IELTS Speaking Part 1: Topics
The IELTS Speaking Test is divided into 3 parts. In Part 1, you will be asked about whether you work or study or, alternatively, about where you currently live. Then, the examiner will ask you about 2 different topics to talk about. There are 4 questions to answer on each topic. As Part 1 lasts for 5 minutes, you have about 1:30 to talk about each of these two topics. You need to show the examiner how good your English is right from the start. When you have to answer a lot of questions in a short time, you do not have time to “think” of what you are going to say. You have to be spontaneous and, of course, sound confident.
Keeping these points in mind, let’s go on to look at a particular possible Part 1 topic: Hobbies.
Hobbies as topic
Part 1 topics are personal. The basic idea is for the candidate to talk about his or her personal experiences and feelings.
Imagine the examiner begins by saying something like: “Let’s talk about your hobbies” and immediately follow up with the first direct question. Remember here in Part 1, the examiner is just reading from a script and can only follow up any question with a “Why?” if he or she wants you to give more information, so it’s you, the candidate, who will be speaking more.
There will be 4 questions, excluding any possible “Why?” follow ups. With the Hobbies topic, these could be what you hear.
What hobbies or interests do you have?
Do you need to use any special equipment to do this hobby?
Do you prefer to do your hobby with other people or do you prefer to be alone?
Why do you think so many people have hobbies?
Questions are speaking opportunities
The total amount of time you have to answer these questions will be around one and a half minutes, just 90 seconds.
How much can you say in 90 seconds?
We are probably talking about an average of 3 or 4 “sentences” for each question. I know, “sentences” is not the right word. But it will give you an idea. Let’s take an example.
Hobbies? Yes, I do. I love taking photos and I have this really expensive camera. It’s a Nikon and I’ve had it for about 5 years. In fact, my grandfather gave it to me. He was the one who got me interested in photography. What I like most is taking photos of landscapes. It’s risky walking around with a camera these days so I only take it with me at the weekends when I go out with family or friends.
I timed myself saying that. It took me 17 seconds. Of course, in a real interview that would be longer. We have to add some natural pauses and the occasional “er..” or “umm”. Let’s give it 22 seconds maximum. That would be reasonable. It may be a little too long in fact if we assume that we will answer each question in the same time. But, of course, some answers might be shorter. Perhaps, question 2, for example:
No, not really. I mean, I’m not a professional so I don’t have a tripod or anything like that. Everything these days is digital so I don’t have to worry about developing the film. All I need is the camera and then save and store them on my laptop.
That took me 12 seconds. If we call it 16 seconds, we are up to 38 seconds of candidate speaking time after 2 questions. Add the time it takes for the examiner to ask the questions.
Practising in class, with other students or just by yourself, getting a feel for the timing is important. It’s so easy to time yourself. You don’t want to say too much and you don’t want to say too little. If you go on talking for too long, the examiner will interrupt you anyway. That is nothing to worry about …the examiner is working to a strict time schedule and wants to keep things moving. At the same time, prepare to say something like a minimum of 3, a maximum of 5 “sentences” with each question.
Level of detail
If we look again at the answer to the first question, there are 5 elements.
Yes, I do. I love taking photos and I have this really expensive camera. (What the hobby is.)
It’s a Nikon and I’ve had it for about 5 years. (How long I have had this hobby)
In fact, my grandfather gave it to me. He was the one who got me interested in photography. (How I became interested in this)
What I like most is taking photos of landscapes. (What I especially like about it)
It’s risky walking around with a camera these days so I only take it with me at the weekends when I go out with family or friends. (Any additional comment)
The sequence is quite simple and puts the hobby into a context, the classic “what”, “when/how long”, “how”, “who” and also “why” (..dangerous to walk around with an expensive camera so …).
An interesting personal context, perhaps a “story” to tell, a reason for doing something, all add up to a good Part 1 answer. Remember that the examiner is looking for those candidates who have an interesting story to tell, who sound confident and therefore fluent.
Fluency, our ability to speak coherently without unnatural pauses and hesitations, to a large extent comes from the vocabulary we know and use. Talking about a hobby therefore should give us an opportunity to show the vocabulary we know to good effect. In my example, I illustrated this with a few simple examples: photography, photos, landscapes, tripod, digital. Nothing too technical. Notice also the common combinations of words –collocations—that are typical in any language: take photos (of) …., (got me) interested in (taking photos), develop(ing) a film, save and store (photos) on (my laptop).
You should note down common vocabulary items associated with your hobby and work on using these items in context.
Sometimes it’s hard to say where vocabulary ends and grammar begins. Take the idea of collocations for example. We can see clear grammatical patterns that are worth noticing.
One important one is the use of the gerund. Gerunds are used as a verbal form after certain verbal structures. Verbs which express emotions, likes and dislikes can be followed by a gerund. I love taking photos. Grammatically, we can use a noun instead of the gerund, as in I love photography. Or, change the noun for a gerund. So, I can say: interested in taking good photos instead of interested in photography.
So, if, as in this case, we can see a clear grammatical structure to use effectively, study it and use it. Here are a few more examples with some possible verbs expressing feelings and opinions with different possible hobbies.
|I (really) like|
|playing football/tennis …|
Also, notice the gerund in:
What I like most istaking photos of landscapes.
Here is a list of other useful ways to introduce our likes that way using a variety of hobbies as examples:
The main/one thing I like is hanging out with my teammates after the game.
The best thing (about it) is visiting all those places I only saw before in films.
One of the things I like about it is trying out new recipes.
Other important aspects of grammar are verb tenses, modals (can, could, may, must etc.) and conditional sentences. The examiner is paying attention to how accurate your grammar is and so you must take every opportunity to show how well you handle the following:
Verb tenses: Returning briefly to the example about photography, notice how I used 3 different tenses in a space of a few seconds.
Yes, I do. I love taking photos and I have this really expensive camera. It’s a Nikon and I’ve had it for about 5 years. In fact, my grandfather gave it to me. He was the one who got me interested in photography.
Present, present perfect, simple past and each example in a context, a time frame. When you talk about your hobby, do the same. Mention the “how long” (present perfect with for/since), the “when” (past simple with a specific time reference).
And the “future”? Well, a typical part 1 question, not included above, often refers to future plans. Something like:
Do you think you will still have/enjoy this hobby in the future?
Look at these possible answers:
Yes, I think I will. I’m still young but I’m sure that I will still be playing when I’m 40. Maybe I won’t be so agile but that won’t be an issue.
I don’t think so. I’m not going to be climbing when I’m 40! I’ll be too old.
Modals and conditionals
Using these forms correctly can really impress the examiner. Think yourself of possible examples related to your hobby. Here are a few examples on a variety of topics:
This year I might visit the Pyramids. If I go, I’m sure it’ll be an unforgettable experience.
I think everyone should learn how to cook.
If I had the money, I would buy a better camera.
Organise your topic knowledge. Make sure you know all the relevant terminology associated with it.
Note down what you would say in answer to all the questions use here. Think of other possible questions. Think of what to say at any moment if the examiner asks you for an explanation.
Think and read about hobbies in general. If you asked about the importance of hobbies for example, what would you say? Possible aspects to mention might include: the need we all have to relax, to reduce stress levels; how it can help someone to make new friends; how it can be fulfilling personally; it can helps people when they retire.
For more help to prepare for your IELTS Speaking Exam, take a look at these tutorials:
- Full Guide to IELTS Speaking Part 1
- What to expect in your IELTS Speaking Part 3 Exam
- IELTS Part 2 Questions and Model Answers
You can download or listen to the audio version here: