This lesson is about using detail to make sure you say enough in part 2 speaking. In addition to sample MP3s on a part 2 cue card, you will find advice on how to extend your answer and use better and more precise vocabulary by thinking about detail and how to tell a story. It should be particularly useful for candidates with a reasonable range of English who sometimes find that they run out of things to say from the cue card.
Three key points
1. You can say more than the cue card asks
The first to realise is that you do not have to restrict yourself to speaking only about what the cue card asks. For example, if it asks to talk about “when” something happened, you can talk about that time generally and not just give the date.
2. The more detail you add, the better language you use
If you add detail, both your grammar and vocabulary will improve. This is because detail allows you to use much more specific vocabulary and use more complex grammatical structures. To understand how this works look at the following examples.
3. Make it personal – use your memories -see the examiner as your friend in a bar
The part 2 talk is not a presentation. You are talking to someone about your personal memories and ideas. You need to see the examiner as a friend you are talking to but haven’t seen for some time. You are at a coffee shop (or bar or pub depending on your culture) and you are just talking to them about what you think/remember. The more personal you make it, the more likely you are to find things to say – everyone has memories.
Sample cue card
Describe a wedding you attended
You should say
when it was
who got married
what happened at the wedding
And explain whether it was a typical wedding ceremony
Adding detail to “when” questions
The key here is not just to answer in one phrase, you are using almost no language here.
“It was 5 years ago”
The first step is simply to add details of season/time of week/time of day, at least this way you get to use more language.
“It was around 5 years ago in the middle of the winter”
The next step is to add detail about that season/time of week/time of day. As you do this, think about how you felt, what did it look like, what else was happening at the same time. Don’t just think about time.
“It was around 5 years ago in February. I think it was towards the end of the month. The weather was certainly extremely cold and everyone was wearing their warmest clothing.”
Listen to my sample and read the notes[audio:http://www.dcielts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Adding-detail-1.mp3|titles=Adding detail 1]
I don’t remember the exact date of the wedding but it did take place sometime in winter – that much I do remember because it had been a particularly hard winter that year and when the bride came out of the church there was snow all over the ground and that made it a white wedding in more ways than one.
Don’t be over precise
I don’t remember the exact date and sometime in winter: the trick here is not to be too precise. If you start by saying it was February 15, there is less to say. This way you allow yourself to carry on speaking about the winter in general.
Think about weather
a particularly hard winter: this is excellent precise language
Think visually – see the background
snow all over the ground: more precise language. If you try and see a picture, you are more likely to find details to add
Adding detail to “who” questions
Again, the too simple answer is one phrase – you are using very little and very uninteresting language this way:
“My best friend from university.”
One detail to add is your relationship to this person. How did you meet them? How long have you known them?
“My best friend from university. I first met her because we were studying the same course and went to the same lectures.”
More detail is possible if you think about what you have done together or why you like them as a person.
“My best friend from university. We first met at university because we were studying the same course and then we found that we had a lot in common as we both were fascinated by art.”
Listen to my sample and read the notes[audio:http://www.dcielts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Adding-detail-2.mp3|titles=Adding detail 2]
The bride was my best friend from university, we met on our first day there together. We got to know each other quite well because we were studying the same subject a passion for the cinema, being film buffs. And we used to go and see movies together quite regularly. Her husband, the groom, I didn’t know at the time but I’ve got to know him much better later on.
Speak about your relationship – use different tenses
because we were studying/we used to go/I’ve got to know. By adding to detail to the relationship, I allow myself to use more complex grammar by using different tenses for the different times and activities of our relationship.
Think about what you do together or have in common
a passion for the cinema, being film buffs and watch movies together: by adding adetail about your relationship you can talk about your activities and interests and this allows you to use excellent topic vocabulary
Adding detail to “what happened” questions
This time the “mistake” is just to say what happened: on thing after another using the simple past.
“We got to the church at 10 o’clock. Then we had to wait a little time for bride to arrive….
Things to think about here are:
- what happened before and after
- seeing what other people were doing
If you do this, you should use more variety of tenses and better grammar:
“We had to wait at the church for about 2o minutes before the bride arrived. While we were waiting, I was thinking about the speech I would have to give at the reception party.”
[audio:http://www.dcielts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Adding-detail-3.mp3|titles=Adding detail 3]” We had to wait a t the church for about 20 minutes before the bride arrived. While we were waiting, I was thinking about the speech I would have to give at the reception party. I
What happened at the wedding itself? It was quite a regular ceremony I suppose. The one detail I remember is the best man, who was also a friend of mine, turned to the bridegroom just before the service and said that he had forgotten the ring and asked if that was okay. The bridegroom was absolutely horrified, but his friend, the best man, was just joking.
Talk about what you remember
The one detail I remember is: This is an excellent phrase to learn. The idea is to talk about your personal memories and simply by using this phrase you allow yourself to speak about details.
Remember what people said – use indirect speech
said that he had forgotten the ring and asked if that was okay. This is a classic story-telling trick as nearly all the best stories contain some dialogue. In IELTS this works because it allows you to use more complex grammar and change your tenses
Think about how people felt
The bridegroom was absolutely horrified. One more detail you can add is about how other people felt. This is one more opportunity to use some specific vocabulary.
Practice suggestion – learn the skill
Don’t practise speaking for 2 minutes about the whole cue card. Rather what you should do is what I have done here: speak for 20 seconds or so about each of the first 3 points on the cue card one by one.
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