Speaking Criteria part 3, Lexical Resource…

As you may recall, over the last few posts I have been discussing the criteria for the speaking section of the IELTS test. So, today, it’s the turn of Lexical Resource, let’s take a look.

What do we mean by Lexical Resource first of all? Most people might think it referred only to vocabulary, such as single words within a topic but it is not only that. According to the official criteria it also includes collocations (words that go together) such as verbs and nouns (for example, answer the door), adjectives and nouns (for example, strong coffee), adverbs and adjectives (for example, happily married), or made of compound nouns (chain smoker).

Also idiomatic phrases  are important, such as “get out of hand” ( to lose control of a situation) for example.

This also includes such things as flexibility, being able to talk about varied topics not only the familiar, everyday items.

Precision of word choice is something students need to be able to demonstrate as well, to score highly here you need to be precise and specific. Compare, “After the accident, I walked home“, “After the accident, I limped home“. Which is better? …

Paraphrasing: the ability to say the same thing in a different way. Failure to paraphrase is very common in students speaking, and writing too, if you use the same words over and again you won’t score well. For example, many people simply restate the question asked by the examiner.

Question: “Can you tell me about an animal that is famous in your country?”

Answer: “An animal that is famous in my country is….”

As opposed to

Question: “Can you tell me about an animal that is famous in your country?”

Answer: “Of course, well, I suppose a very well-known creature in my country would be the….”

Style/Register: this is about the ability of the student to understand and demonstrate the difference between formal and informal language and when it is appropriate to use it. In general, you can be relatively informal in parts 1 and 2 but but slightly more formal in part 3. This can be a tricky balancing act to gauge correctly, not too formal vs using “slang”, but to help you judge for your selves, I wrote about this a while ago and you can find it here.

Using “Uncommon” language, which basically means using words which have a lower frequency of use. For example, if we compare “It was quite strange”, with “It was quite bizarre”

As you can clearly see then, Lexical Resource is far more complex than you might have imagined and is not just “vocabulary”.

So, we need to look at some examples to give you a better idea of what I mean. We can consider the two transcripts below as an illustration. First, we can read an answer from a candidate who scored 5.0.

Question: “Do you think that having a hobby has any social benefit?”

Answer: “Benefit, so erm, in my case, erm, as I was saying I used to go fishing, so if I go fishing I can relax and, erm, we will pay money for…..to buy some fishing rod, fishing reels and sometimes lures so….er, lure or flies, so I think it’s good for social,”

Analysis: As we can see, the student obviously has some knowledge about fishing as he uses several less common fishing related vocabulary “rod, reel, lures, flies” > Unfortunately, he doesn’t make a very clear answer so he relies on these “familiar” words instead of showing range and flexibility, and fails to paraphrase (“go fishing” is used twice in one sentence) although he does use some collocations (“fishing rod” and “fishing reels”). As well as this, some phrases are incorrect or badly expressed (“pay money for” instead of “spend money on”, and “it’s good for social”).

Let’s now have a look at a band 7.0 answer.

Question: “Do you think that having a hobby has social benefits?”

Answer: “Yes, I think that it can keep people busy doing something, er, healthy and productive.”

Question: “Why would that be a benefit?”

Answer: “To society, and…instead of maybe doing something that will hurt society or something like that. Especially for boys…they can use their free time to do something productive.”

Question: “Do you think there is a danger of spending too much time on a hobby?”

Answer: “If you don’t go to school and play basketball the time, for instance, or don’t go to work, just sitting in front of the television watching a game, maybe yeah. Everything to excess is not good”

Analysis: The student is a lot more flexible in his answer here to respond directly to the questions. Also, there are some good examples of collocation, for example, “it can keep people busy doing something healthy and productive” and “just sitting in front of the television watching a game”, both show a range of collocations that sound very natural. Not so many uncommon words here, it is true, but the register is spot on for part 3 questions, neither too formal (“Moreover, Nevertheless”, etc) nor too informal.

How can you learn to speak like this? Well, as I have written several times in the past, and will no doubt write many more times in the future, the most effective method is reading, either as widely as possible if your test is some way in the future, or if you are taking the test in a relatively short time, to focus your reading on the general topics of the IELTS. You can find a list on the internet yourselves, or in one of my earlier posts, they are the usual stuff, crime, education, health, technology, etc. And as I have said again, when you find some new vocab, then you need to keep a record of it. So for,

Collocations: every time you find a new word, enter it into Google search and you will automatically get a list of associated words (collocations) to choose from. For example, if you type “aggravated” into the box, you will see a number of terms come up. The first is “Aggravated assault”, followed by “Aggravated burglary” and “Aggravated battery”, all of which are legal terms to describe various crimes. So you enter these into your lexical notebook and maybe search an online thesaurus for more examples and find some sample sentences which use these words. Also, if you have the money, you can buy some specialist dictionaries just for collocations, my personal recommendation is the Oxford Collocations Dictionary.

Paraphrasing: this basically means using synonyms effectively, so as before, when you are writing new words down in your notebook, try using an online thesaurus and make note of the synonyms for each word and again try to find them in Google as part of a sentence. I recommend using www.thesaurus.com for this.

Flexibility: this is about being familiar with a wide range of topics and having something to say about them, so, as before, target your reading on the common themes.

Precision: down to synomyms once again, so instead of saying something is big, try saying it’s really big, huge, absolutely enormous. When you group words in your notebook, put the synonyms in there, so “hit” also gives us “punch”, “thump, “bash”, “slap”, etc.

Less common words and Idiomatic language: rather than repeat myself too much, you can see my advice above. As you should have noticed, most of the things I mention involve you putting in the legwork, or eyework I should maybe say, and hitting the books and websites and reading and researching. It’s painstaking and quite possibly tedious, however, like all skills, if you want to be good at something, you need to put in the hours. To use a useful idiom, there’s no two ways about it.

Well, I hope you find this useful, as always, any questions or comments send me a mail kevin@prepareielts.com. And my next post will look at another criterion, Grammatical Range and Accuracy.