Using the language as a regular part of your life
Being successful with English, in IELTS and beyond, means finding a way to make using the language a regular part of your life. That means gearing your studies to your hobbies, interests, work and daily life. Why? Because learners often feel frustrated and lose interest in studying vocabulary when they find the study materials boring or irrelevant.
The problem is that more interesting materials can be difficult to find and can also be difficult to understand. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can use technology to solve these two problems, enlarge your vocabulary, learn collocations (words that go together, like knife and fork, or lay the table) — and explore topics that interest you, too. We will focus on improving IELTS vocabulary, and will consider how this fits into IELTS Speaking.
Podcasts are short audio programs produced on a variety of subjects. And conveniently, they can be automatically downloaded using a podcast app on your phone. They’re great for language learners because you can find podcasts on almost any topic you’re interested in. For example, I subscribe to Castbox, which is free. Here are some of the topics of podcasts that have arrived in my Inbox:
- Mindfulness: feel your stress melt away
- Why do we feel pain? A neurologist’s view
- The future of meat
- The Zero-Minute workout
So you can see that I am interested in health and fitness. All of those podcasts, which simply appeared in my Inbox, are of interest to me. (And if they are not, then new ones come in almost on a daily basis.)
How can you use these podcasts to practise for IELTS Speaking? I could try to follow these steps:
- Choose a topic from your podcast list, for example the future of meat.
- Give yourself one minute to plan a short talk on the topic, just like in the IELTS Speaking test.
- Give the short talk and record yourself. You’ve probably got your own favourite audio recorder — if not Hi-Q is awesome.
- Listen to the podcast and make notes on the key points the speaker makes.
- Listen to your talk and see whether you made any of the same points.
- Plan your talk again, this time spending more time on it and referring to the podcast to note key vocabulary. Include some of the points that the speaker makes.
- Deliver your 1-2 minute talk again, and record yourself again.
- Listen and repeat steps 6 and 7 until you are happy.
The advantage of this approach is that it will help IELTS Listening, IELTS Speaking and IELTS Writing too. For all of these parts of the test, you are expanding your vocabulary. You are listening for gist (the overview of the talk) and also for detail (specific points and specific vocabulary items). And the planning you are doing for the short talk is also good practice for essay planning for IELTS Writing Part 2. It’s the same kind of mental exercise.
If you find it too difficult to listen to the podcasts, some apps make it easy for learners to follow along. Pocketcasts, available for both iOS and Android, is a podcast app that helps with this by letting you play the recordings up to 50 percent slower. You can slow recordings down until they’re clear and easy to understand, and speed them up as your listening improves. Audible from Amazon has the same function.
YouTube is another great source of material for language learners. Like Pocketcasts, you can change the speed of the playback to your advantage. Adjust how fast the video plays by clicking on the gear icon on the bottom of the video.
In addition to adjusting the speed, another way you can study on YouTube is by turning on the subtitles. You can use these subtitles (when available) to study in several ways. Here are some ideas for you to try.
- Use them to check the spelling of unfamiliar words. Note these words down and learn them. Listen and learn how to pronounce them. This is useful for IELTS Vocabulary and IELTS Speaking.
- Turn down the video’s sound and narrate the video yourself by reading the subtitles out loud. This can help you improve your pronunciation. Read a sentence. Then listen to the original speaker saying the same sentence. Compare how you say it — is the stress the same? Does your voice go up and down in the same way as the original speakers? Do you pronounce the words in the same way? Do you join words together in the same way?
- And if you are feeling up to a challenge and would like to improve your IELTS Listening skills, you can use the YouTube video for dictation. First, watch part of the video without subtitles and write down what you hear. The idea is to write every word, just like a traditional dictation exercise, and you will have to pause often. Don’t be afraid to listen multiple times. It can be difficult because speakers do not say words one by one; they join them together like this:
The future_of meat production has_become_a topic_close_to my heart_and_it’s_one_of those problems we need_to…
When you have finished your dictation, you can compare what you wrote with the subtitles. This exercise also works well with TED Talks.
Be precise in the right context
Many candidates don’t get the IELTS result they want because their vocabulary is only wide enough to express general ideas, but not wide enough to speak precisely about a given topic. The beauty of the activities above is that you go deeper into subjects that interest you, and that helps you to expand your vocabulary for IELTS.
The other thing to remember in the context of your IELTS test is that certain topics come up regularly. These include: the environment, language, education, development, globalisation, public transport, travel and technology. If there are any of these areas where you feel your vocabulary is weak, then you could practise using the activities described in this post. And don’t forget that improving your vocabulary helps you not just in the four IELTS paper, but in developing your general English as well.
Using the study methods mentioned above makes finding technical vocabulary in its appropriate context easier, and will help you say exactly what you mean. You can also find more tips and advice for IELTS Speaking here: