She was brought up in the west, now lives in the east and everyday sees students struggling to get ideas.
In this tutorial we look at:
– Why it’s difficult to get ideas – the origin of the problem
– Techniques to overcome it
– Cockney vs. Yorkshire accents! 😉
If you are in a hurry to solve this problem, and your mind goes blank whenever you see an IELTS Task 2 question, then have a look at the “Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free” online IELTS course.
We have a chapter to solve this exact problem.
After watching the tutorial, you complete the exercise and send your answers to us for feedback.
Every day we see students improving, and regularly getting ideas for Task 2 after completing this task.
This is just one of the many valuable ways we help students like you pass the exam and move ahead!
You can download or listen to the audio version here:
You can also watch the full tutorial here:
READ THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Ben: Hello there, IELTS students. Welcome to IELTS podcast. You no longer have to worry, fret, or panic about IELTS because we are here to guide you through this test jungle. Enjoy these IELTS tutorials and if you need more help or want to access the famous online course, you can visit us at ieltspodcast.com.
How to get ideas for IELTS writing task 2. Hi there. My name is Ben Worthington and in this tutorial, we’ve got a very special guest. She’s an English lady, a teacher who is now– who was brought up in the west, in London to be specific and is now teaching over in Hong Kong.
We were chatting earlier because she’s also a teacher and she was sharing some really interesting and valuable information as to why some students have difficulties thinking of ideas– generating ideas. So, welcome to the show, Sophie. How are you doing?
Sophie: Thank you, Ben. Thank you for having me. I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
Ben: I’m good. I’m good. So, before we jump into this, Sophie if it’s okay with you could you just give us a brief overview of how you managed to get into– how you managed to find yourself in Hong Kong?
Sophie: Yes, sure. So, as you said, I was born in the UK, but I’m ethnically Chinese and Vietnamese and I was actually teaching design and visual arts or art and design in England for about three years specializing in GCSE and A levels.
Then I decided that I actually wanted to teach abroad and I wanted to explore Asia because that’s ethnically where I’m actually from. So, in order to learn more about my Chinese and Asian background, I decided to apply for an international job in Hong Kong and I’ve been in Hong Kong for about nine years now teaching arts and design and in various curriculums such as GCSE, IGCSE and the IB and I’ve taught in three different international schools.
Ben: Wow! Excellent. Sophie’s got a similar issue to– not issue, but a similar situation to me regarding her accent. Sophie, do you think you modify your accent just out of curiosity?
Sophie: Do I modify my accent? That is a very interesting question, Ben because I’ve been in Asia for nine consecutive years almost and when I go back to the UK where I was brought up I can tell there is a distinct difference in the way I speak English in comparison to my friends and my family. So, I was brought up predominantly in London and the accent that is usually referred to is the Cockney accent so–
Ben: You’re a Cockney– Sorry, carry on.
Sophie: I have a Cockney accent, but I’ve been told since being in Asia, since being in Hong Kong it’s more the– I’m more of an international accent or it’s more of a polished spoken English compared to a Cockney accent.
Ben: Right. So, basically you’ve– how would you say this? You’ve abandoned your Cockney origins.
Sophie: I don’t know if I abandoned my Cockney origins, but I do realize– I remember the experience I had in my first year teaching in Hong Kong when I pronounced specific words and a lot of the students didn’t know what I was saying. I think what it is is especially in a setting like Hong Kong students watch things like Netflix or more Americanized TV series or films so their accents are more Americanized than I’ll say English unless they are specifically watching some [unintelligible 00:04:32.06] English.
So, in– even speaking in a very as English as possible or using a specific terminology they just wouldn’t understand. For instance, I know the word pants in the U.S. is known as trousers and its equivalent in England. So, it’s been an interesting experience.
Ben: Got you. Got you. Well, I said this a few times on this show that I’ve modified my accent as well just so I can be understood and also– I think I said this just a few weeks ago, but also I didn’t feel sort of like so comfortable teaching students the Yorkshire pronunciation of certain terms because they’re learning the accent– sorry, they’re learning the language and when you’re speaking another language your goal is to communicate.
So, when I taught I tried to basically neutralize my accent a little bit because like you, certain words they just stared at me blank and I had to– really and I had to modify them and only when the student got it and they were like oh, he’s saying bus and I’m like okay it’s bus not bus. Only then I’d realize that okay, this is the way they’ve been taught, so I’m going to use these terminologies, this accent as well, but yes, I think it’s just part and parcel of being a teacher.
Sophie: Yes. I think it’s just one of those things I think depending on the environment that you’re in and the audience that you are communicating with, I think it’s quite a natural thing to alter the way you communicate in order to have clearer better communication.
Ben: Yes. Totally. I totally agree there. And in Hong Kong and I think you said as well in Asia in general, you said that– well, I know as well from personal experience with students and you basically– yes, you agreed with me, but we were talking about that it’s quite common for students to come with this problem of they’re finding it difficult to get ideas and sometimes maybe their brain goes blank, the mind goes blank and they can’t think of the ideas. In your opinion, why do you think this happens?
Sophie: Being a teacher that tries to coach creativity specifically, what I realize is that there’s quite a distinctive difference with students born and taught and cultured in western culture and those with eastern backgrounds just from my personal experience having taught in London.
Students were able to use their own initiative, they weren’t frightened of trying new ideas, and testing and exploring things that they could find that don’t actually work through try and error. They basically moved on from ideas very quickly. They were very resilient and they had a growth mindset I would say, a very positive way of thinking in terms of learning through making mistakes and in a positive way.
The idea of a mistake is kind of seen as a negative thing in Asia in a sense that most students from a very young age are taught that there is either a right or wrong answer rather than looking at the idea that there may be grey areas in different ways of seeing things. It’s usually either right or wrong.
I see this a lot with subjects like, for instance, Math when you notice formulas that you follow or there is a way you do things, a structure and you follow that and you get a right answer. So, in subjects of creativity or subjects that need you to use your initiative to think out of the box that doesn’t follow a formula it usually is a bit of a challenge especially with students from a background in Asia when they’ve been told from a very young age that there’s a specific way of doing things.
So, there’s an idea of idealistic perfectionism as well when you know if you try something and it doesn’t work, then it’s wrong while in the west that’s seen as a good thing because that’s the process of thinking. So, in terms of the distinct differences of the east and the west, I tend to find soft skills such as critical thinking, creative thinking skills and transit skills are probably a little bit more behind in the east compared to the west.
Ben: And conversely, in the east they excel where there is a right and wrong answer such as the science subjects especially mathematics, no?
Sophie: Yes, actually it’s more academic subjects like you said math and science when there is usually just a right or wrong answer or one answer. Students in Asia are [unintelligible 00:10:08.28] basically taught from a young age from even the age of five they have being tested before they have been accepted in the school of their choice.
When I first moved to Asia my first experience was to sit on an academic panel interviewing five-year-olds for school positions and I distinctively remember there was– I think I interviewed 300 five-year-olds and there were only 30 positions, 30 seats in the school.
These students were interviewed not in just English but in Chinese. They were tested in math and other tests as well. So, even from that age they are taught you’ve got to get the right answer. Don’t get the wrong answer otherwise there will be consequences.
Ben: Wow! That’s incredible and then if we try and apply that mindset to a situation like IELTS writing task 2 where we’ve got these typical questions where there is no right or wrong answer.
Sophie: Absolutely, yes.
Ben: I can totally understand now why they find– because at first when I got into this I was like what’s the issue? Why is it so difficult to find answers– get ideas? I can’t think of ideas until the cows come home. This isn’t a difficult part for me, but time and time and time again I got emails from students, “My mind goes blank. I can’t think of ideas.”
Yes, it’s just– what you were saying now just puts it all in perspective and I think it would be– the equivalent would be maybe a western student getting thrown a horrifically difficult algebra problem by western standards, but it’s probably by Asian standards just child’s play I imagine.
Sophie: Absolutely. Students in Asia especially if they are in the traditional schools i.e. they’re not actually from an international school, they sit through rigorous tests. They get tested literally all the time. Their test scores is basically what gives them value in terms of how well they are doing.
So, it’s more of the result and when you think of results it’s usually to do with an answer or a right or wrong answer rather than the actual process of learning through trial and error. So, basically they can’t afford to make any mistakes. So, their mindset is there is only a right or wrong answer.
So, when they’re being asked well, can you come up with something else, they automatically assume there’s a right answer to something rather than oh, there are different possibilities, there are multiple alternatives and they can possibly try something that seems quite unlikely or an unusual connection to ideas and shedding their own unique way of thinking because they’ve been uniformed to think and perform in such a specific way.
Ben: Yes, I totally agree with you there and also it’s like there’s– as I said before, there are multiple answers, but it’s the– as you said the process of getting to that answer and if you can prove your process is– related to IELTS, if you can prove that your argument is correct, if you can prove it by examples, by opinions, and by persuasive writing then it is correct.
And it is kind of weird now that you think about it. It’s like probably three thousand, five thousand, there’s an infinite number of right answers. All you have to do is prove that it is the right answer.
And then coming from an infinite range of solutions and then approaching that from a black and white approach– from a black and white base where all your life you’ve been shown, you’ve been learning it’s right wrong. It’s correct, it’s incorrect. Now you get thrust into this infinite opportunity, but you’ve just got to prove your case. I can now totally see why it’s ridiculously difficult basically.
Sophie: You know the teaching experience and the learning experience is very different. So, what I realized in more local schools especially is it’s very in structural. It’s very much the teacher is standing in the front and the delivered information is received by the students. So, it’s basically taking the knowledge from the teacher and transplanting it to students.
This is quite common in countries like China as well when sometimes the class sizes are 50 or 60 students and there’s only one teacher. So, it’s kind of a dictation way of learning and more international ways of thinking or even in the western way of thinking is very much of explore, find out, experiment and find out your own thoughts, opinions, and ways of doing things or learn new things.
I think that the biggest thing I would say is like you said, it’s make up your own opinions. Students in a local system or in a very traditional Chinese or Asian way of teaching they’re not given the time or space to formulate their own opinions.
Ben: Yes, totally.
Sophie: There’s no time for that basically. So, it’s a teacher dishing out the information. You receive the information and you apply that information down. There is no scope for individuality there.
Ben: Yes, absolutely and wow! It is interesting and how can a student then start developing these ideas? One way that I put forward to students is to basically fill their head up with information. If their mind goes blank and they get a question about climate change and there’s nothing in there to sort of like even start forming an opinion I just say look, learn about that topic.
Learn about the reasons. Learn about the country specifics or each country like which countries are pro-climate change. Which ones are environmentally friendly? Learn about all this, the history. That’s like one technique that I share with students. In your field or from your experience, how have you really taught to improve a student’s creativity? How have you developed that subject?
Sophie: I think sometimes it’s also developing the right environment to allow students to feel safe to share their individual ideas. So, if a student isn’t used to come up with their own ideas they kind of need to be coached and nurtured into thinking it’s okay to have different ideas and different potential ways of seeing things that are different, that hasn’t’ actually been explored and to teach them that through the– it is this exploration that it’s a different way of learning.
It’s not about the right and wrong. It’s more about the exploring and for them to feel safe enough to express– communicate that. Based from their mindset that’s quite boxed and in a sense if the answer is in a box then it’s correct. If it’s out of the box then it’s not.
But if you’re trying to encourage them to think more out of the box is almost trying to ask them well what do you– you can even actually reverse it and say what do you think the wrong answers would be and why do you think that might be? So, it’s almost reverse learning and challenging them to think a little bit more deeply and more critical at the potential possibilities.
Ben: I love that. I love that especially developing the environment. Almost coincidentally, it’s like one of the modules we’ve got on the online course where we challenge the students to develop ideas for a whole range of questions and topics.
We’ve got like basically one of the teachers who just replies and says look– because some of the students are worried about this right and wrong. So, this is why we got the whole module about just developing ideas and the whole sort of like objective behind that exercise is to say look, any idea is probably valid as long as it’s not ridiculous.
Any idea is valid if you can prove and argue that it is valid. With the case to essay writing, but it goes back to what you said. It’s creating that environment that allows them to explore without consequences. Explore without failing the exam and just test the water so to speak.
Ben: Yes and just one other thing that I’d like you to mention is before when we were talking you mentioned the thing about tiger mums and how that– I found that fascinating. Could you tell us how that impacts the students as well?
Sophie: Okay. So, education in Asia is a very competitive field. Like I mentioned when I first turned up to Asia I was interviewing students in the hundreds and they were only five years old. And I was beginning to– it was actually a mid-range school in terms of performance and achievement. So, you could imagine how competitive it actually is to get into some of the top performing schools in Asia.
So, students here they go to school, they have normal school hours, but on top of that as soon as they finish they have extra private tuition after school and during the weekends as well. So, they take education very seriously. And these students have been ingrained in them by their parents just how important education is and just how important it is to do really well in your tests and get the results.
Ben: Yes, and the other thing– carry on.
Sophie: So, I guess that already imprints a fear to get everything right, to be a perfectionist in some sense, to do things as it should be according to their parents and their expectations.
Ben: Absolutely and the other point I remembered distinctly is like when you said not only at school are they getting this right-wrong culture, black and white culture so to speak and then at home in the curriculum after school it’s right or wrong answers. And then they’ve got to basically face their parents who have been brought up with exactly the same culture of right or wrong. It’s black or white.
So, it’s basically from– they open their eyes until they go to sleep at night. Even before consciousness starts until– all through their academic life until they sort of like face– they get faced with a certain aspect of western culture that’s very different and so– put in that and then you’ve got to explain as well to your parents– okay, maybe you have to explain, I don’t know, but even that task of saying to the parents look, there’s no right or wrong answer here. That as well is going to be horrendously difficult if they’ve been brought up for the last 50, 60 years with a mentality of it’s right or wrong.
Sophie: Absolutely. There is a cultural joke here in Asia where if you get an A- that’s a bad grade and in the schools that I have taught that is a bad grade. So, yes your aim is to get at least an A.
Sophie: At least an A and they should be getting A scores.
Ben: Wow! That’s insane.
Sophie: That’s the frame of mind and that’s a challenge as well. That’s the challenge as teachers, educators you have to sort of break down whether to allow creativity and possibilities of doing things differently to enter. I guess it’s almost that ability to allow a sense of vulnerability too, but in such a competitive environment vulnerability isn’t necessarily seen as a strength, but actually a weakness, but in order for creativity to be cultivated there needs to be a degree of vulnerability and the allowance of making potential mistakes in order for richer and improved learning to take place.
Ben: Yes, absolutely and the funny thing is like in the west– well, I think this can be like– it can really be embodied in the west by the fact that, for example in the U.S., having a bankruptcy where you’re just financially in ruin isn’t seen as a bad thing. It’s seen as almost a good thing in the fact that you at least attempted and you tried to succeed.
Fair enough it didn’t happen, but it’s not seen as a bad thing whereas in Europe especially in Continental Europe, it’s labeled as a failure, but in the UK it’s seen as– yes, it does have some negative connotations, but in the U.S. it’s like okay, you had a bankruptcy. Pick yourself up and get going. Well done for trying. Keep on trying. I don’t know, do you have any experience– is bankruptcy seen as a failure in Asia, just out of curiosity?
Sophie: Well, if you think that getting an A- is a failure, what do you think bankruptcy is going to do? There is in Asian culture– sadly enough it’s almost like if you didn’t do well in school you’re going to be sweeping the roads. That is a very, very common [phrase? 00:25:13.27] spoken projection that parents actually communicate to their students. So, whenever you ask a student why do you think it’s good– why is it important to get good grades they will say, “You need to get good grades if you don’t want to be a road sweeper.” That’s their response. Right.
Ben: Wow! Got you.
Sophie: So, if you say bankruptcy well, that’s in the same direction as that phrase basically even though it’s not a true phrase. It’s something that’s been ingrained and told to them at such a young age they think it’s a true thing. It’s a conditioned mindset.
Ben: Absolutely. It’s become a belief, isn’t it now?
Sophie: Absolutely yes.
Ben: Right. Well, thank you. Do you have anything that you would like to say, Sophie?
Sophie: It’s been a pleasure actually to have this open conversation and I hope your audience members both students and parents are able to listen to this podcast and probably take something away from it and reflect and probably think a little bit differently with more of a positive growth mindset that if they try something it’s only a positive thing to a learning process.
Ben: Excellent words. Thank you very much there, Sophie. Cheers.
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