IELTS Speaking: improve your vocabulary

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Here is some suggestions from John, and ex-examiner from Australia, about IELTS Speaking vocabulary.

Improving your Vocabulary

  • Bands 7 & 8 speakers can use idiomatic phrases quite well. Phrasal verbs  (sometimes called 'two-word verbs') are especially good examples of idiomatic phrases. Some examples of these are: 'look after' somebody; 'come up against' difficulties; 'look forward to' something in the future. Even if you believe you are a Band 5 level English speaker, try to increase your knowledge of phrasal verbs.

  • You should especially increase your knowledge of adjectives to describe feelings, such as: disappointed, embarrassed, fascinated, annoyed, inspired, thrilled, exhilarated, overwhelmed, delighted, disillusioned, astonished, appalled, mystified, relieved …
  • You should increase you knowledge of adjectives to describe people's personal qualities: talented, ambitious, co-operative, aggressive, driven, warm-hearted, open-minded, even-tempered, easy-going, analytical, introverted, extroverted, outgoing, empathetic, creative, imaginative, loquacious, philosophical, sophisticated, naïve, loyal, trustworthy, determined, motivated, persistent, goal-oriented …
  • You should increase your knowledge of adverbs. These can often be used to begin sentences as well as in the middle of sentences. Adverbs greatly help to add precision to the meaning that you express. Many adverbs end in '…ly'. Some examples are: hopefully, strangely, luckily, unfortunately, usually, rarely, frankly, seriously, actually, certainly, definitely, surely, probably, possibly, scarcely, hardly, barely, frequently, normally, absolutely, entirely, perfectly, virtually, merely, simply, distinctly, specifically, substantially, exactly, vividly, explicitly, consistently, reluctantly, deliberately, accidentally, (e)specially, personally, drastically, slightly, positively, moderately, fairly, utterly, apparently, theoretically, realistically, obviously, roughly, approximately, logically, typically, thoroughly, considerably, significantly, ultimately  …
  • Learn words that describe different types (categories) of: films; TV programs; music; foods; buildings; landscapes; clothes; climate etc.
  • It is best to avoid using proverbs, especially those proverbs that are overused in China such as: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". "Every coin has two sides" and "No pain, no gain.", which is not really a proverb but just a common saying. These proverbs usually fail to impress IELTS examiners, even when spoken in a suitable context and spoken correctly. The reasons why they usually fail to impress are these:  they remind examiners of overly rehearsed answers and/or answers that were learned from the model answers in some IELTS books; and they often seem to be just a shortcut to explaining your meaning when the examiner really wants to see how well you can express meaning in everyday sentences.
  • Learn some of the vocabulary needed to talk about computers and the internet.
  • Using those 'IELTS vocabulary' books is good but it is best to use a book that has both examples and recordings of a native speaker reading these examples or at least pronouncing the key new vocabulary.
  • Although many of these books are good, you should not only use these to improve your vocabulary because these books tend to focus on words in isolation, which is a little unnatural. In other words, you don't really see how and when these words are used in these books, even if they have an example sentence. (See the next point, wide reading.)
  • You definitely should be very careful about learning new words from simple lists of words that just have English words and their translations in your first language. People who learn a lot of new words this way often use words incorrectly (or inappropriately) in the Speaking test. (Of course, learning simple words from lists such as: 'refrigerator' and 'jog' should be no problem but learning more abstract and more complex words require good examples of usage.) If you don't use words correctly or suitably in the speaking test, it will damage your score – the examiner won't give you vocabulary points just for showing that you know an impressive word if you don't use it correctly. This is because when you use a word incorrectly the examiner might not clearly understand what you mean, resulting in a communication breakdown. Remember, (clear) communication is 'Number 1' in the IELTS Speaking test. It would be better for you to use a simple word and to communicate clearly than to use an 'impressive' word that results in poor communication. Yes, it is good to learn 'impressive' new words but try to make sure you know the correct usage, when it is suitable to use this word (e.g., in writing or in speaking or both) and, of course, the correct pronunciation.

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