (expand on this in the podcast)

Watch out for spelling and punctuation – especially capitalisation of names and places. If in doubt, write everything in capital letters because you won’t be penalised for it, but you are penalised for failing to write a capital where appropriate.

Listen a lot!

There are tests available online, but you could make your own tests. You could copy +paste an LEP transcript into a word doc, then gap a bunch of random words, then listen and fill the gaps – but there will be no disparity between the notes and the listening. Alternatively, surf the web for IELTS listening practice exercises.

There are no short cuts – just practice and positivity.

Writing Paper
Overview – you have 1 hour to do 2 tasks. You should spend about 20 mins on part 1 a nd 40 mins on part 2. The second part gives you more points and requires more time to do properly.

Time is the big challenge here.

Practise doing writing papers again and again if you can. Practice is vital if you want to do your best. You must get used to the timing, the task types, concentrating for a long time, and dealing with the visual data in part 1.

You also need to practice part 2 in order to get used to organising your ideas into paragraphs and developing your ideas.

Remember, what I’m giving you now is an overview, as I can’t go into massive amounts of depth. To be honest though, the best thing you can do is practice a lot.

– – – – –

It also helps if you can have access to the marking criteria for the writing and speaking parts. This does contain some jargon, but it is very helpful to know what the examiners are thinking while reading your work, and exactly how your English is being judged. I must try and add in some details about the marking criteria.

Make sure you read the instructions for the task really carefully – make sure you know exactly what you are expected to write. Don’t make a stupid mistake and write about the wrong thing. Always read the instructions carefully.

Don’t write in note form or bullet points in either essay. You should write full sentences and paragraphs.

Don’t memorise a standard model answer that you can just repeat during the exam. This just won’t work because the data will be different.

Always check your writing for little errors when you’ve finished. Proofread, every time. It can save you some points.

Useful Links
Check this link because it will give you sample writing tasks, and sample answers with examiner’s feedback. It’s very useful indeed because you can see what the examiners are looking for. www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_writing_sample.aspx

Part 1
You’ll be given some visual data, and you have 150 words to summarise it. Imagine you’re writing a summary for your teacher.

It always helps to imagine you are writing for a real person – either the teacher, as it says in the task, or just the examiner who is probably a middle-aged man or woman who has a massive pile of exam papers on his/her desk – he/she has seen hundreds of these papers before. So, first impressions do count – try to write neatly, make sure you leave clear spaces between paragraphs, spell correctly, use the right punctuation and capitalisation, make sure your margins are straight. Make your writing look nice! Also, considering your reader can help you to create better writing which is more readable, pleasant and engaging. In fact, ‘effect on the reader’ is one of the criteria used by Cambridge. Good effect on the reader means that the reader has quite a pleasant experience with your writing – it’s clear, it’s a smooth reading experience, it’s coherant, it doesn’t require lots of effort to understand and the style is appropriate.

By the way, the style for your IELTS writing is quite formal. Formal to neutral. That means – no contractions, it’s not overly familiar like an email to a friend. Put it in the kind of style that would be appropriate for a potential business partner, or an older teacher, or a superior in your company.

So, you have to summarise some visual data. it could be a table, it could be a line graph, a bar chart, a pie chart or even a diagram for a process. There’s also a title and a short explanation of the diagram.

Study the diagram carefully and make sure you understand basically what it represents. Take some time to understand it, because this is a really important stage. if you don’t understand the data, your writing will stink! Study each axis on a graph, make sure you know what the factors are in the data. Make a note of the main trends in the data too. You can’t explain absolutely everything, so you need to find the most significant aspects of the data and then explain that.

You may want to use a highlighter pen to highlight the key words in the task and data.

How many paragraphs? about 2. A quick introduction and then a description of the data. No need for a conclusion.

You’ll need linking phrases for addition and contrast – particularly for contrast as this often involves explaining two sets of data, including their similarities and significant differences.

You will probably need the language of trends – that’s verbs and nouns like climb, rise, shoot up, drop, plunge, level out etc.

You can find examples of linking language and trends language for IELTS by clicking this link juliaenglishinmanchester.blogspot.fr/2012/05/useful-language-for-ielts-writing-task.html and this link www.ieltstips.com/ielts/ielts_writing_test/task_1:_how_to_use_linking_phrases_effectively_-_answer_key.html and just by doing google searches for “IELTS part 1 writing useful language linking trends”

In the introduction you can paraphrase the description given in the task. Do not copy phrases from the diagram or task instructions. You must paraphrase every time. In your intro, just explain what the diagram is about.

Then in the next paragraph, explain the data so that the reader can copy the graph without seeing it. If the data is complex, just focus on the most significant details.

You don’t have to explain why – just describe what you see.

Plan your writing quickly in advance by noting the basic points you will make.

You should never start writing without planning, even in a simple way, what you’re going to write.

20 minutes.

Stick to the word count of 150 words. This should be possible if you’re explaining the main points with the right level of detail.

Again, doing lots of reading can help you a lot. Try reading magazines or newspapers which have diagrams and graphs and things. Scientific magazines, things like that.

Part 2

As always – READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY AND UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION!

Sorry for shouting, but students commonly lose points by not answering the question. One of the assessment criteria is task achievement. You have to do what the task tells you to do.

In part 2 you have to write a short discursive essay in response to a statement or question. For example, you may be asked to write about whether you agree or disagree with something, or to consider arguments related to an issue. it could be the environment, or reducing crime, or the effect of video games on kids.

Again, plan your answer. Spend a bit of time thinking about the question, making sure you definitely understand what you have to do, consider your points and how you will develop them.

You’ll probably write about 4 paragraphs.

The examiner is checking for these things: Did the person complete the task? Did the candidate explain whether they agree or disagree with the subject, developing their points clearly? Is the writing clearly structured and coherent? Is there a wide range of vocabulary and grammar, used accurately? Are the words spelled correctly?

The answers to all those questions should be “yes”.

Remember to show the examiner what you can do – use a good range of language, don’t repeat yourself too much, don’t just use simple words like ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘nice’.

By the way, it’s not all about idioms – they are just a part of the vocabulary that we use. Don’t feel the need to write in idioms only because that can come across as unnecessary and even unclear. Be clear, be specific, be understandable. Achieving the task is your first goal, not showing off your English (but you should show off a little bit).

Once you’ve properly understood the subject you’re going to write about, carefully consider your point of view. Try to come up with several clear arguments on both sides. restrict yourself to one or two points on each side of the argument. Add one or two points to each paragraph, and make sure the points are clearly and logically developed. Do not add new points randomly at the end of paragraphs or with no development.

Don’t write anything without planning first. Choose the points you will state and develop, and make a little plan. You can write on the exam paper. Sketch a plan with notes on how you can develop your idea. You can follow the plan when you write. Don’t try to plan and write at the same time because it results in incoherent writing.

Paragraph 1: Introduction: Do not copy anything from the task. Use your own words to explain the topic of the essay. Keep it simple. Explain the issue and then how you are going to deal with it.

Main body of the essay: You could either cover both sides of the argument in a balanced way or just argue in favour of one side. Personally, I prefer the first one, and if you take the second option you’ll probably have to mention the other side of the argument anyway, so let’s choose the contrastive approach – contrasting both sides of the argument.

So, paragraph 2 (two arguments for) – start with a topic sentence. This summarises your point of view. (note to Luke: come up with an example) then develop that point over the next couple of sentences. Go deeper. Tell us why this is a point for or against. Go further into the issue. See the bigger picture. You could use an example. Remember you don’t have many words, so just use a couple of sentences to develop your point.

Then add your second point for. Topic sentence, development. You may need to use a linking word for addition here, like in addition.

Make sure all these ideas are logically linked.

Paragraph 3: Arguments against. Again, begin with a topic sentence before developing the idea. You’ll probably have to use a linking word for contrast, like However, which usually goes at the beginning of a sentence. Sorry, I can’t go into all the details of specific linking words and stuff like that in this episode. No time.

Then you finish it all off with your conclusion in which you give an overall summary of what you’ve stated already. Remember to answer the question in the task. That’s a good way to focus your attention. Just directly answer the question – do you agree or not. You could use a phrase like ‘on balance’.

So, that’s pretty much it for the writing. Don’t forget to click the links and get that useful stuff from the IELTS website. That’ll help you a lot.

If you’re not taking the IELTS test, you can just feel very relieved and happy.

Speaking Test
So, the speaking part is in 3 sections and lasts about 11-14 minutes.

Part 1 (about 5 mins)
The examiner introduces him/herself and asks you to introduce yourself. Here you don’t need to go into massive detail about where you are from, but it’s good to add a bit of extra info. “E.g. I’m Luke and I come from Birmingham, which is a big city in the centre of England”

The examiner will then ask you some general questions on familiar topics. Just relax and be sociable. Answer the questions and give some extra information. Do not give too little – this is your time to shine!

The worst thing you can do is be silent.

Don’t worry about errors – fluency, and communicative competence are more important. Make an effort to engage with the examiner, and yes, use a bit of charm! It’s a natural conversation. Enjoy it a bit too ;)

This is not too tricky. Just be yourself, warm up, don’t be too quiet, don’t talk too much.

Part 2 (about 4 mins)

Describe something you own which is very important to you.
You should say:
where you got it from
how long you have had it
what you use it for
and explain why it is important to you.

The examiner gives you a card with a topic and some ideas and you have to talk about if for about 2 minutes.

You get some time to prepare, so it’s a good idea to plan your talk, and make a couple of notes.

Try to illustrate your points with examples. This is really important and helps to bring your speech to life.

Have a little introduction – maybe one sentence which just introduces your talk “I’d like to tell you about my laptop, because it is something that I couldn’t live without”.

Then go through the points, adding any details you noted before.

Close the speech if possible, by saying one line.

The examiner will then ask you a couple of other questions based on your topic for part 2, before going on to part 3.

Part 3
This lasts about 5 minutes and involves the examiner asking you discussion questions based on the topic of part 3.

Whereas part 1 was a nice little chat about familiar things, part 3 is more challenging because you’re expected to talk about more abstract topics. This is your chance to show your ability to engage in a discussion, agreeing, disagreeing, giving opinions, showing off your range of grammar and vocab. Again, don’t worry about accuracy the whole time. Being understandable, getting your points across, and being able to achieve the task are far more important. If you’re worried about being correct, or even forcing in some idioms or specific vocabulary you won’t be thinking about the task at hand – expressing your opinion and discussing the questions. Don’t forget the importance of communicative interaction and task achievement.

Of course, remember the 7 Ps: Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.

Find a partner and discuss some topics. Use IELTS Speaking Part 3 samples which you can find by googling just that.

Try recording yourself, if you can bear it.

Just get used to responding quickly, giving examples, speaking from personal experience. The more you practice, the easier it will be in the real test. It should be like second nature. You should go into the exam room feeling ready, feeling like you’ve done this shit loads of times before.

The golden rule: stay cool fool! You gots to chill!

EPMD – You Gots to Chill (Click here for the lyrics)


So that’s the end of my IELTS episode. BYE!
IELTSPOD