You frequently need to talk about a person in IELTS and in this lesson I suggest different ways you can do this fluently. The keys are
using your preparation time
structuring your answer – with extended answers to each point
thinking about specific examples – concentrating on times and places
You’ll also ideas for how to extend answers to two common points you need to talk about – personality and relationships.
Using your preparation time
You have one minute to prepare before you start speaking. Almost certainly the most important thing that you can in this time is simply to decide who is the best person to talk about. It is almost always best to choose someone you know well as that way you’ll have more to say.
Also go through each point on the prompt card and think of ideas/examples you can use to explain each point. As I explain below it can help to think of specific times and places when you use examples.
Structure your answer – develop each point in turn
One useful idea is to structure your answer into different sections and speak about each aspect of the question in turn in a few sentences – developing the ideas as you go. This is a similar skill to part 1 speaking. The trick is not to give very short answers to each mini-question but to speak for around 20/30 seconds about each part. What you need to do is avoid giving very short answers such as “I have known her since high school”
A more advanced skill here is to clearly identify each point as you talk about it. This will help the examiner follow what you are saying – and there are points for being able to structure your talk.
Think specific examples – add time and place details
A great way to say more about people is to give examples from their life or your relationship – this is one of things you can think about in your preparation time.
The general idea is that if you say someone is kind, then you should give an example of their kindness. But when you give examples it helps to think of precise times and places and add detail to your answer. Look at how much more language I use in the second example below. It’s a naturally fluent answer that explains her kindness – I get to it simply by thinking of a precise time and place.
She’s an extremely kind person because she’s always willing to help people with problems
much better example
She’s an extremely kind person because she’s always willing to help people with their problems. I remember a time when I had broken up with my girlfriend just after leaving university and I needed someone to talk to about my emotions. And even though I wasn’t great company Anna would invite me around to her place and sit and listen to me for hours on end over a cup of tea .
To make this work you need to able to introduce your memories. You can do this by using standard example language or by using phrases like these
I remember a time when
Let me tell you about when
I can explain this by telling you about how
One time she helped me was
Who they are/character questions
A typical mini-question you may get will ask you to say who they are or what their personal qualities are. These can be tricky because it’s easy just to answer them in a few phrases and say something like “I’m going to tell you about my mum who’s a very kind person”. Here are some ways you can avoid that trap:
talk about their past/achievements/job
You can talk about what they have done in the past. Give a little cv/resume. You can talk a little about their work for instance. This is useful not least because it often allows you to use different tenses. Look at the tenses in the example below:
I’m going to tell you about my father. He’s a lawyer and has worked for the same law firm in Shanghai for around 20 years now. I think he joined that firm straight out of university and he’s now one of the senior partners there. He doesn’t talk much about his work but I do know he specialises in intellectual property and copyright law.
how they spend their time/their interests
You can also of course talk a little bit about how they spend their spare time and way they are interested in
Sam is one of my closest friends. We’ve got a lot in common and like to do much the same things in our spare time. But Sam has one interest that I don’t really share – he’s mad about sci-fi. He can tell you all about every character in Star Wars – even the minor ones that don’t have speaking roles. He really is a bit obsessive like that. I find it quite an attractive quality!
compare them with other people
Something else that is quite natural to to is to compare them to other people. This is something we do in conversation all the time. If you do this it can also help the range of grammar you use by adding comparisons in:
I’m going to tell you about my high school maths teacher. I think she’s the teacher I admire the most because she is such a great communicator. A lot of my other teachers at school would give us lectures in our lessons and we would just have to sit there and take notes. But Andreas – my maths teacher – was quite different. He would talk to us as individuals and make certain that we understood what he was saying. Unlike the others he would also listen to us and make us feel we were part of the learning process.
contrast different parts of their character
Most people are complex! If you are talking about a person it can help to think about different parts of their personality.
I’m going to tell you about Francisco. He’s one of the most sociable people I know and has a really wide circle of friends and he always seems to be at some party out other. But that’s only part of his personality and when you get to know him a little better you find out that there’s another side to him too – he can be really rather serious and academic and likes to talk about the great Russian novelists and not just the latest fashion trend.
Sometimes the question may ask you to talk about your relationship to the person or how you know them. Again it is possible to answer this very briefly by saying something like “I’ve known her since primary school”. But what you should try and do is expand that answer. See the difference in the two answers below:
Petra is my best friend and I’ve known her since primary school
much better example
Petra is my best friend and I’ve known her since primary school. But while we’ve known each other almost all out lives there’ve been times when we haven’t been quite so close. When we went to uni we studied different courses and developed slightly different friendship groups and she’d go out with her new friends and talk about architecture with them. But we stayed in contact and every time we met we would pick up from where we left off. And it’s the same now that we are both in relationships – we chat on the phone all the time but we don’t actually see each other that often.
Here are some ideas to help you do that. You can think about:
when you first met
the last time you saw each other
how long you have known each other
changes in your relationship
what you do together
how often you see each other
How to practise the skills here
30 seconds first
One way to practise the skills I suggest here is not to do a complete 2 minute speaking turn but learn how to speak for 20/30 seconds on each point on the cue card. Here’s possible exercise. Look at these topics/people. Think about a different person for each one and in 30 seconds describe who they are/their qualities. Then try and speak for 30 seconds about how you know them. Each time use examples
a creative person
a good communicator
then 2 minutes
Then you can speak for 2 minutes using some of the cue cards you will find here. It can help to record yourself as you speak.
Other lessons to help you
If you are looking for words and phrases to describe character then this lesson can help