Language is the noblest invention ever made by the human being. In the modern world where every discussion is arranged under the umbrella of politics or religion, language alone can bind the true spirit of humanity. How to use language properly is a great challenge and it is a fact that language cannot be taught but experienced. So once the ‘experience aspect’ is delivered, learning a language can be easier and interesting. The answer to how can the ‘experience component’ is provided to a language learner is solved by teaching him/her how to love a language especially a language which has many components to be loved. Here comes the relevance of English language – ‘the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven.’ So the mantra to learn any language is to love it, be pure in your approach towards a language.
‘God wove a web of loveliness of clouds and stars and birds, But made not anything at all so beautiful as words’ Anna H. Branch
The basic unit of any language is word or vocabulary. Every person has two types of vocabulary: one is active which the person uses on a daily basis, the other one is passive which the person knows but never uses. Every word in English gets its meaning only in the context so learning words on a situational basis will be highly effective. Try to establish an emotional relationship with every word so that it will be printed in your subconscious mind forever. For instance, there is a word called ‘lackadaisical’ which seems to generate no interest at all. Here if we analyse the word meaning from dictionary and provide an emotional meaning like ‘lack of seriousness’, it will be registered in the mind forever.
The problems with English words are spelling and pronunciation. Since English is a non phonetic language, every new word should be treated carefully. Don’t utter a new word until you confirm its pronunciation.
Words alone do not serve any purpose. Next point is organizing the words in an order where it gets a sense. Assigning each word a role is a good idea but this may distract a person who is new to English language. The word grammar holds value now onwards. The very name ‘grammar’ disturbs many people, but it is basically an unnecessary fear only. Grammar to a language is like steering to a vehicle only-giving proper direction. The improper use of words will result in a wrong communication, so have a positive relationship with grammar. There are not many tools required in English grammar. The following tools should be clearly understood: Noun, verb, adjective, there + be, it + be, tenses and helping verbs.
Once the basic sentence structures are clear, it is time to analyse the advanced word structures by understanding question types, conditions, passive voice, reporting and joining words.
Every English lover should be familiar with the question types namely Yes/No and W/H. Higher level English language will be developed only by the habit of asking questions.
The candidate starts enjoying the freedom of expression from this level onwards. The ultimate purpose of language is fulfilled in this level. Advanced interactive tools like meetings, group discussions, public speech, presentation skills, interviews etc can be handled here.
Each level is interconnected. A person enjoys the 4th level may come back to level 1 for brushing up the vocabulary. There should be a free flow of ideas in all these levels.
After understanding the various levels involved in the language learning process a layman will be naturally confused about the starting process. Start from the basics-from level 1. For this, one requires a good dictionary, a note book, an English newspaper and a pencil/pen. Read the English daily, when a new word strikes your mind stop there, transfer it with sentence into your notebook. The meaning of the word should be found out by the help of a dictionary. If you do this on a daily basis, there will be a great progress. Remember, your English is your habits in English. There is no short cut for real English improvement. Finally, language is a man made thing, so, you can conquer it if you desire it, have a great life in English language.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) which was formed in the year 1989 enjoys a worldwide acceptance now. The main reason for this is the credibility factor which is mainly derived by the 3 bodies responsible for the conduct of it namely Cambridge ESOL division, British council and IDP (International development programme – An Australian body).
IELTS is offered in two versions, academic and general, the former is generally recommended to study-abroad aspirants, and the latter is specifically for acquiring immigration and work visas.
The result of IELTS is expressed on a band score where the maximum band a candidate can achieve is 9.
from non-user (band one) to expert user (band 9).
There are only four skills in any language, listening, reading, writing and speaking. So in IELTS, these 4 skills in English of a candidate are evaluated. Remember, it is an exam so all the structures of an exam is applicable here also. Time and format of each skill check are limiting factors here.
4 Sections, 40 items
|General Training Reading||Academic Reading|
|3 Sections, 40 items
|3 Sections, 40 items
|General Training Writing||Academic Writing|
1. Letter writing- 150 words
2. Essay- 250 words
1.DI – 150 words
2. Essay - 250 words
Speaking, 3 Sections
The first two skills namely listening and reading are termed as comprehension skills in which the English understanding ability of the candidate is tested.
The general as well as academic candidates take the same listening module. In IELTS listening, an audio will be played and the student will be given a question paper where 4 sections will be there. The answers to the questions will be based on the audio played. Candidate will be given extra 10 minutes to transfer the answers to the answer sheet. The structure of IELTS listening is very important to score a high level band.
IELTS listening is for 30 minutes which include the instructions, reading time and listening time and the time allowed for transferring answers from the question paper to the answer sheet.
There are 4 sections of 10 questions each - total of 40 questions - Answers are in the same order of the recordings.
|PART||THEME||INPUT||MAIN SKILL FOCUS|
|1||Social needs||1-1 enquiry/conversation with a transactional purpose e.g. asking details about a tour package||Specific factual information|
|2||Social needs||Monologue/prompted monologue with a transactional purpose e.g. giving information about a public event||Listening for specific factual information|
|3||Academic/training||Discussion between 2-4 people in an academic context||Listening for specific information, attitudes, and speakers’ opinion|
|4||Academic/training||Monologue in an academic context e.g. lecture||Listening for main ideas. Predictions, specific information, attitudes, and speakers’ opinion|
The most important aspect of the above classification is that there will be only one theme in each section. The material will be given only at the start of the exam but the candidate gets about 1 minute before the real exam starts. How the candidate uses this time is very crucial for he/she can just cover the 40 questions during the first one and half minutes. Students should ask why they are listening, once the purpose of listening becomes clear, candidates become active listeners which is the basis of any listening activity.
The sub skills students need to develop most for listening are:
The question types can be Pick from a list, Form filling, Labelling a map or plan, Sentence/summary completion, Table completion, Short answer questions, Multiple choice, Matching, Labelling a diagram, Note completion, Flow chart completion and Classification
Listening skill development
There are 3 stages in any listening process pre listening stage, real listening stage and post listening stage. Pay attention to each stage equally. In the pre listening stage read the instructions carefully – check the number of words allowed in each answer, spellings of names, predictions etc. While listening do not try to understand every single word; this is not necessary, and does not happen in every day life. Important words for meaning are always stressed more than other words in a sentence. Even if you think you have an answer to a particular question, do not stop listening to the part of the tape that relates to that question. Often the answer seems to have been given, but is corrected later. After listening each section, the candidate is given a short period (about 30 seconds) which should be used effectively by making corrections of the listened matter and noting additional points of the following questions. Do not leave any question unanswered, there is no negative marking.
Get exposed to maximum various listening situations. Practice a lot. Finally make listening a habit.
The general as well as academic candidates take different reading modules. The common aspects are time allocation and the number of sections which are I hour and 3 sections respectively.
|Section||Theme||Number of questions||Theme||Number of questions|
|1||Advertisements with several shorter texts||14||Passage||14|
|2||Usually 2 texts||13||Passage||13|
The question types can be Sentence Completion, Notes/table/flow chart completion, Short answer questions, Labelling a diagram, True/False/Not Given, Multiple choice answers, Matching, Finding information in paragraphs, Choosing headings for paragraphs and identification of writer’s views.
Reading skill development
The reading section requires a lot of strategic planning. Never attempt it with a just-give-it-a-go attitude. In IELTS, candidates read not for pleasure but for getting information. So it should be taken as an active skill which involves guessing, predicting, checking and asking oneself questions. Read as much as possible especially newspaper articles. Develop making titles for each paragraphs and writing summaries of what you have read. When a new word figures out note it down with sentence in your personal note book. Read the first paragraph and see if you can predict what will come next. There will be only one theme in a paragraph and all the paragraphs point out towards the ultimate title of the passage. Get exposed to maximum topics. One must have a blend of good reading speed and comprehension skills to complete the academic paper in the stipulated time. On the other hand, the General Training reading test is less lengthy and technical as compared to the Academic one. However, the questions are trickier.
Time management is another important aspect of IELTS reading. Students are supposed to complete each passage within 20 minutes. Students who read too slowly will easily get discouraged. Slow reading results from poor reading habit only. When we read we never read by word by word method instead we read in terms of idea units. So if the candidate concentrates more on getting idea or message of the sentence, faster reading can be achieved. Finally make reading a habit.
Common tips to comprehension skills
The next two skills namely writing and speaking are termed as delivering skills in which oral as well as written skills in English language of the candidate is tested.
Academic as well as general IELTS differ distinctly when it comes to writing. In both cases two tasks are performed within 60 minutes.
In task I, a data will be interpreted using minimum 150 words. The data may fall under any of the following 6 categories - bar diagramme, line graph, table, pie chart, flow chart and map. The assessment criteria are: task achievement (TA), coherence and cohesion (CC), lexical resource (LR) and grammatical range and accuracy (GRA).
In Task 1, your job is to put numerical information or some form of illustration into written form. The first paragraph should say what the information is. After that, think of the task in this way: write in a way that someone who can't see the table, graph, illustration, etc. would be able to draw the important points of what you are looking at.
Candidates with a proper planning alone can conquer the writing task. First of all, identify the limiting factors - total time: 20 minutes and word limit: minimum 150
|Read and understand the task word by word||2 minutes||Read the title, check the axis details and understand the requirement|
|Plan how to organize the matter||6 minutes||Introduction, the ideal organization, number of paragraphs, important points.|
|Write the answer||10 minutes||Take minimum words from the question, include maximum comparing and contrasting structures|
|Self correction||2 minutes||Check the content, word selection, spellings and organisation|
Data interpretation skill development
In task II, a discursive essay will be given for 250 words. The essay can be pooled under 3 groups namely
Task II of IELTS is the area where the candidate requires extreme care and organization skills. An essay should have 3 basic components namely: introduction, body and conclusion. First of all, identify the limiting factors - total time: 40 minutes and word limit: minimum 250
|250 words||20 sentences|
|Number of paragraphs||sentences|
The assessment criteria are: task response (TR), coherence and cohesion (CC), lexical resource (LR) and grammatical range and accuracy (GRA).
TR – The stand taken by the candidate is crucial, justifying skill is mainly analysed in IELTS essays
CC – How words are arranged in a sentence and how sentences are fitted in a paragraph to maintain a particular theme is checked here. The logical sequence of thoughts and the suitable devices used to link the parts are vital to retain the same idea throughout the entire essay.
LR – The choice of words is important to deliver an idea vividly. It’s not using bombastic words in the essay but using the right word at the right place. A candidate’s command over English language is always related with his/her vocabulary. Spelling mistakes and errors in punctuation will be penalized.
GRA – This area looks at the candidate’s sense of grammar. Whether the candidate is able to use a wide range of grammatical structures with full flexibility and accuracy is evaluated here.
Let’s analyse the skeleton of an essay.
The first sentence of introduction should be the paraphrased theme of the question. Second sentence is the central question identified and the last sentence of the introduction will be the writer’s opinion.
Once the stand is expressed, candidate starts justifying the stand in the body paragraphs. The first two paragraphs tell why the candidate supports the stand whereas the third paragraph will be analysing the opposing view also. This is done because IELTS essays are balanced essays, it checks the candidate’s ability to analyse the issue in every possible dimension.
Concluding paragraph comprises two sentences which are served by summary and suggestion.
Task I will always be letter writing. Candidates normally write 3 paragraphs. Paragraph one explains the reasons for writing – usually refers to past. Paragraph two expands on the main purpose of the letter – usually describes a present situation. Paragraph three refers to action to be taken, either by the writer or the recipient of the letter. This usually refers to the future. Paragraphs two and three may be divided further, depending on the amount of information given.
The theme of the letter will be complaint, apology, information seeking or complimenting. Candidates are asked to write a personal informal, semi-formal or formal letter, responding to a given problem or situation. Input to task I includes a brief description of the problem or situation followed by 3 bullet points which tell the candidate what information is required in the letter.
The limiting factors - total time: 20 minutes and word limit: minimum 150
The input to Task II consists of a statement of a point of view, argument or problem about a specific topic. This is followed by instructions asking candidates to discuss the topic by providing general factual information, outlining and/or presenting a solution, justifying an opinion, or evaluating ideas and evidence. Candidates are expected to produce a discursive piece of writing.
The limiting factors - total time: 40 minutes and word limit: minimum 250
The evaluation criteria for both task I and task II are similar to that of academic writing.
Common tips for writing
The most important thing in task II is how well you understand the question. Most times candidates pick up a part of the question and start writing and produce an essay which has nothing to do with what the question actually demands. This is because the candidates fail to understand the focus of the question and cannot decide what the question is asking him/her to do.
Of late the examination questions are found to be quite lengthy, upto four to five lines. Candidates may get a general idea of the question in the first reading, but often fail to pick up the focus of the question.
Each of the tasks is assessed separately and given a score. Writing task II is worth more than task I so candidates should be sure to leave plenty of time to complete writing task II.
It is a good thing to prepare yourself by improving your general knowledge. Visit websites that have information on these topics. Read books, magazines and newspapers which might have articles covering them. Remember: reading will improve your writing, so the more reading you do, the more you improve your general knowledge of each area, and you also have exposure to sentence structures and organization - this should carry over to your writing.
Finally make writing a habit.
The speaking section of both general and academic has the same ingredients. This is the only area where the candidate meets a person. It can be termed as an interview for checking the speaking skills in English language.
IELTS speaking module has 3 levels. In the first level examiner asks some questions which the candidate alone can answer. It lasts for 4-5 minutes. The question pertains to the following areas: family, job, hobbies, hometown, sports, leisure time activities, festivals, food, books etc. Remember this is an exam to check the candidates’ speaking skill, so don’t give any one word answer. After this session the candidate must have established a rapport with the examiner.
In the second level, candidate will be given a speaking topic. The given topic should be developed for 2 minutes. One minute preparatory time will be given. This checks the candidate’s ability to tackle a topic with 2-3 ideas on a continuous basis. Here, the candidate should keep going until the examiner requests to stop.
In the third level, the examiner invites the candidate for a discussion for 4-5 minutes which, in most of the cases, is linked to the task card topic. This is where the candidate has the chance to show off the spoken language skills, discussing things of an abstract or speculative nature. Here, the candidate’s complete operational command over the subject is checked by asking opinions, trend, agreeing/disagreeing skill etc. Candidates should answer the questions as fully as possible and give reasons for the opinions, whenever appropriate.
The assessment criteria for speaking are:
Fluency and cohesion (F&C):
Fluency means flow of ideas at a steady pace. Many people misunderstand fluency as fast speech. This is not true. Generating ideas at a steady rhythm only ensures genuine fluency. Human beings are not machines hence natural breaks are expected between ideas; in this case candidates should include language fillers effectively. By ‘cohesion’ proper linkage between ideas is meant.
Lexical resource (LR):
The range of vocabulary exhibited by the candidate definitely gives him/her a higher band. When a person speaks actually the choice of words gives beauty and clarity to the speech. Hence a sound vocabulary is demanded for a great score.
Grammatical range and accuracy (GRA):
A consistent use of accurate grammatical structures definitely needed for smooth speech production. Production of error free sentences, passive structures, blending positive –negative-question type sentences really show a person’s command over the language.
Many people relate pronunciation with accent which is a wrong concept. Remember, IELTS is an exam for non speakers of English language. For any native speaker, his/her mother tongue influence will be there, it is expected in IELTS speaking also. The examiners are aware of it, so don’t worry too much about your accent, the only requirement is that your speech should be intelligible. By pronunciation they mean intelligible talk; besides clarity should be there, don’t murmur when you speak.
Common tips for speaking
Unless your pronunciation is particularly poor, don't waste time on pronunciation lessons. It is much more beneficial to spend the time acquiring a good range of vocabulary and structure. Remember your job is to give the assessor something to assess - if you only say 'Yes' or 'No' during the interview, the assessor won't be able to give you a good score. Your job is to give the assessor as much as possible to consider. This means speaking as much as you can. Don't go off topic and don't talk about anything that comes into your head, but speak as much as you can. Language operates only in a stress free environment so if you are confident and speak freely, you will have no idea what your score will be - it could be great! Don’t try to be too clever. Be polite in your appearance and in speech. Finally make speaking a habit.
Common tips for speaking
For both writing and speaking, don't show off. Some candidates use sophisticated vocabulary and difficult grammar without really knowing how to use both. The result will be a decline in how well you speak and your score will go down. Be genuine and sincere in your approach.
Visualization process in IELTSHave you ever set any target for IELTS? Many a time the answer will be ‘no’. Candidates generally take the exam by having the scores set by the recruiting people. It is revealed that the more clarity you have about your results the better will be your performance. Can you set a target as follows?
Paste this message in a place where you frequently look at. Thus these bands will be printed in your subconscious mind. Slowly, slowly you start assimilating this as a dream; finally you will be in a position to achieve this dream score.
Dear student, when you read this, some of you may think that this is not going to work out, this Is not my cup of tea, what a blunder approach. Wait; don’t write it off, see, future is always a possibility. You may or may not get this score until the exam day. But if you fix it as an impossible score, you cannot achieve it. If you try for it sometimes you may end up with a very realistic score around your target. That is the power of visualization. IELTS is an exam which is to be approached a positive mental attitude. Remember, you are not a failure until you give it up!
Score – band conversion table
LISTENING & READING