One essential piece of language for IELTS writing and speaking is the language of comparison. Throughout the exam you have opportunities to compare and contrast and it is worth focussing on learning some variations: different ways of saying the same thing in order to help your lexical resource band score. In this article I look at why comparisons are so important in the speaking test and then show you some basic variations on how to use the variations.
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Why does comparison matter?
1. The compare questions
In part 1 of the speaking one common question is “Compare this with that”. Obviously, in this instance the examiner is looking for you to show that you are able to compare things accurately.
2. Extending your answer
What may be less obvious is that the language of comparison is one way of extending your answer in parts 1 and 3. Most people know that you shouldn’t give very short answers in the speaking test but sometimes it is hard to know how to say more. Here are a few examples which I have borrowed from the Goodluck IELTS speaking samples hometown questions. In each case note how I use a comparison to help extend the answer. It may take a little practice but it’s a good trick to learn.
As you read through, here are some other points to note:
- The different ways used to make comparisons – there is more to life than “-er than“. This sort of variation is excellent.
- How comparisons are made with the past and other places/countries. This often works well.
- Another useful comparison is the superlative (most/-est). Again this often works well and is quite easy to do with a bit of practice.
- The use of words like “much” and “bit” in the comparisons. They are small words but they make a real difference to your language.
- I don’t use many long words here at all and I repeat myself. This is spoken language and this is normal for real-time spoken language: the key is to communicate not necessarily to be super-accurate.
“What are the advantages of living in your hometown?”
The advantages? Well, for me it was where I was born and I love it. I don’t know if that’s an advantage. It’s not as rich as some other places but the people are really friendly. That’s certainly an advantage. You know if need to ask someone in the street a question, you can always do that. That’s a really big difference from places like London where people are much less friendly.
“Describe your hometown.”
“Well it isn’t a big place. In fact it’s pretty small if you compare it to one of the major cities. I guess it’s got a population of about 50,000 and it’s more of a town than a city. But there’s plenty of things to do there and you can find almost anything you want.
“Is it easy to travel around your hometown?”
I guess so. Certainly I’ve never had any problems travelling around it. But compared to a capital city there aren’t nearly so many means of transport. You know in Bucharest for example there’s the metro/underground, trams, trolley buses, buses and taxis, but we don’t have trolley buses here in Craiova.
“What is it known for?”
Oh. What is it known for? Let me see. It isn’t a particularly famous city. Not many people outside of Romania have heard of it. The football team Universitatea used to be pretty good and once got to the semi-finals of the UEFA cup. But that was a long time ago now. I suppose you could say Craiova is a bit like/similar to Swindon in the UK. It’s the sort of place travel through and don’t stop.
“What do people in your town do?”
There are all sorts of jobs and professions. Nowadays, more and more students at university are studying to become lawyers. In the old days in the past the most popular career was to be an engineer. Then the country was much more industrial and if you wanted to succeed that was the best choice. Nowadays, in contrast, as I was saying, people want to become lawyers or businessmen because that’s where the money is.
“What problems face your hometown?”
Oh, there are lots of them. At the moment there’s a bit of a national crisis. I’d say that the greatest problem is that the young people are leaving. They either go to the capital or try and live abroad. One reason they do this is that there’s a lot of unemployment and poverty. It’s really different from countries in the West – some people here have absolutely no money at all.
‘What languages are spoken in your hometown?”
Romanian of course. It’s our national language after all. There are still some Hungarian speakers but far fewer than in the past. A lot of the “native Hungarians” have left the country. But if you go to parts of Transylvannia you will find towns where Hungarian is much more common than Romanian. And quite a few of the young people speak good English and Spanish and Italian are also quite common. Though you won’t hear people speak them much in the street.
To learn how to do this, you need to practise. The simple suggestion here is to look at sample task 1 and task 3 speaking questions and see how you could extend your answer by comparing. The one extra point I would make is that you should try and vary the comparison language you use. The great danger is that you only use the most basic forms “er than” and “more than“.
To help you do this here is a download with some of the possible variations of compare, contrast, different and similar. Choose a group of questions and tick the box against the word/phrase when you use it. The goal is to use as many of the phrases as possible. Simple really.
Grammar or vocabulary?
One final note: I have used the title IELTS vocabulary, you might think that this is grammar. You wouldn’t be wrong as comparing is one of those areas where grammar and vocabulary meet.