Tag Archives: tips

560. Sarah Donnelly Returns – Writing jokes, public speaking, doing comedy in another language

Talking to comedian Sarah Donnelly about how she writes her jokes, advice on public speaking and how to avoid nerves and negative feelings, performing stand-up comedy in another language, and more. Sarah is a comedian and language teacher from the US,  now living in France.

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Introduction

Today I am talking to friend of the podcast, Sarah Donnelly.

It’s not the first time Sarah has been on this podcast, but it’s been quite a long time since she was in an episode on her own, I mean – as the only guest, not just alone. She wasn’t completely on her own in front of a microphone in an empty room, like “Umm, Luke? Hello? Is anyone here?” I was there too of course. I mean, without any other guests.

Mostly Sarah has been in episodes of this podcast with other people you see. Earlier this year I talked to her and Amber about their comedy show about becoming a Mum in France (episode 515), and before that she was in a couple of episodes with Amber & Paul (episodes 460 & 461) and she was in one with Sebastian Marx in which we discussed the 2016 Presidential Elections in the USA (388 & 389).

Sarah’s first appearance on the podcast was all the way back in 2013 (episodes 155 & 157).

You’ll hear us talk about that episode a little bit, and how Sarah felt about it.

Sarah is from the United States of America (I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it’s quite a famous country). She originally comes from North Carolina but also has lived and worked in Washington DC, which is where she first started performing stand up comedy.

Then in 2012 she moved to France – roughly at the same time as I did, after she met a French guy. Her story is not dissimilar to mine in fact, except for the differences.

Sarah is a primarily a comedian – she’s a stand-up and also a comedy writer. She performs on stage very regularly – as a solo stand up performer and also with Amber Minogue in their show Becoming Maman – which by the way happens every Thursday evening at 20:15 at Théâtre BO Saint Martin 75003 Paris. If you’re in town, check it out!

Sarah also works as an English teacher at university in Paris.

Our conversation covers quite a lot of things but mainly we talk about:

  • How Sarah writes jokes and comes up with material for her stand up comedy performances
  • Some tips for successful public speaking including how to deal with feelings of nervousness that you might have before you do a speech or performance, and any feelings of shame that you might experience if you feel like you didn’t do as well as you wanted – all the usual difficult feelings we experience when doing public speaking. Sarah’s been doing stand up comedy very regularly for years now, and also she has plenty of experience of talking to large groups of students as a teacher, so she knows a lot about speaking to audiences and has some good advice and experience to share.
  • Sarah is also a language learner – French in this case, and we talk about her experiences of performing comedy in French.

There are also the usual tangents and silly stories and things, but I think this conversation should be useful and relevant for anyone doing public speaking, or speaking publicly in another language, and it’s also just nice and fun to spend some time with Sarah. She brought some pumpkin pie for my wife and me, which was nice of her. Pumpkin pie is a bit of a tradition in the states at this time of year and it was delicious.

So then, without any further ado. Let’s get started.


Ending

So, don’t listen to the shame wizard! Don’t listen to those feelings of shame or embarrassment that we do feel from time to time. Try to ignore those voices. Switch it off if possible.

When you’re speaking English, or thinking about your English, the shame wizard might creep up on you and whisper negative thoughts in your ear, making you feel ashamed of yourself. But don’t listen to him. Tell him to get lost.

When you’ve got a presentation to do, the shame wizard might whisper in your ear that everyone thinks you’re rubbish and you have no right to do what you’re doing. Don’t listen to him, he’s LYING!

Good advice from Sarah there.

In the moments before your presentation, stretch out your arms, stand up, take up some space with your body – but don’t punch someone in the face accidentally of course.

Vocabulary

Language to describe stand up comedy, writing comedy and writing jokes

Parts of a stand up performance

A set = the whole performance from start to finish. E.g. “I did a 15 minute set last night” or “Did you see Sarah? She did a 30 minute set and it was hilarious.”

A bit = one part of a comedian’s set. It could be a story or just a series of jokes based on a particular premise. For example, “She did a whole bit about puberty, and it was funny because it was soooo true”

A joke = one single statement that is intended to make you laugh. It could be a line or a few lines. “Did Sarah do her chalk joke last night? Oh, man, I love that joke.” “Yeah she did, but I don’t think the audience knew what chalk was… But they laughed anyway!”

Parts of a joke

A joke can be broken down into parts.

The premise = the basic idea of a joke, the foundation of it. Like just the idea that it’s pretty weird that we used to use chalk all the time to write on blackboards, but now, younger people don’t even know what chalk is and essentially we used to write on rocks with other rocks, that was our technology, and it was a bit weird” (that’s a bit nebulous, I mean vague, but it’s a starting point – that’s a premise, just the general idea of a joke)

The set up = parts of a joke that set up the situation and put all the elements in place

The punchline = the funny line that, hopefully, makes people laugh.

The wording of a joke = the specific way the joke is worded – the specific construction of a joke. The wording of a joke can be very important in making it funny or not. Often if you believe the premise of the joke is funny, but audiences aren’t laughing at it, you just need to reconsider the wording of that joke. Once you’ve got the wording right, the joke might be more successful.

Other vocabulary for comedy

Material = all the jokes, bits and sets that a comedian has in his or her repertoire. “She’s got so much material, she could do several Netflix specials now.”
Tried and tested material = the material you’ve done lots of times. You know it well and you’re confident it should get laughs pretty much every time.

To improvise = to make things up on the spot without preparation

An open mic = the sort of comedy show you do when you first start out as a comedian. An open mic means anyone can perform. Often these “open mics” are good places to try out new material, but often the whole arrangement is not exactly “professional level show business”. It could be just in the back room of a bar with people coming and going and a generally sketchy atmosphere.


What about that whole Louis CK thing?

Didn’t Sarah open one of his shows in Paris recently?

Recently on the podcast I talked a bit about how disgraced comedian Louis CK had made a surprise visit to one of our comedy shows in Paris (Sebastian Marx’s show The New York Comedy Night to be exact) and Sarah was invited to be one of the other comedians on the show. It was quite a tricky decision for her. You’ll see that in the end we don’t talk about that in this episode, mainly because we ran out of time. But if you’d like to hear Sarah expressing her thoughts on that situation, then you can check out an episode of another podcast called The Europeans, which is a podcast about Europe and European life. Sarah was interviewed on that show and she talked about the whole situation very clearly. So, have a look. The name of the podcast is The Europeans, and she was in the episode from 20 November 2018. Her interview starts at about 23 minutes into the episode. There’s a link on the website as usual.

Listen to Sarah’s appearance on The Europeans podcast, talking about performing with Louis CK

Sarah’s appearance is at about 23:00


Videos & media mentioned in the conversation

The TED talk about body language


Big Mouth on Netflix

(Subtitles should be available for this trailer on YouTube)


More Vocabulary

Some more words that came up in the episode

a Nebula [noun] – a cloud of gas and dust in space

Nebulous [adjective] (this is the word I was looking for) – formless and vaguely defined

Puberty [noun] – the period during which adolescents reach sexual maturity and become capable of reproduction.
“the onset of puberty”

Shame [noun] = a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

Self-esteem  [noun] = confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.


Previous episodes with Sarah

515. Becoming “Maman” with Amber & Sarah – Bringing Up Children The French Way

460 Catching Up With Amber & Paul #6 (feat. Sarah Donnelly)

461. 25 Deceptively Difficult Questions (with Amber, Paul & Sarah)

388. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 1

389. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 2

155. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 1)

157. A Cup of Coffee with… Sarah Donnelly (Part 2)

487. Learning Languages and Adapting to New Cultures (with Ethan from RealLife English)

A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below. 

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A Summary of what Ethan said

How to adapt to a new culture

  • Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
  • Don’t just hang out with people from your country
  • You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
  • Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
  • Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
  • Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
  • Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result

Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own

  • Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
  • Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
  • He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
  • Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
  • Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
  • Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
  • Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
  • Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.

Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)

Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.

  • Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
  • You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
  • Three blocks from the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
  • I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not – I am used to going running there)
  • The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
  • We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
  • I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
  • A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
  • Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
  • Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
  • I moved back here (already) two months ago.
  • I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
  • Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
  • I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
  • Describing your background and your current situation 

    Describing your background

    You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
    Remember:
    Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence
    Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions
    Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
    E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
    Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
    E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
  • I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool.  (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
  • It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
  • It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
  • What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
  • The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
  • It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
  • I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
  • When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
  • It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
  • Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
  • We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
  • There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
  • It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
  • My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
  • I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
  • Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
  • We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
  • In the US you drive from city to city and you see endless expanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
  • That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
  • When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
  • I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
    Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
  • After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
  • I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
  • That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
  • After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.

Were you listening carefully? Test yourself.

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Did I mention this? I was recently interviewed on the RealLife English Podcast – you can listen to it here…

We talked about using comedy TV shows and humour in learning English. Check it out below.

RealLife Radio #161 – How to Be Funny in English (Special Guest: Luke’s English Podcast)

RealLife English – Links

RealLife English Global Website

RealLife English Podcast

487 pic

364. TEN TOP TIPS for Learning English

LEP is back after a two-week absence. This episode is about top tips for learning English. Here are some ideas about learning English that have occurred to me in the last couple of weeks of teaching intensive general English classes at school.

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So, how’s your English?

Remember to be responsible for your own learning. Nobody can learn for you.

It’s all about establishing habits for improving your English, and keeping up those habits.

TOP TIPS FOR LEARNING ENGLISH

  1. Watch movies and TV in English. This is what people always say, but it can work really well if you do it right. Here are some specific tips. Repeat watch a movie that you love in English. Watch it with subtitles in English. Then watch it again without the subtitles. Put your phone in front of the TV or computer and record the audio, then listen to it when you’re out and about. Quote some of the lines. Recreate parts of the film on your own. Go the extra distance and think outside the box.
  2. Find a book that you know quite well. Read it in English and also listen to the audiobook. You won’t mind repeating it because you love it. You already know the story, so now you can explore it in English. Imagine hearing all those lines in English again and again.
  3. Keep two notebooks. Go down to the stationery shop and buy two nice notebooks. The first one is for scribbling things down quickly and just keeping quick notes. The other one is where you keep an organised record of words and rules. Keep the first one with you when you’re watching, reading or listening to stuff in English, or when you’re in conversation on italki or something. The other one is going to be like your bible for English and you’re going to write it yourself.
  4. Use mnemonic devices to help you remember.
  5. Listen to my podcast! Listen to episodes more than once. You’ll find that specific things I say will stick in your mind. You’ll also find things funnier and funnier, I promise. Some of my episodes are designed mainly to make you laugh. You need rewards for understanding and learning a language, so let the funny moments be a reward in themselves. Enjoy the process of understanding what I’m saying, and getting the subtleties and nuances. Check out the page for each episode. You’ll often find words written there. Often the introduction or the whole episode is transcribed. You can use that to help you learn.
  6. Get a grammar book and do the exercises, then do them again a few months later. English Grammar in Use is still the best one. Even if you’re pretty good at English already, going through those pages systematically will iron out a lot of the fossilised errors you have. Then when you listen to English, read English or speak to people just try to notice some of the grammar you’ve been studying. Also, if you don’t understand some of the grammar – don’t worry about it, just carry on. The worst thing you can do is stop when you feel confused or frustrated. You don’t have to understand 100% of the grammar. Just understanding 70% is ok. Do your best to understand it all, but it gets pretty complex and abstract (not as much as most other languages). The main thing is: when you experience difficulty or resistance – the worst thing you can do is stop. Just keep going anyway! Work with what you have and make progress in little steps.
  7. Just keep yourself switched on at all times! Be mindful. Notice language and take opportunities to learn. Some learners of English are just not diligent enough. Every error is an opportunity to learn. Bit by bit, step by step.
  8. The pizza analogy.
  9. Enjoy the small victories. Every single positive moment in your learning should be celebrated. If you understand something fully – well done you. If you say exactly what you wanted to say – well done you. If you stopped making a fossilised error, well done you.
  10. Enjoy it! You only get one life. (deep and meaningful moment)

 

More episodes coming soon.

Thank you so much for your comments and messages. I’m sorry I can’t reply to them all.

Have a good day/night/evening/morning, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing!

:)

254. IELTS Tips & Tricks

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

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Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole test lasts just under 3 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scribble notes on the exam paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the answer sheet you might see:

“He wants to advance.”

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

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

On the answer sheet you might see:

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

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

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

Listen a lot!

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

There are no short cuts – just practice and positivity.

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

Time is the big challenge here.

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 minutes.

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

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

Part 2

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

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

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

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

You’ll probably write about 4 paragraphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make sure all these ideas are logically linked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worst thing you can do is be silent.

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

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

Part 2 (about 4 mins)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close the speech if possible, by saying one line.

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

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

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

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

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

Try recording yourself, if you can bear it.

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

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

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


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

My interview on the All Ears English Podcast

Hi everyone,

Today I am featured as a guest on the All Ears English podcast. In the episode you can hear me talking about comedy, humour and telling jokes in English. Click the picture to listen to the episode on the All Ears English website or use this embedded player.

Luke Episode 122-2

You might already know All Ears English. It’s a podcast produced by two American girls called Gabby & Lindsay. They’re both English teachers with lots of experience who also do a podcast for learners of English.

Recently I got a tweet from Lindsay asking if I would like to be interviewed for one of their episodes, and I was glad to accept. It’s fun to be featured on someone else’s podcast for a change. Also, it’s good to establish contact with other podcasters. It was pretty exciting to talk to the girls on Skype and find out how we have a lot of things in common even though we are from completely different countries. Because I am a comedian (as well as a teacher) they were interested in hearing my perspective on differences between British & American humour, and some of my tips on telling jokes in English. Of course, there’s a lot to say on that topic so it is something I plan to revisit fully on LEP.

Here’s a summary of my tips on how to tell jokes in English. As I said, I plan to revisit this subject fully on LEP as there is so much to say!

Luke’s advice on how to tell jokes in English:

  • Be careful about telling jokes in social situations
  • Know when it’s appropriate to tell a joke. Sometimes there might be an informal joke-telling situation with your friends. That’s a great time to try your joke.
  • Be careful about the subject of the joke. Don’t make jokes about race, age, weight, gender or sexual orientation (especially in the United States)
  • Try to tell a spontaneous joke rather than a preplanned joke. The joke is more of an attitude than a specific joke. Instead, develop an attitude that is funny and lighthearted.
  • Make sure that you know the joke well when you are telling the joke so that you don’t forget the punchline.
  • Keep it short and sweet.
  • It should sound natural.
  • Don’t laugh too much at your own joke.
  • Be prepared if your joke doesn’t work, but don’t worry about it too much.
  • Look out for more episodes on humour in social situations in the future!