This is for anyone who is working without a teacher and needs to improve their IELTS speaking. It really can help to have an online study partner, but you do need to go about it the right way. What you’ll find here are:
- some practical study tips
- suggestions for practice
These are just general tips for now, I’ll be posting other lessons with language and questions to work through.
How it can work
Having a study partner can work in different ways. The basic idea is that it allows you to share:
share studying ideas: not all problems with IELTS are about language. Many problems can come from how you study for it. Teachers (like me) have their own ideas, but very often the most useful ideas come from people in the same situation as you. So I suggest you make time for a little general discussion about how study for each paper. You can learn from each other here.
share language and that means listening to each other: don’t try and speak all the time even if you live somewhere where you don’t get to speak English every day. You can learn lots from listening to your partner. Further below I suggest that you take it turns to speak for different lengths of time. This allows you to borrow language from each other, but you do first need to be listening for that language. It’s not a bad idea to make notes as you listen. If you both agree to it, you can also decide to record each other.
share ideas and strategies: you can also borrow ideas from each other to discuss topics. What may be even more helpful is to listen for how your partner speaks not just what she/he says. By this I mean listening for example to when they give an opinion: is it at the start or at the end? Do they use examples from their own life? These are strategies you can borrow too.
The key idea here is that learning happens best when you prepare well. So just as you should do your home work before a lesson, so you should before you sit down with a study partner. This is what you might do:
make a list of problems: these might be difficult topics or just words you don’t understand. Even if you partner is at the same level as you, he/she might well have the answer
decide what you want to talk about: it’s good to chat (there’s plenty to learn from that), but you will feel much better and want to keep on working if you go away knowing that you have achieved something. You will do that if you start off with a list/agenda which you work through. It’s not a bad idea to email each other a list of questions you want to discuss.
pick a good time to work and close the door: think of this as work. So make sure that you find a time that is convenient for both of you, but also a time when you won’t be distracted.
get the technology right: there are alternatives but Skype is probably the best. Do test your connection first!
Correcting each other
You should agree before you start on what you want to do here. You won’t of course hear all the mistakes – but then examiners don’t either. You can still hear enough to help each other out. What you need to do is decide whether you are going to wait until other person has finished or interrupt them. Both can work – you just need to make sure you are both happy about how you want to to do it.
Do remember that speaking is about fluency as well as accuracy. So don’t feel that you have to speak without mistakes, the ability to keep going is just as important.
Do I have to mention that you need to be sensitive? I guess not.
Discuss don’t just speak
You can use your time together to discuss topics and not “do the practice” and you should also find time to discuss after you practice – i.e. have a feedback time. You will want to vary your routine – as it gets boring to do the same thing all the time, but this is a good basic pattern:
this is the question – here are some words I want to use – do you have any more? – what about ideas?
discuss the question again and what language you used/heard and then try it again
The benefit of a pattern like this is that it helps you share words and ideas and that is what it is all about,
The basic idea is don’t just do test simulations: practice tests are good of course, but they are not certainly not the only way to prepare. Here are some practical and very simple ideas students working together can use:
part 1 – find out as much possible as you can about your partner: this will help you work together but you should see that the questions in part 1 are exactly the sort of questions you ask when you meet someone new and want to get to know them. All you really need to do is be interested in them and want to know about them. You will find that you will naturally ask and answer the type of questions you get in part 1. Real life can be great practice for the test – the more you can treat the test as real life, the better it will go.
part 2 – try speaking for different times: an extremely good exercise is to try to speak for different lengths of time about the same topic. You should try the same topic a few times – repetition is good. The problem is that repetition is also boring. The idea is that you start off by speaking for 30 seconds. Swap roles. Then speak for 1 minute. swap roles. Then for one and a half minutes. Swap roles etc. What you will find is that this is quite fun (and that’s good) and you also start borrowing ideas and language from each other more – which is the idea of having a study partner.
part 3- forget speaking topics and talk about essays: it can become boring just to do speaking all the time or for too long. A very sensible alternative is to discuss the ideas you would use in IELTS essays. The language you use for discussing these ideas should be very similar to part 3 speaking. It may also help your writing and speaking if you get used to a pattern of:
this is what I think
this is why I think it
here’s an example
This is one the basic patterns of coherence and it works in more or less the same in speaking as in writing.
The language to practise – not just topic vocabulary
In a way this is also part of preparation. It’s a good idea to agree a few days before on what you want to do together. This will allow you to research and think about the language you want to practise. Remember that some of the most effective language is language that you can use all the time, for example opinion language. Some quick ideas here for you are:
ways to sum up what you meant to say
ways to start an answer
how to say that you made a mistake
talking about time
One practical tool that may help is a sheet like one of these. You can make for yourselves very easily. All you need to do is tick whenever you hear a word or phrase. It can show you which words you use to much and also help you use more variation.Comparison vocabulary for IELTS speaking (27488) Opinion vocabulary for speaking - forced drill (2240) How to answer harder question vocabulary (65656)
A footnote on the speaking group here
Sadly, it is no longer here! While it was successful (350 members), the groups section of the site just attracted too much spam and threatened the security of the site. I will, however, be replacing it and much of the forum section very soon. I hope that way to continue to put learners in contact with each other.