Saturday, June 7, 2008

Preparing for IELTS Speaking Test

In order to obtain a good score in the IELTS speaking test , you will need to demonstrate some key abilities with your spoken English. The examiner will be paying attention to your sentence structure, pronunciation, vocabulary choice, fluency and your ability to communicate clearly.
Thorough preparation is necessary to ensure your success on the day, as you do not want there to be any big surprises when you start the exam.

The IELTS speaking test is divided into three parts, and gets progressively more difficult in each section. Part one questions that you should practice are generally related to your hobbies and interests, your family, your studies/work , and familiar topics such as your home town and country. Remember that you may be asked about different times in your life, so you need to be able to express your answers in the correct tenses. This part of the test will last 4 - 5 minutes .

Part two is a little more challenging as you are expected to talk for one to two minutes on a topic that the examiner will give you. You are given one minute to prepare yourself and you are allowed to make notes. I strongly recommend that you practice note taking before the exam and time yourself so that you get very familiar with how many notes you can make in one minute. Taking notes will ensure that you stay on track when it comes to speaking and will also act as a prompt in case you dry up and can't think of what to say. The kinds of topics that might come up in part two are :

  • Food
    Technological items
  • Movies
  • Tourism in your country
  • Important historical events
  • Your favorite holiday destination
  • A teacher who has influenced you
  • A photograph
  • Describe a child that you know who is special to you
    Describe a special friend
The examiner will give you a card that has four points that you need to cover. At the end of your 1 -2 minute talk, the examiner will ask you a follow up question that simply requires a short answer from you. For example if you have been talking about your favorite restaurant, the examiner might ask you if they would enjoy eating there. You can just say something like, "Oh yes, I think so."

Part three is really a follow on from part two, but the examiner will be asking you questions related in some way to part two. Part three is more difficult to prepare for as you will be asked to give your opinion. For example, if part two was about a teacher who has influenced you, then part three might be based on education. The examiner might ask you how has education changed in your home country over the last 20 years. They may ask how education might change in the next decade. With questions of this nature you will need to be able to talk about the past as well as predicting what might happen in the future. The examiner might ask about the Internet and its relationship to education, or the training of teachers. So we can see that part three is broader and will test your English ability more deeply than parts one and two. You will need to be able to use modal verbs correctly, especially when giving your thoughts about possible changes in the future. Practice and revise modal verbs so that you are clear about the different meanings.

Part 3 gives you the chance to showcase your English language skills, by using a variety of vocabulary, correct sentence structure and fluency. Spend some time practicing speaking with a native speaker and have them correct any pronunciation problems you might have. Remember it is not necessary to speak perfectly, but you do want to make sure that your voice is clear and coherent, meaning that the examiner can understand you.

The best way to adequately prepare for the speaking part of the IELTS test is to make sure that you get plenty of practice talking. It is worth spending time preparing ideas on all the different topics that you can think of that might come up. With regards to part 2, record yourself talking for 1 - 2 minutes on these different topics. Make sure you can speak for this length of time without drying up. Avoid the tendency to make too many long pauses, or to say um and er too much!

In my IELTS preparation classes, I recommend that my students read a variety of materials, such as newspaper articles, magazine articles, novels, short stories and whatever else interests them. Reading a lot will increase your vocabulary and will expose you to sophisticated sentence structures. I also encourage my students to listen to good quality talk radio, such as NPR or the BBC and keep abreast of topical issues. That way you can try and weave this into part 3 answers. The more you know, the more you have to talk about. There are some very good websites that will help you with IELTS test preparation. One that I particularly like is

If you are in need of private tutoring for the IELTS test, please contact me. I am a qualified ESL tutor and have successfully coached many students for this test.

Special offer buy my ebook IELTS Speaking Test Made Easy for $5.99!
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ESL for Chinese speakers

A native speaker of Chinese may face many difficulties when learning ESL as the Chinese language is not closely related to English. In this post , I want to highlight some of the areas that may cause you some difficulties. I will give links to pages that can help you practice these topics.

Many Chinese learners of ESL may have difficulties with the correct use of articles since they do not exist in your own language. The correct use of a, an and the is very important in English and requires plenty of practice. For an excellent resource click here. You will probably benefit from some extra practice with prepositions. Many nationalities find prepositions confusing, as there are many exceptions to the rules. Even at advanced levels of ESL, prepositions can continue to be a problem. For further help with prepositions click here.

English is a stress timed language, with a rhythm and distinct beat that can be quite challenging for Chinese speakers. I strongly recommend that you spend enough time on this area, as it is remarkable how much improvement can be made with the correct use of stress, linking and correct intonation. I wrote an earlier blog detailing some of the things you can do to improve the overall sound and clarity of your voice. Please click here for further details.

There are certain sounds that are difficult for Chinese speakers to produce. Typically this will be the letters l and r. It is very important that you have your tongue placed in the correct position to ensure that the sound comes out correctly. The tongue needs to hit the top of the mouth behind the teeth to correctly sound l. For sounding r the tongue is toward the back of the mouth but should not touch the roof of the mouth. Please click here for tips on how to pronounce l and r correctly.

There may also be problems with the final sound on words. Remember to pronounce all the letters in a word, unless they are silent. Consider the following words : town, towel, tower. We can see that these are different words with different meanings, but often times Chinese speakers will pronounce just the first part of the word. Therefore these three different words sound the same. Pay special attention to this when speaking and you will be amazed at the improvements you will achieve.
Other sounds that may be difficult for you are the differences between ship and sheep. Please click here for further practice on these and other minimal pairs.

English is said to be an idiomatic language. To truly master the language it is a good idea to learn some of the more common idioms that native speakers use in their daily life. In an earlier blog I wrote about the importance of using idioms, please click here for further information. The main thing is to get plenty of opportunities speaking, so that you can practice all these different areas and gain more confidence. I have tutored many Chinese speakers and I make sure we get enough time to work on the sound and clarity of their speech. I am a qualified ESL tutor. If you need private tuition please contact me to discuss your learning needs.
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Hi, I am Yushi. I found the website through the internet and we began our lessons.
I am on a business trip to the US. At first ,I felt a little afraid of talking to people in English but after a few lessons, my spoken and listening skills improved very quickly. I can talk to my US colleagues in English now.
Thank you ! (Yushi, China)