My friend Anna has written a book for children (7+) which has a full publishing contract and is available in all good bookshops now. The book tells the story of a boy who accidentally creates a monster when his secret collection of nose bogeys gets struck by lightning! This conversation includes lots of talk of snot and bogeys, as well as stories from Anna’s time as a travel writer.
The third (and final) adventure in this series of mini-mysteries on LEP. Can I improve my detective skills to work out the disappearance of a priceless painting and a series of gruesome murders? Story by Peter Carlson and available on textadventures.co.uk
Sorry for mispronouncing “Masaccio” in this episode! 🇮🇹
Reading out loud can have lots of surprising benefits for our memory and our mental health. How can it also help with your English? In this episode I read an article to you, help you understand it and give comments on the importance of reading, both quietly in your head, and out loud. Video version and full transcript available.
Video Version (with on-screen text)
Read the article on the BBC Future website here https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200917-the-surprising-power-of-reading-aloud
Full Episode Transcript 👇
Welcome to this new episode. This one is about reading and the power of reading aloud (reading out loud) and I think it can definitely help you with your English in various ways. Stick with me, there’s a lot to discover here.
I found an article the other day on the BBC’s website and I thought it was really interesting and definitely something I could turn into an episode of this podcast.
I am going to read the article to you in this episode. You can read it with me if you like. The link for the article is in the description, or if you are watching the video version you will see the text on the screen.
I’ll help you understand it all, we’ll consider the main points being made by the writer, I’ll give my thoughts on how this all relates to learning English and I’ll point out some bits of vocabulary for you to learn along the way.
Reading out loud ← what does this mean?
Normally when we read, we read silently. We read in our heads. 📖👀
But when we read out loud we actually say the words we are reading with our voice so that other people can hear you. 🗣️ That’s what out loud means.
Aloud and out loud are synonyms.
- To read out loud (I had to read out loud in front of my class during my French lesson and it was a bit embarrassing)
- To say something out loud (Don’t say that out loud, it’s supposed be a secret!)
- To think out loud (What are you talking about? Oh, sorry, never mind, I’m just thinking out loud really)
- To laugh out loud (LOL)
The title of the article I found is The Surprising Power of Reading Aloud, and I found it in the “Future” section of the BBC’s website.
BBC Future https://www.bbc.com/future/
BBC Future is a section of the BBC website where you can read some really interesting articles about lots of different subjects.
The articles are written in an academic style (so we are looking at academic English here to an extent), but these articles are very readable and they are exactly the type of reading text that you might find in an IELTS reading test. You often find academic texts about scientific subjects, or history, or psychology in IELTS tests.
So, it would be really good practice for you to read articles like this on a regular basis, whether you are preparing for IELTS or you’re just interested in developing your English generally. The articles on BBC Future are quite advanced – they are for native English speakers, but with a good dictionary and a bit of motivation, they could really help your English.
I’m going to help you do that in this episode with this particular article. I’ll take you through it and will explain things.
Let’s get started.
Before we start reading, I’ve got two tasks for you (and they’re important)
1st task: Consider some questions
Here are some questions to get you thinking 🧐🤔💭
I want you to consider these questions because this will get you in the right mental space to understand the article we’re going to read. It’s important to do this because this is how you get your mind ready before you read. So, consider these questions (below).
If you like you can pause this episode after I say these questions in order to actually answer them, in your own head or out loud.
Saying your answers out loud would be the best thing to do – to practise your speaking and putting your thoughts into words. So, if you can do that, do that, right now, with these questions.
Questions to consider before reading
- When was the last time you read something in English? What was it, and why did you read it?
- When you read in English or in your first language, do you usually read silently in your head or do you read out loud? Why?
- In what situations do people sometimes read out loud?
- Do you think reading out loud is more or less common these days than it used to be?
Do people read out loud more these days, or did they do that more in the past?
Why could this be?
- Can you remember a time when someone read something out loud to you?
What was the situation? How did it make you feel?
- How about when you were a child? Can you remember any moments when someone read out loud to you? How do you feel about those memories?
- What do you think is better for your English – reading texts silently in your head, reading texts out loud, or listening to other people read out loud to you? Why?
2nd task: Read the text 📖
Here’s a reading task for you
Before I read this article to you, I want you to read it yourself. Twice.
🔗 link in the description 🔗
First, read the text silently, then try reading it out loud.
You don’t have to read the whole thing. Maybe just do the first few paragraphs if you prefer.
But try it. Go on.
Read it silently first, then read it out loud.
Try not to sound like a robot 🤖
Put some life into the reading ❤️🔥
If/When you read it out loud, consider these questions. you .
- Where are the pauses? Where should you pause when you read?
- Which words in each line should be stressed (emphasised)?
- Where does the voice go up and where does the voice go down?
- How would you read it out like a TV presenter or a university lecturer?
Imagine you are reading this out for an audience.
It might affect the way you read it. 🗣️
You can do that now. The link to the article is in the description.
Read it – first silently, and then out loud like a presenter.
I’ll let you pause the episode right now and do that. I’ll continue speaking to you again in a moment.
– – – –
This is where you pause to read the article
– – – –
OK, welcome back. I know some of you didn’t pause the episode and read the text, which is totally fine.
But some of you did. Nice one.
I wonder how it was for you.
Was difficult or not?
Was it difficult to read the text?
It’s a different experience isn’t it, reading it out loud.
It has its own challenges.
Unknown vocabulary, difficult pronunciation, understanding the overall flow and structure of the text.
Now, let me read the article to you. You can read it with me too, or just listen. It’s up to you.
I’ve broken the text into sections. I’ll read a section of the article, then paraphrase what I read, add my comments and explain some words. Then we’ll move to the next section.
Whenever there’s a break in the text like this, it’s the end of a section.
– – – – – – – – –
When that happens, I’ll stop and explain things, then we’ll move on to the next section.
You’ll see some words highlighted in bold. These are words that you might not know, so I’ll explain them as we go.
Try reading aloud with me to work on your pronunciation if you like.
BBC FUTURE: NEUROSCIENCE
Why you should read this out loud
By Sophie Hardach /ˈhædək/ – 18th September 2020
Most adults retreat into a personal, quiet world inside their heads when they are reading, but we may be missing out on some vital benefits when we do this.
For much of history, reading was a fairly noisy activity. On clay tablets written in ancient Iraq and Syria some 4,000 years ago, the commonly used words for “to read” literally meant “to cry out” or “to listen”.
“I am sending a very urgent message,” says one letter from this period. “Listen to this tablet. If it is appropriate, have the king listen to it.”
Only occasionally, a different technique was mentioned: to “see” a tablet – to read it silently.
Today, silent reading is the norm. The majority of us bottle the words in our heads as if sitting in the hushed confines of a library. Reading out loud is largely reserved for bedtime stories and performances.
But a growing body of research suggests that we may be missing out by reading only with the voices inside our minds. The ancient art of reading aloud has a number of benefits for adults, from helping improve our memories and understand complex texts, to strengthening emotional bonds between people. And far from being a rare or bygone activity, it is still surprisingly common in modern life. Many of us intuitively use it as a convenient tool for making sense of the written word, and are just not aware of it.
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Colin MacLeod, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has extensively researched the impact of reading aloud on memory. He and his collaborators have shown that people consistently remember words and texts better if they read them aloud than if they read them silently. This memory-boosting effect of reading aloud is particularly strong in children, but it works for older people, too. “It’s beneficial throughout the age range,” he says.
MacLeod has named this phenomenon the “production effect”. It means that producing written words – that’s to say, reading them out loud – improves our memory of them.
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The production effect has been replicated in numerous studies spanning more than a decade.
In one study in Australia, a group of seven-to-10-year-olds were presented with a list of words and asked to read some silently, and others aloud. Afterwards, they correctly recognised 87% of the words they’d read aloud, but only 70% of the silent ones.
In another study, adults aged 67 to 88 were given the same task – reading words either silently or aloud – before then writing down all those they could remember. They were able to recall 27% of the words they had read aloud, but only 10% of those they’d read silently. When asked which ones they recognised, they were able to correctly identify 80% of the words they had read aloud, but only 60% of the silent ones. MacLeod and his team have found the effect can last up to a week after the reading task.
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Even just silently mouthing the words makes them more memorable, though to a lesser extent.
Researchers at Ariel University in the occupied West Bank discovered that the memory-enhancing effect also works if the readers have speech difficulties, and cannot fully articulate the words they read aloud.
MacLeod says one reason why people remember the spoken words is that “they stand out, they’re distinctive, because they were done aloud, and this gives you an additional basis for memory”.
We are generally better at recalling distinct, unusual events, and also, events that require active involvement.
For instance, generating a word in response to a question makes it more memorable, a phenomenon known as the generation effect.
Similarly, if someone prompts you with the clue “a tiny infant, sleeps in a cradle, begins with b”, and you answer baby, you’re going to remember it better than if you simply read it, MacLeod says.
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Another way of making words stick is to enact them, for instance by bouncing a ball (or imagining bouncing a ball) while saying “bounce a ball”.
This is called the enactment effect. Both of these effects are closely related to the production effect: they allow our memory to associate the word with a distinct event, and thereby make it easier to retrieve later.
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The production effect is strongest if we read aloud ourselves. But listening to someone else read can benefit memory in other ways. In a study led by researchers at the University of Perugia in Italy, students read extracts from novels to a group of elderly people with dementia over a total of 60 sessions. The listeners performed better in memory tests after the sessions than before, possibly because the stories made them draw on their own memories and imagination, and helped them sort past experiences into sequences. “It seems that actively listening to a story leads to more intense and deeper information processing,” the researchers concluded.
Reading aloud can also make certain memory problems more obvious, and could be helpful in detecting such issues early on.
In one study, people with early Alzheimer’s disease were found to be more likely than others to make certain errors when reading aloud.
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There is some evidence that many of us are intuitively aware of the benefits of reading aloud, and use the technique more than we might realise.
Sam Duncan, an adult literacy researcher at University College London, conducted a two-year study of more than 500 people all over Britain during 2017-2019 to find out if, when and how they read aloud. Often, her participants would start out by saying they didn’t read aloud – but then realised that actually, they did.
“Adult reading aloud is widespread,” she says. “It’s not something we only do with children, or something that only happened in the past.”
Some said they read out funny emails or messages to entertain others. Others read aloud prayers and blessings for spiritual reasons. Writers and translators read drafts to themselves to hear the rhythm and flow. People also read aloud to make sense of recipes, contracts and densely written texts.
“Some find it helps them unpack complicated, difficult texts, whether it’s legal, academic, or Ikea-style instructions,” Duncan says. “Maybe it’s about slowing down, saying it and hearing it.”
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For many respondents, reading aloud brought joy, comfort and a sense of belonging. Some read to friends who were sick or dying, as “a way of escaping together somewhere”, Duncan says. One woman recalled her mother reading poems to her, and talking to her, in Welsh. After her mother died, the woman began reading Welsh poetry aloud to recreate those shared moments. A Tamil speaker living in London said he read Christian texts in Tamil to his wife. On Shetland, a poet read aloud poetry in the local dialect to herself and others.
“There were participants who talked about how when someone is reading aloud to you, you feel a bit like you’re given a gift of their time, of their attention, of their voice,” Duncan recalls. “We see this in the reading to children, that sense of closeness and bonding, but I don’t think we talk about it as much with adults.”
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If reading aloud delivers such benefits, why did humans ever switch to silent reading? One clue may lie in those clay tablets from the ancient Near East, written by professional scribes in a script called cuneiform /ˈkjuːnɪˌfɔːm/.
Over time, the scribes developed an ever faster and more efficient way of writing this script. Such fast scribbling has a crucial advantage, according to Karenleigh Overmann, a cognitive archaeologist at the University of Bergen, Norway who studies how writing affected human brains and behaviour in the past. “It keeps up with the speed of thought much better,” she says.
Reading aloud, on the other hand, is relatively slow due to the extra step of producing a sound.
“The ability to read silently, while confined to highly proficient scribes, would have had distinct advantages, especially, speed,” says Overmann. “Reading aloud is a behaviour that would slow down your ability to read quickly.”
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In his book on ancient literacy, Reading and Writing in Babylon, the French assyriologist Dominique Charpin quotes a letter by a scribe called Hulalum that hints at silent reading in a hurry. Apparently, Hulalum switched between “seeing” (ie, silent reading) and “saying/listening” (loud reading), depending on the situation. In his letter, he writes that he cracked open a clay envelope – Mesopotamian tablets came encased inside a thin casing of clay to prevent prying eyes from reading them – thinking it contained a tablet for the king.
“I saw that it was written to [someone else] and therefore did not have the king listen to it,” writes Hulalum.
Perhaps the ancient scribes, just like us today, enjoyed having two reading modes at their disposal: one fast, convenient, silent and personal; the other slower, noisier, and at times more memorable.
In a time when our interactions with others and the barrage of information we take in are all too transient, perhaps it is worth making a bit more time for reading out loud. Perhaps you even gave it a try with this article, and enjoyed hearing it in your own voice?
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As a language practice exercise, try reading texts out loud.
You don’t have to do it all the time, but simply trying to read a text out loud as if you are reading it to some people, can be a good exercise.
Research suggests that it could help you remember words more effectively. The production effect means – producing words (saying them out loud) makes a difference to your ability to remember them later. Even just mouthing words when you read them helps them to go into your brain.
So, read aloud and mouth words when you read them.
Also, being prompted with a clue helps you remember words. This is called the generation effect. This encourages me a lot, because it confirms things I have been doing as a teacher, including in LEP Premium episodes when I use little prompts to help you recall words. For you, you could always create your own clues to help you remember words or phrases, or play word games in English in which you define words and then have to guess which words they are. Do this with new vocabulary. Of course, you would need friends or language partners to play with.
Acting words out, or linking them to physical movements also helps you remember words. So, when trying to remember words, add a physical element somehow, even if it means imagining yourself doing the word or being in a certain physical space when thinking of new words. For example if the expression is “to be wary of doing something” – put your hand to your chin and pretend you are being nervous about something or reluctant to do it. Make a sound like “Naaaaaaah, I’m a bit wary of doing that”. Perhaps imagine yourself at the end of a dark street and say “I’m a bit wary of going down there on my own. I think I’ll take the main road.”
Listening to other people read to you also helps a lot. So, the conclusion here is just keep listening to LEP of course! I am sure this works when someone is just speaking to you as well, especially if you are involved and caught up in what they are saying. That’s what I’ve always thought and I am sure scientific research would suggest that it’s true. My hypothesis is that people will remember more L2 words when they are presented in a meaningful context. It’s pretty obvious really.
Reading aloud might be good for your mental health. It seems that the exercise can reveal signs of dementia. Maybe reading aloud does require quite a lot of brain work – not only are you reading and decoding the words, but your brain is involved in some motor exercise too – meaning, muscle work, movement work. Surely, making your brain multi-task like this can only be good as a way of keeping it active. Brain training, basically.
It’s a good way to keep your brain young.
Reading aloud also makes you feel quite good, especially if you do it with others. It could be a good exercise with other learners of English, or with your English teacher. Of course, don’t only read aloud, but include it as part of your regular English practice. It’s especially enjoyable if you are reading out some interesting texts, and try to mix it up – some non-fiction stuff and also some stories and so on.
When you read aloud, consider where you need to chunk the text, pause, emphasise and use intonation.
Reading texts out loud is something I often do with my students in class. I ask my students to work out where the pauses should be, which words to emphasise and where the voice goes up or down.
This exercise reveals things about the text, including the structure and the real meanings and intentions of the writer.
Try reading aloud from time to time. Also try reading out loud with me, at the same time as me sometimes (if there is a transcript with the episode). It might help you notice more aspects of the language in the text, help you remember it more, and help you practice your pronunciation as well as your reading. It might also just make you feel good.
What do you think?
- Leave your comments below.
- What have you been thinking while listening to this?
- Has it given you any ideas about learning English?
- Do you have anything to add?
Put your thoughts into English in the comment section.
A Premium Series
I’m also publishing a 3-part premium series all about the language in this episode. It’ll be available soon or maybe it’s already available now. I’m going to record them right away in fact. They are the next things I’m going to record.
In those premium episodes I will go through the vocabulary which I highlighted in the text again, and I’ll expand things with slightly more detailed explanations and examples, then I’ll test your memory of those words and phrases (with some prompts and some sentences with missing words) and give you a chance to practise pronouncing all the words in sentences.
There will also be an episode where we practise reading aloud some of the paragraphs from the text, with advice about where to pause, which words to emphasise and so on, with sentences to repeat after me.
To get those episodes, sign up to LEP Premium on Acast+. You can add the premium episodes to your podcasting app, and also access PDFs and video versions that way. www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium for the premium series focusing on the language in this episode.
That’s it for this episode, but I will be back soon with more things for you to listen to, including more stories which I would like to read to you, and conversations with guests, and all the other types of episode I like to present to you on my show.
Thanks for listening, but for now – good bye bye bye!
Here’s part 2 of this conversation with my Mum in which you can hear us wittering on about the bookshop where Mum works, some of the books she’s read recently, and some of her podcast and film recommendations. Vocabulary is explained at the end, and there’s a vocabulary list with definitions available below.
- we’re proud of our shop, we take a great pride in it (or ‘take pride in it‘)
- to be proud of something / to take pride in something. ‘To take a pride in something’ is less common.
- Alan Bennett and Geoff Boycott impressions (quite bad ones)
- Talking about Beyond The Fringe – a comedy group from Cambridge and Oxford Universities
- second-hand books / used book
- We get a lot of cook books – books with recipes in them
- A lot of celebrity biographies and autobiographies
- a biography = the story of someone’s life, written by someone else
- an autobiography = the story of someone’s life, written by that person
- A lot of the books I’ve been reading are quite obscure
- obscure = known only by a few people
- The Citadel by A J Cronin
- A lot of problems were caused by infrastructure, like the sewers
- Lots of enteric diseases
- enteric diseases = diseases caused by unclean water
- Entirely preventable diseases, but not easily treated
- to prevent a disease = to ensure that a disease never infects people
- to treat someone / to treat a disease = to give treatment to people who are suffering from a disease
- to cure someone = to make a disease disappear completely, through treatment
- They find the sewer and they blow it up so the authorities have to replace it
- to blow something up = make something explode
- How did they blow it up? With a bomb? With some sticks of dynamite.
- a bomb = an explosive device
- sticks of dynamite = things that look a bit like candles but they explode because they’re made of nitroglycerine (not wax) and have a fuse (not a wick)
- It starts out with this man who starts out being incredibly idealistic and wanting to improve things and he gradually gets worn down by the system and ends up becoming one of these quacks who gets himself popular with people who have lots of money and treats them for things they haven’t really got, before he’s finally brought up short
- to start out = to start from the very beginning
- to be idealistic = to base your behaviour on certain ‘ideals’ or ‘principles’ even if it’s impractical or unrealistic. It’s a bit similar to ‘naive’.
- to get worn down by something = to become weaker because of difficult experiences over time
- a quack = a fake doctor
- to bring someone up short = to suddenly stop someone doing something, often with a surprise
- to be brought up short (passive version) = to suddenly be stopped (by something) in what you are doing, often with a surprise
- It’s quite moving = makes you feel a strong emotion
- There’s this character arc of this guy who starts out innocent and gets seduced by the money
- a character arc = a narrative or storyline for a particular character which changes from the start to the finish
- There’s lots of parallels (with today)
- parallels = similarities
- there’s a lot of parallels / there’re a lot of parallels
- It espouses socialist ideas
- to espouse something = to support it (usually a way of life)
- Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
- This one is very short. It’s a novella.
- a novella = a short novel
- It’s a tiny book but it contains a heck of a lot
- a heck of a lot (of something) = a lot (but emphasised with ‘a heck of’ – also ‘a hell of a lot’)
- It’s about class, it’s about post-traumatic stress after the First World War, it’s about families losing sons
- PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder = emotional distress or shock which continues in your life after experiencing extreme danger or stress. It’s common in soldiers who have experienced the shock of combat in war.
- If English is your second language it can be a bit of a slog sometimes to keep going (reading)
- a slog = a long, difficult and tiring experience
- The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway is a short book
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film) – it’s not really about spying (says Mark Kermode)
- The Adam Buxton Podcast (especially episodes with Louis Theroux)
- People say he (Louis Theroux) is faux naive. He comes across as innocent so he has to ask questions to find out what’s going on.
- to be faux naive = ‘fake’ naive – pretending to be naive
- to come across as something = to give an impression of something – e.g. he comes across as a really nice guy (he gives the impression of being a nice guy). Tom Cruise comes across as being a really friendly, fun and hardworking person. I wonder if he is like that in real life. I expect he is hardworking, but I wonder if he really is that friendly and fun all the time.
- He looks a bit dorky, goofy, geeky.
- All these are words to describe someone who is not cool. They’re very similar yet slightly different in meaning.
- dorky = unfashionable, awkward, not socially relaxed and laid back, a bit uptight and uncool.
- goofy = just a bit ridiculous, but also in appearance – perhaps with teeth that are sticking out or big glasses, big ears – ridiculous looking features. Think of Goofy from the Disney animations.
- geeky = interested (maybe obsessed) by things like computers, comics, science fiction rather than people. (Louis Theroux definitely isn’t a geek, but he comes across as geeky)
- He’s quite tall. He’s a bit gangly. His arms and legs are very long.
- gangly = a description of physical appearance – tall and thin with an awkward appearance and a clumsy manner
- He’s got this awkward Britishness.
- Awkward is a word that comes up a lot in my conversations. I often say that British people seem awkward, that I felt awkward in a situation, or that a particular situation was awkward. Louis Theroux can be described as having awkward Britishness.
- Awkward = uncomfortable, not completely relaxed and loose, a bit embarrassing, a bit shy
- Do you fancy him?
- to fancy someone = to find someone physically attractive, in a sexual way (but this is the sort of word that teenagers use)
- He’d spend time with all sorts of weird fringe groups
- fringe = edge
- fringe groups = groups that exist on the edge of society, e.g. cults, religious sects, conspiracy theorists, extremists etc
- His naive awkward English friendliness is very disarming and as a result people open up to him
- to be disarming (adj) = to make people less hostile or aggressive, perhaps by being charming.
- to open up (to someone) = to become more open and revealing with people, e.g. to start talking about personal things
- The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andrew Miller
- He’d lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure
- the knack of doing something = a particular and skillful way of doing something. E.g. There is a certain knack to closing the bedroom door silently in my flat. You have to pull the handle down, pull the door in slowly, let the handle go back and then pull the end of the handle until you hear a little ‘click’. There’s a knack to doing it. In this case, my dad has lost the knack of being able to read for pleasure. ‘to lose the knack of doing something’ is a common way to say that you have lost the specific ability to do a certain thing.
- Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (book)
- (It’s about) a doctor in the 1960s who was a junkie
- a junkie = a drug addict (especially heroin)
- It was a redemptive tale, a story of redemption
- to redeem yourself = to change from a life of sin/evil/immorality to a life of good
- redemption = the process of being redeemed
- a redemptive tale = a tale of redemption
- Trainspotting 2 (actually called T2: Trainspotting)
- They’re all addicted to heroin, and it’s really grim.
- grim (adj) = unpleasant and depressing
- It’s directed by… whatsisname, whatdoyoucallim, whojumaflip… Danny Boyle!
- these are all words for when you can’t remember someone’s name
- His style – it’s very in-your-face, intense, visceral…
- in-your-face = bold, direct, aggressive, assertive, intense
- visceral = relating to strong feelings, emotions
- I was streaming with tears by the end of it
- streaming with tears = tears were running (streaming) down her face
- Book: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (written in a dialect)
- When there’s no more time:
- The time is getting on and we really ought to draw it to a close
- We’ve run out of time
Those author, comedy, book, film and podcast recommendations again
- Alan Bennet (author)
- Victoria Wood (comedian)
- Beyond the Fringe (Comedy group)
- Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (LEP episode 172)
- The Citadel by A J Cronin (book)
- Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (book)
- The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway (book)
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (film)
- The Adam Buxton Podcast (especially episodes with Louis Theroux)
- Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (and other documentaries)
- Backlisted Podcast
- The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andrew Miller (book)
- Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (book)
- T2: Trainspotting (film)
- Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (book)
In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!
Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.
In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.
Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)
The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)
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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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)
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
Part 2 coming soon…
This is an episode all about the benefits of reading books and listening to audiobooks in English. It contains lots of advice for using books for improving your English, and several lists of recommended books too. Also, claim your free audiobook from Audible.com – read below for details.
[Download] [Audiobook Offer]This episode is sponsored by Audible.com – the website for downloadable audiobooks. Audible.com has over 150,000 audiobooks for you to download, from almost any genre imaginable. If you like books, and you like listening in English, why not try an audiobook from Audible.com. In fact you can use a special link on teacherluke.co.uk to claim a free audiobook from Audible.com today – that’s right Audible.com would like to give listeners to LEP one free audiobook each to download. Where’s the link for this Luke? On teacherluke.co.uk on the right side, scroll down a bit – there’s an image which says “Download a free audiobook today” – click that to go to Audibile.com for your free book. For more details just listen to the rest of this episode. But now, let’s get started!
This episode is all about books and how reading books can really improve your English. I’m going to give you some recommendations for books you can read, and also tell you about some of my personal favourite books.
Before we start properly, let me tell you about how to get your free audiobook.
How to Get Your Free Audiobook from Audible.com
Amazon have set me up as an ‘affiliate’ which means they would like me to promote their audiobook downloads from Audible.com from time to time. What they’re offering to listeners of LEP is the chance to download one audiobook free of charge from their massive online selection.
Here are some reasons why you should definitely do it:
– You get a free audiobook. That’s any book you like. It could be The Hobbit, it could be The Lord of the Rings, it could be a biography of John Lennon, it could be some Charles Dickens, it could be Stephen King, it could be Harry Potter, it could be Jane Austen, it could be David Crystal or even Stephen Fry. Just click the link and add your details – and you can have any book you want.
– “What’s the catch?” – well, the catch is that when you get your book you also sign up for monthly membership with Audible.com – but the cool thing is that you can cancel your membership immediately after downloading your book, and you don’t have to pay anything at all. There is no legal obligation to continue membership, or pay for anything. So, if you don’t mind just clicking a few buttons, you can get your free book. All I ask is that you do it by clicking this link on my website so I can get a small reward from Audible.com.
Here’s what you do, and this is going to take just a couple of minutes – go to teacherluke.co.uk and on the right side you’ll see a pic that says “download a free audiobook today” click that, then click “Get my free Audiobook”, enter your details (and don’t worry about entering card details here – it’s just like buying something from Amazon, it’s the same company as Amazon – it’s extremely secure, and they won’t get any money because you’re going to cancel your membership) complete your purchase of a 30 day free trial, browse Audible and choose your book, download it by clicking on ‘library’ then ‘my books’.
You can download an mp3 to iTunes, or choose a number of different options for your audiobook, such as an audible app for android and apple phones and tablets.
Then, to cancel your membership, follow these steps: At the top is says “Hi, Luke” (not Luke, but your name) – From that menu select account details, then on the left it says ‘cancel my membership’. At the bottom of the next page, choose a reason for cancelling and then click continue. On the next page click “Continue cancelling” and then do it again on the next page, then click “Finish cancelling” then eventually you will be cancelled and you can enjoy your audiobook free of charge, and you avoid paying for monthly membership in the future. It’s even easier if you have an Amazon account.
I just did it, right now, and bought “Revolution in the Head” by Ian MacDonald – which is a brilliant book about every single Beatles song ever recorded and features amazing insights into all of their work. The audio version is recorded by actors such as David Morrissey, who starred recently in The Walking Dead as The Governor – he’s actually an excellent British actor from Liverpool. It’s in my iTunes now and I can listen to it whenever I want. And just in case you were thinking that this is rather a complex process for basically some audio that you can download free somewhere else – let me remind you that this is a whole book, read out by top actors, in English of course. A whole book – that’s a massive amount of work that you can just get for free, and Audible is the world’s number 1 provider of audiobooks, so they have a very complete library to choose from. This one about the Beatles I just downloaded is about 12 hours long. I just got 12 hours of listening, absolutely free. I strongly recommend that you do it. It’s good for you because you get a free book, it’s good for Audible because they get some publicity, and it’s good for me because I get a little kickback from Audible – only a small kickback of course, but a man’s got to make a living somehow! Little bits of income like that help me to keep doing this free service for you, and I’m edging in the right direction. You could send me a donation, but this is quite a good alternative to doing that, and you get a whole book out of it too.
The book that you download free is worth about 15$ in fact, so I am basically giving you a $15 audiobook for free, and to get it you just have to click a few things. Imagine if I’d sent you a gift through the post but you had to pick it up from the post office? Walking to the post office would be a lot more inconvenient than just adding some details on the computer, downloading and then cancelling your membership! By the way, you don’t have to cancel your membership to Audible, you could keep the account open and download more books. If you do nothing, your account stays open and for about $15 a month you can download more books
Right, you might now be thinking of which book you would like to get. Well, let me go through a list of some recommended books for learners of English, some of my favourite books too, and here’s an idea – perhaps you could buy the book itself, and then get the audiobook version too – that way you can read and listen at the same time!
Also, I am sure that I have some voracious readers listening to this podcast and I am always very keen to get your input too. So please, if you have some good book recommendations then please mention them in the comments section.
The Benefits of Reading for your English
There’s a lot of academic research which shows that reading is really good for your English. It’s no real surprise that students who do extensive reading outside class, perform a lot better in tests. In a 1992 article in College ESL, “Let Them Read Books,” Martino and Block mention studies in which students who are in courses involving extensive reading perform better on reading tests than students who are in courses that deal mainly with skill-building strategies. So, that seems to mean that just doing lots and lots of reading is the best way to improve your English, rather than studying lots of different strategies about reading. It does reinforce what I’ve said about listening in the past. It’s the seven P’s: practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.
I’ve often noted over the years that the students who are reading books outside class are almost always the ones who progress much faster and get better test results. It’s the same case with podcasts and things. When I question my classes about their reading and listening habits, it’s always the great students who reveal that they have a novel in their bag, or some podcasts in their phone.
By reading books, you are fast-tracking English into your brain! Simply by reading and following a story, you are practising a number of key reading skills. Firstly, you’re having to deal with a number of unknown words, but you don’t let these individual words prevent you from losing the story or the general context of what’s happening. You have to just fill the blanks in what you understand, and usually that’s enough to keep you going with the story. What happens is that your mind creates unconscious strategies for dealing with new words. You start to guess the meaning of new words, especially if they are used again and again. It’s exactly the same as when we are children. I remember growing up that I would often come across new words, and I’d just have to carry on and work it out. The more I came across these words, the more the meaning would be defined – by a process of elimination really, until I’d have a good sense of the word. This still happens if I’m reading particularly old books with words that aren’t used any more.
Another skill is that you improve your spelling, although pronunciation is not directly developed by reading alone. You should listen and read at the same time for that – a lot of books have audiobook versions.
By reading a lot you’re exposing yourself to pages and pages of language, so that reinforces collocations, grammatical structures and other lexical patterns.
Also, you learn to detect differences in general meaning, attitude of the writer and so on. These are all reading skills tested in Cambridge exams.
If you read lots of well-written work you will, sooner or later, come across almost all the different communicative strategies which are used to perform all kinds of functions in English. Persuasion, tension, joy, description and so on – these will all be part of what you read. How can you really expect to be able to use a language, without actually knowing what that language is? You need to see and hear a lot of English in order to know exactly what you’re dealing with, and what you can equip yourself with.
It’s also just a pleasing and motivating process.
You know that feeling when you first start reading a book. Usually the first few pages are a bit tricky, and you feel like you’re not really into it, but there always comes a point with any book that you suddenly get gripped by it, and you can’t wait to continue reading. I love that moment, and I think you should look for that moment when reading a book in English. Imagine how motivating it could be to get that feeling with an English book.
Some students believe it’s not possible to read books in English and enjoy them, and so they don’t. But wait a minute – it definitely is possible. Are you not reading books in English for some reason? Wise up – open a book. You can read it. In fact, if someone asked me: “How do I read a whole book in English?” my answer: “Just keep going. Just read it!” You might surprise yourself and understand a lot of it and really enjoy it too!
I just love the whole atmosphere of a book. Just imagining that someone has spent so much time working on it, and it’s such an ancient form of art. It’s so personal, because only you are reading it, and it’s like a one to one with the writer, and yet you feel connected to the common mindset of everyone else who’s read it.
Listening to an audiobook can also be great because essentially someone is doing the tricky part of reading the words and is reciting it for you. Often the readers are great actors themselves, so it’s a bit like being a privileged king who has his books read to you by the best storytellers in the land. In fact, before books were written down, stories would have been told by word of mouth. So, listening to stories is an even more ancient tradition than reading.
The main thing is that you read a lot. That should be your main aim – just do a lot of reading.
Also, you should pick something that you really enjoy. According to experts like Stephen Krashen, the more you enjoy what you’re reading, the more you learn from it.
You do need to consider what kind of English you’ll be reading. Ideally, you want something which is in a neutral style/register, which contains some conversational English, normal every day English, up-to-date English and so on.
So, you’ll need to make your decision based on what will keep you reading, and what will be enjoyable.
In terms of length, choose a shorter book, just so you can get that satisfaction of finishing it and moving on to something else. Ploughing through a huge tome in English is likely to be a very long process, unless it’s a book you are particularly fascinated by.
So, choose short, engaging books that you’ll enjoy reading and which are written in a plain form of normal English. The main thing though is: a book that you’ll enjoy and that you’ll finish.
Here are some other tips:
Choose page turners & best sellers – books that encourage you to read at speed, desperate to get to the next page to find out what happens. You need something that will catch your attention and have a story that is easy to follow. So I do recommend that you read some popular novels by authors like Stephen King, Agatha Christie or even the Da Vinci code series. I don’t particularly like the Da Vinci Code books, but they are very easy to read and you can fly through them pretty quickly.
You need books with lots of action and a clear storyline. Again, page turners – mysteries, crime dramas and so on are good for this. I do consider Harry Potter to be a page turner.
Pick a book you know in your first language. This can prevent you from losing the plot and you can just focus on the language being used. In fact, why not read your favourite book in English. If it’s your favourite you will probably want to keep reading it, and you’ll know what happens so you’ll just be able to focus on the English.
Watch the film of the book, in English, then read the book. But watch out because they often change the books, like with the Hobbit series and other examples.
Read graphic novels. There are plenty of great graphic novels with intelligent stories and ideas. It can be a new way of reading, and you certainly fly through them quickly. I’ve added a few graphic novels to my list.
Watch out for the type of English being used. Some books set in the past will involve an outdated form of English, like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Tolkien – they tend to use an old-fashioned register. You might want to focus on something clear, modern and up to date. But then again it can be a lot of fun to explore different aspects of English. Generally, British writers in the 19th and 18th centuries wrote beautiful texts, and dialogue between people is particularly enjoyable.
Consider Penguin Readers. http://www.penguinreaders.com
Some books use lots of fantasy language, like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. Watch out for that.
Non-fiction can be a great alternative to fiction, and there are many very practical and useful books on a range of subjects. You could also choose the self-help sections, history or other specialist subjects. IN fact there are so many books about improving your life, your memory, your spending, your career – and they are often the most irresistible books you can read. They’re written in an incredibly direct and engaging manner, often because they are holding your attention in order to sell you an idea.
Biographies of people you respect can be very fascinating, especially auto-biographies, written by the people themselves. They are some of my favourite books. I love reading about musicians and the crazy lives they had.
I did mention earlier that you can guess unknown words by reading, but you can also actively study with a dictionary while reading. IN fact, there’s nothing stopping you from writing notes in the margins of books so that you can see them again next time you read it. Reading and checking words in a dictionary has been a tried and tested way of developing your English for years. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In fact, you may be able to improve on this method by using technology such as the Amazon Kindle.
I’ve talked about the Kindle before – about 4 years ago, when I ranted about how nobody really needs Kindles. I still agree basically with that point, but I do now see the value of Amazon Kindles for learners of English, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an Amazon Affiliate (I get no kickback from Kindle sales), but because it’s true. The Kindle has a built-in dictionary, so you can immediately look up new words when you find them.
I think you’ll find that as soon as you get drawn into the story, you’ll stop picking up the dictionary all the time and you’ll start guessing or ignoring unknown words.
Easier Books that Non-natives Can Read
The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Anything by Agatha Christie
Any James Bond books (Ian Fleming)
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
The film adaptation is worth seeing. It’s unusual and moving.
Just Good and Appropriate Books
Nick Hornby – I like High Fidelity (and there’s a film version) or indeed About A Boy.
Anything by Roald Dahl, like for example Fantastic Mr Fox, or a collection of his short stories. Revolting Rhymes is particularly fun as well.
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. It’s personal, it’s informal, it’s funny, there’s a film version, and girls tend to like it.
Animal Farm by George Orwell – it’s short and it’s brilliant.
The Beach by Alex Garland – it’s gripping if you’re into travelling
Non-Fiction & Biography
Watching The English – Kate Fox
Revolution in the Head – Ian McDonald
Freakonomics – by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The World According to Clarkson (if you can stand Jeremy Clarkson that is)
Mr Nice by Howard Marks
There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t go for some graphic novels.
There’s a great series of Sherlock Holmes cartoons which are really well made.
I find almost anything by Frank Miller to be great – especially the Sin City series or Batman Year One or Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. They don’t have to be superhero comics. There are plenty of comics for other topics.
For childish ones, I love Japanese manga, translated into English – The Dragonball and Dragonball Z series, or Dr Slump.
My Personal Favourite Books
These are just some books that I love. There are so many books that I have enjoyed over the years, and I can’t remember them all now, but here’s a selection of books which come to mind as I write this.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I read it when I was a teenager and it meant a lot to me then. I love the ‘unreliable narrator’ and the fact that this kid is lost. He’s also quite funny, but it’s sad and lonely at the same time. I love that version of New York – big and scary and a bit dangerous.
Lord of the Rings
Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
Keith Richards – Life
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Factotum by Charles Bukowski
All The Pretty Horses by Cormack McCarthy
The Road by Cormack McCarthy
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Fight by Norman Mailer
Miles by Miles Davis (but watch out because this one is written just like the way Miles used to speak – in a kind of dialect)
I’m also a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut- Slaughterhouse 5.
A website for e-books
The LEP forum thread about reading books
You can read novels in English, and you should. They provide tons of “comprehensible input” and if you believe in the studies of Stephen Krashen, this means you’ll be on the right track when it comes to acquiring some really great English.
Now, don’t forget – if you want to claim that free audiobook from Audible.com – just click this link
PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION!
An episode full of advice for those taking the IELTS test. [Download]
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.
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.
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) http://www.ielts.org/PDF/Guide_Teachers_2013.pdf
IELTS test samples – http://www.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 https://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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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. https://www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/test_sample/academic_writing_sample.aspx
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 http://juliaenglishinmanchester.blogspot.fr/2012/05/useful-language-for-ielts-writing-task.html and this link http://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.
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.
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.
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.
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.