When you are studying for IELTS, it is sensible to concentrate on language that will be most useful in the test. Here is a suggestion for you: study the language of problems. This is a very important area of language because almost every IELTS essay task will ask you to write about a problem. It’s not just in “problem/solution” essays you need problem vocabulary.
In this lesson you’ll find lots of help with this problem vocabulary and a series of exercises to practise your skills on.
What words do you need?
This will depend on your target band score but you will need variety in these areas
- nouns: variations of the word problem
- adjectives: how to describe problems
- verbs: what to do with problems
You wan to try and avoid repeating words unnecessarily so this means you want some similar words that you can use instead of problem. Here are two ideas:
issue: Truancy is a major issue in many inner city areas and it needs to be dealt with
question: How to bring back community spirit to out cities is a complex question
Phrases and collocations
You’ll also need to be able to use these words accurately in word combinations (collocations) such as
face a problem
address a problem
You’ll see below that I help you with this by giving you examples of phrases in use.
How big is the problem? Some adjectives
It is always useful to describe the scale of the problem. Not all problem are equal. Here are some key adjectives to help you
significant: A significant problem that many countries face today is falling birth rates
fundamental: Unemployment is not a minor issue, rather it is a fundamental problem that the government needs to resolve.
real: A very real difficulty in many households is rising fuel bills.
minor: In my view, global warning is only a minor problem.
pressing: This is a pressing problem that needs to be dealt with urgently.
serious: Of course, climate change is a serious issue that must be addressed immediately.
complex: The level of divorce is a complex issue and there is no easy solution to it.
What problems do. Some verbs
pose: The number of cars on the road poses a serious problem with regard to pollution.
create: While the use of IT in education has brought many benefits, it has also created a new set of problems.
face: How to combine work with having children is a problem facing many women
What can be done? Some more verbs
Another set of language you need is what can be done about problems. For this you need some verbs:
address Of course, global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed
deal with The government need to deal with the problem of carbon emissions as a matter of urgency
tackle The nuclear industry needs to tackle the issue of long-term safety in their plants
experience Many students who go to student abroad experience difficulties in adapting to their new learning environment
resolve/find a solution to The first step must be to find a solution to the problem of overcrowding in our cities
respond to It is imperative that employers respond to the problems facing young graduates who are looking for work
What about solutions?
Of course a closely related group of words relates to solutions to problems. Here are some ideas for you:
offer/provide a solution to: New forms of renewable energy may offer a solution to this issue of our dependence on fossil fuels.
(find an) answer: One answer to the rise in youth crime is to improve social education in schools
remedy the situation; It is very important that the government tries to remedy this situation as a matter of urgency
Try some idioms too
You can use idioms when you write. You just need to use the right ones. Here are some that can work in your IELTS essay writing. You should note that many of them come from the idea of health
the root of the problem – this is where the problem starts
be a headache for – this is a minor but nagging problem
be unhealthy – if something is unhealthy, it is sick and a problem. You can use this idiom
a remedy for – a remedy is a cure for an illness, it can also be used more generally as a solution to a problem
to recover – you recover from an illness and the economy is also said to recover. Don’t use this idiom more generally
the heart of society – if something is at the heart of something it is vital. Use this as a set phrase – don’t try and vary it
How can you learn these phrases?
There is no one answer to this question but here are one or two suggestions:
- do not try to learn too much at once: if you do, you may become confused
- do not learn words by themselves, learn them in combinations as that is how you need to use them
- try to use the phrases for yourself by using them to describe problems you know about
- use a dictionary to look at examples: examples are often much more useful than definitions
If you are looking for some quick online practice in how to use problem language, you can try my interactive online exercise
More practice – IELTS essay introductions
One place you may need this vocabulary is in the introduction to your IELTS essay. In the introduction you need to state what the problem/issue behind the task is. You should also use your own words for this and not just repeat the wording of the question. Here is a sample IELTS essay question:
The idea of having a single career is becoming an old fashioned one. The new fashion will be to have several careers or ways of earning money and further education will be something that continues throughout life. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
What is the problem/issue behind this question? Can you rewrite the question in your own words using some “problem” language?.
See a possible answer
One complex question nowadays is whether people will only have one career or move from job to job and continue to study throughout their working lives.
I have lots more vocabulary help and exercises here