Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

February 15, 2012

My IELTS Speaking Test is tomorrow – Can you help me TODAY?

This is a cry that I get often.  I really don’t understand why people leave it so late. Going over the exam procedure, making sure that you know what to do and when things are happening, checking the times etc.. is one thing you should do the night before, but trying to address the whole speaking test the night before or even in the days before the exam begs the question – should you even be doing the exam?

In actual fact my advice to students the night before their exam is (when they have checked the points mentioned above) to relax, watch a movie, read a book or magazine (in English) and go to bed early!

Frankly I would not be prepared to give this kind of last-minute coaching for two reasons. Firstly it wouldn’t be helpful and I don’t want anybody investing their time and money in something that isn’t going to help them to succeed and secondly, I have a feeling that if the result wasn’t the one wanted then I’d probably get the blame! So, my BIG message to all IELTS students in this post is please, please don’t leave things to the last-minute.

If you take a driving test do you get into the car the day before for the first time? Language is a skill the more you practice the better you get generally. Speaking is the most fundamental part of a language and you just need to find opportunities to practice. If you can’t speak well how on earth will you manage in your new country, your new job, or your new study? That’s what the IELTS is testing! Do you have the right level of English to succeed in the venture that you are embarking upon?

Your approach to preparation in the IELTS tells me a lot about how you will succeed. I meet students who are organised, who have a plan and who create a process for their learning and their preparation. They balance their general English practice with their IELTS test practice and know that it is impossible to get a good band without both. They are usually successful. I also meet students who keep on just ‘having a go’. This approach to the IELTS exam is VERY EXPENSIVE and will not guarantee you success. If you do not get exposure to English except via the Cambridge practice tests then getting a high band score is going to take a VERY long time and in some cases where a student’s English is not of a high level it will be impossible.

There are no short cuts. Either you have the language or not and no amount of IELTS practice can make up for a lack of good English language skills just as really great language may still not get you your score if you don’t prepare well for the exam itself.

So, particularly in the speaking, make sure you give yourself the best chance and start to practice as soon as you can and way before you go into the exam.

When it comes to speaking there is no substitute for actually doing it, getting out into the world and creating opportunities to use English with other people. These don’t have to be English native speakers – you can practice with other people who speak well or with other IELTS candidates who are looking for the same band score as you.

Yesterday I was speaking to Zakir from Pakistan. He is taking his test this week and he told me how in the last test he only scored a low score but wanted to get a 6 or 6.5 this time. His strategy for improving his score is to speak every day with a friend who is about the same level and they go through the test pretending one of them is the examiner and the other the IELTS candidate. They choose lots of topics and ask and answer the questions as if it were the real exam. They also take some time to chat as well. I was amazed at his level of fluency and confidence through using this simple technique to improve his speaking.  If you don’t have the chance to speak to a teacher, join a class or converse with English speakers then a simple arrangement like this will really help you to get some fluency and use your English.

On my Gapfillers site I encourage members to find speaking buddies – other members who are on the same IELTS journey who they can connect with on Skype in order to practise the speaking. I also run speaking workshops where we practise the test and talk about how to approach the speaking using practice exercises to improve performance. The speaking may only be a short part of the test but I really feel that it is one in which you can have a lot of influence over your score so it’s really worth making that extra effort to make it good!

So, here are some tips to improve your speaking:

  • Find speaking buddies to practise with
  • Record yourself – it’s good to hear how you sound and this will help you to hear where you hesitate or where your speaking might not be clear
  • Take any opportunity you can to speak – join a local English club or start one yourself! Look for an online one or start one yourself
  • Choose some topics write them on bits of paper, fold these up, put them in a container – everyday choose one at random and speak about it non-stop for 1 minute (then extend to 2 minutes) Choose some ‘silly’ topics like oranges or purple shoes etc.. if you can manage 2 minutes on this then the IELTS Part Two will not be a problem
  • Don’t stick to IELTS books go beyond this and just get out into the world to found opportunities if you have a wider experience then you will have much more to say in the IELTS exam
  • For pronunciation find recordings of poems or other short pieces and try to imitate the speakers – record yourself and compare

Finally, look at the video at the top of this post. There is a question at the very end. Make sure that YOUR answer is YES!

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

January 25, 2010

Improving IELTS Scores – part 3

Speaking and Listening

In my last 2 posts on IELTS I looked at ways in which you could improve your overall English language performance and more specifically Reading and Writing  in preparation for the IELTS examination.

Now I want to turn attention to the Speaking and Listening tasks on the exam. As with reading and writing, these two skills are linked. You can use language from your listening practice to help with your speaking. The more you practice the speaking the more you will be able to pick up on the listening.

  • Can you share examples of issues you have with either of these skills?
  • How have you been preparing for these papers?

If you have any suggestions, questions or problems then please share them.

Whenever you are listening to English if you find useful expressions and words write them down so that you can use them in your speaking.  Don’t restrict your practice to text books, IELTS or otherwise ,what you really need is exposure to authentic language.

  • Use what is around you- radio, music, TV
  • Eavesdropping on other people’s conversations (preferably people you don’t know, on the bus etc.. or use the internet) can be very useful – but make sure you do it surreptitiously!
  • Try to listen to a range of different topics and types of speaking (groups, interviews, talks etc..) this will help you with the different listening types in the exam and also give you information about topics for the speaking.

Approaches to the listening task

The thing you MUST do in the listening (and speaking) papers is concentrate. It is very easy to allow your mind to wander and drift away and thus miss an answer or main point.

  • Prepare ‘markers’  by going through the questions for the listening very carefully and underline keywords.
  • Use the information in the questions to anticipate what the content of the listening will be.
  • The keywords will help you locate the answers.
  • Listening for the keywords you have underlined will also tell you if you have missed a question.
  • Use the time given between tasks to prepare the next section – don’t go over questions you have missed!
  • If you miss a question go back at the end and use information you now have + common sense to choose an answer
  • Still don’t know? Then guess; you won’t lose anything and you might be right! 

During your practice don’t make everything a timed exercise. If you are good at spotting the correct answers you can easily practice speeding up the process. The important thing is to make sure your listening skills are good. Believe me even the most advanced students often produce bizarre answers which, when they consider with common sense, couldn’t possibly be right – skills first, speed later!!

See my post on improving listening skills

Try this listening exercise – You’re no-one of you’re not on twitter (a bit if fun)

Listen to this very short interview

Top Tip: use both common sense and instinct in selecting the answers – don’t spend too long making your choice.

Approaches to speaking:

The speaking test is completely under your control. The examiner will give you the topics and guidelines but you will drive the test.

  • Make sure you know what is expected – it isn’t just a chat.
  • Your preparation for the other papers should give you a wide range of topics with plenty of ideas and information that you can use in potential speaking topics.
  • Remember speed does not = fluency. Speak clearly and as accurately as you can you don’t need to rush (I am a native speaker but I speak quite slowly).
  • We don’t learn about these topics in my country isn’t a good excuse, you’re expected to have read about them in English – use the internet and read the news sites regularly.
  • As with your writing, give evidence for your statements and back this up with examples. Your answers need to be ’rounded’.
  • Go through lists of possible topics and ask yourself – Can I talk about this? If not then find out about it.

Practice is the key with everything and get as much exposure as you can. Find people you can practise with. Give each other feedback.

Read this case-study about one of my students and how he improved his speaking skills.

Top Tip: become an ‘English’ chatterbox!

So, preparation is the key element in improving your IELTS scores along with making sure that you concentrate on your language skills and not just the test!

Do you need help with your IELTS exam?

As a former IELTS examiner and with over 15 years of experience preparing and coaching people for the exam especially at Bands 7 and 8 I know what it takes to achieve these scores.

I work a lot with professionals (especially doctors) who need high band scores to move on with their careers.

Using my own Advanced English training site, Gapfillers and my own expertise in IELTS I can help you to get the score you are looking for.

Join my free IELTS Group in Gapfillers and get regular updates about preparing for the exam and also the chance to join in my teleseminars and seminars and all the other IELTS training opportunities I offer.

Joining is easy;  follow this link, register (it’s absolutely free), (don’t forget to tick the IELTS group button) and that’s it!

As soon as you register you will have access to my free 1-hour presentation THE TROUBLE WITH IELTS – the link is on the welcome page. Watch or download it, it’s your choice.

I hope to see you there 🙂

Sincerely,

Berni

Gapfillers

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