Is this a listening or a speaking exercise? I’m not really sure. What I did was to put a microphone in front of Justin, one of my colleagues, and just ask him to speak about his hometown – in his natural English. Justin is one of the best communicators I know and I thought that it would be interesting for IELTS candidates to listen to a native speaker doing an IELTS task. Here are the results.
- You should focus on the question
- You can repeat yourself
- The best vocabulary is often quite simple
Task one – answering the question
I asked Justin to answer three part 1 IELTS questions. He gives three great answers. Part of his skill is to focus on the question directly and immediately. I believe this is simply “good technique”. Speaking is not exactly like writing in that you are allowed to add in extra things that aren’t in the question, but the examiner is still looking for an answer to a question.
Your task – listen and decide what questions was Justin answering?
You should see that each time Justin does the same thing – he focuses on the question immediately. But if you look at these extracts you will see that he changes how he does this:
Qu: What kind of place is your hometown?
Ans: What kind of place is it? Well – Halifax is a smallish city and by that I mean
(repeats the question using a direct question – this allows him a little time to think)
Qu: What do you dislike about your hometown?
Ans: One of the things that don’t really like or one of the things that I guess I dislike about living in Halifax is
(he hesitates here – I think he found it a harder question! What he does is to repeat the question in two different ways – “I don’t really like” – “I guess I dislike”. By doing this, he is allowing himself some more time to think, but his mouth is still moving and he is communicating to me.)
Qu: How will your hometown change in the future?
Ans: “Halifax is not likely to change at all in the future”
(This time he knows exactly what to say. Perhaps he is getting more confident! So what he does is give me an immediate and direct answer to the question.)
Task two – understanding repetition
Speaking is not like writing. In writing part of the skill is to say something once and well – you can do this because you have time to sit and think about the best form of words to use. Speaking in contrast is a real-time activity. We don’t always have time to say it perfectly first time, so what we do is go back and repeat it – to make our point more clearly. These extracts are a great model for this.
Your task – read and see the repetition
Question one - See the teacher repetition
What kind of place is it? Well – Halifax is a smallish city and by that I mean it only has about 450,000 people but it – feels like a big city – uh – it’s clean, it’s quiet – the people are friendly – it’s got great nightlife – and - Halifax is a port city so – along the waterfront – the area of the city that faces the ocean – there’s always something going on it’s very active – especially in the summertime.
What Justin does here is a “teacher trick”. He uses a long word that his students may not understand “waterfront” and then explains it in more simple language “the area of the city that faces the ocean’. Can you do this yourself? Yes. In reverse. You use the simple language first and then add the “big word” afterwards when you remember it.
Question two - See the idea repetition
One of the things that I don’t really like or one of the things that I guess I dislike about living in Halifax is that has a very – small town feel in that – sometimes there isn’t enough to do – especially in the winter time when its very cold or a lot of snow on the ground really the only thing to do is stay home – it’s a good place to grow up – it’s a good place to maybe retire but during the middle years and working years, there just isn’t really a lot to do and job opportunities are a little bit limited.
There are different types of repetition here. There is the way he repeats the question in two different ways and the way he repeats “it’s a good place” – both times he is allowing himself a little thinking time to get the right words.
The other form of repetition here is how he moves from “winter” to “cold” to “snow on the ground”. He starts off with a very simple word, then he repeats the idea once and twice until he gets to a nice phrase he is happy with: “snow on the ground”. The point is that we can repeat ideas and not just words. If you don’t say it right first time, keep going.
Question three - See the repetition for coherence
Halifax is not likely to change at all in the future – it’s a very historic city and – Canada likes to protect its history so – Halifax it may develop technologically – it may develop – maybe different kinds of infrastructure – we might get new roads or another bridge or – ferry service across the harbour but mostly the city will – stay – historic looking and keep the small town feel it has now.
There is more repetition here and again it works in a slightly different way. He starts off by saying Halifax is “historic” and then he repeats the word again at the end of his answer. This is great because it makes his answer coherent/complete – he is speaking in circles.
Task three – understand the language you need – it’s simple
Read through the language Justin uses. Are there any words you don’t understand? Perhaps “waterfront” and/or “infrastructure”, and that’s all I guess. This is Justin’s real language and it is a good model for your spoken English. You can still give great answers by using simple language well. When you are speaking, it can be a mistake to think that you need to use lots of “long words” to impress. Not necessarily so.
Some simple spoken language you might want to learn from here:
- smallish – -ish is, for me, stylish in spoken English (meaning “a little”)
- “just isn’t really” – both “just” and “really’ are little words that native speakers tend to use a lot to add meaning to what they say
- “by that I mean” – a really useful phrase for explaining
- “I guess I dislike” – “guess” is a great word we use to mean “think”
- “a little bit” – in writing you might want to go for “slightly” or “rather”; in speaking there is no problem with “a little bit” – it’s a phrase we use a lot.
- “at all” – another of those little spoken phrases that adds meaning. There is a difference between “it isn’t going to change” and “it isn’t likely to change at all”
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