For this episode I sent sample IELTS Task 1 questions to Alison Pitman from LearningBritishAccent.com, a voice over professional who helps her students speak with a standard British Accent or ‘Received Pronunciation’.
In this episode you will:
- Learn how and when to use more advanced vocabulary.
- Hear and be able to identify a standard British Accent.
- Hear a special ‘pack’ of useful phrases for the IELTS speaking exam.
Take a look at more resources to help you succeed in your IELTS Speaking exam
Ben: Hello there, to podcast listeners. In this episode, we’re going to have a look at IELTS Task 1, the speaking part. We’ve got a cheat sheet, a list of phrases you can “steal”, but with precaution, which I’ll go through later on. We’re going to have a look at some listeners’ questions, and we’ve got a very special guest called Alison Pitman, and we’re going to discuss the British accent, most specifically, Received Pronunciation.
So first, we’re just going to have a look at some of the viewers’ emails, or the listeners’ emails. Marcus wanted to know about the schwa sound. Right. Marcus, well, I managed to get a speaking expert, the pronunciation – a speech therapist. She’s coming on the podcast in about two weeks, so we’ve got that covered. Thanks for sending your email. Somebody called “Tran” or “Titanic”, (indiscernible 01:09) or something. Sorry, I’ve probably made a complete mistake of that, but anyway, she wanted to know – she said, “I want to get an IELTS score of 6.5,” but she doesn’t know where to start. Right then. That’s quite a common problem. There are lots of information out there, and figuring out where to start and what to do is quite tricky.
My advice would be to do a practice test, a complete practice test, find out your weak spots, and then once you’ve identified those, focus on them. If not, you could be going around in circles learning lots of random material, which at the end of the day, you might not even need. So do a practice test, find out your weak spots, and focus on those.
Okay, Mitty Tiswany’s – Mitty Tiswany said that he’s struggling with his reading. He’s stuck at 7 or 7.5 and wants to improve further, right? And Mitty, in this case, I’d follow the advice that we gave on a podcast a few episodes ago. I think it was the one that Ryan did with Vin, and because Vin eventually scored I think an 8.5 in his reading – and this was a student who absolutely hated reading. So listen to his podcast. There’s some great information there, but I think the general gist of it was lots of practice test. Lots of practice test, and he also wrote down the list of new words that he read that he discovered and wrote phrases – wrote the phrases that in which they appeared, so he didn’t just remember a bunch of words; he remembered the phases. In this way, he got to use the words correctly in the correct context and in the correct sentences.
Marlinie Flores Coneko, she said that she’s got problems in the second parts of the writing. Okay, to quote her, “It seems that I take too long to focus on what I need to write, and when I start, it seems I’m repeating myself over and over again.” Right then. Marlinie, in this situation, it seems that you need to take more time to plan your essay. If you can plan it well, then it’s going to be well-structured, it’s going to be coherent, and it gives more chance that you’re actually going to answer the question.
I got a blogpost around November of 2011, and just five simple steps you can follow, all right? The first one, read the question, identify the keywords, okay? So if it’s asking you about renewable energy or green energy or environment, then you can make a list of the topic’s specific vocabulary you’ll be using. For example, green energy, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, emissions trading, greenhouse gasses, CO2, pollution, all of this kind of vocabulary.
Also, one of the keywords in the question will be something like, “Give your opinion.” Discuss. These will basically be giving you the instructions of what kind of essay you’re going to write and how you’re going to write it, okay? So number one, read the question, identify the keywords. Number two, generate the vocabulary. Number three, have another look at that question, yeah? Be careful and check that you’re actually on the same page, so to speak, as the actual question, yeah? Because it’s easy just to go off in your own world and write something which isn’t really answering the question, okay? So go back and read the question again just to make sure that you are answering it correctly. Okay, number four, you structure it. Yeah, you’ve got to organize your paragraphs. You’ve got your introduction, probably two paragraphs, and then your conclusion. Then, a very important factor that usually everybody forgets is to check it. Check your essay for mistakes that you have made in past essays, okay? So if you know that you usually forget third-person singular or if you know that you usually have a problem maybe with somebody, anybody, nobody, look specifically for those errors and correct them.
This is quite an easy way to pick up points or not to lose points, because you’re going to get marked down for little errors like that. So you might as well allocate two or three minutes at the end of the essay period, at the end of the exam period. Okay, I hope that helps you, Marlinie.. And just as a side note, one really important thing is this: being an international student isn’t easy. Learning any language isn’t easy. It takes lots of time, and I’m not going to be one of those tutors or marketers or businessmen that say, “Pass the IELTS exam in three days.” I’m not something that. No, don’t believe that. I think it takes a lot of hard work, lots of practice tests, but the important thing is, is the actual attitude of the student, yeah?
And I know because I’ve been there, and the best thing is just to keep going, keep pushing through, and if you put in the hours, eventually, you will get there, and you will be speaking English with the IELTS score that you want. So just a little bit of advice, just keep on it, and you will get there. It’s inevitable.
Now then, in this section, I’ve got a very special guest who actually uses her voice to earn a living. What I did is I asked her a series of typical IELTS Task 1 questions for the speaking, and for the first exercise, what I’d like you to do first is really listen to her voice, try to interpret what she’s saying, listen for the melody, because it really is quite melodic. It’s up and down; so listen to that, and then afterwards, try and guess where the accent is from, okay?
Alison: Hello, Ben and hello to all your podcast listeners. Just before we start, I wanted to thank you for your very kind invitation to take part in your podcast series. I hope your listeners and subscribers will find it interesting, and hopefully, helpful.
So moving on to your questions, what’s my job? Well, I work primarily as a voiceover artist. That’s to say, businesses and individuals use my voice to sell their products, inform and instruct their customers and colleagues or educate their students and their trainers. My work really covers such a large span of broadcast and non-broadcast voiceover work, so I can be asked to record a voicemail message for someone’s phone or narrate an E-learning training module or provide a voiceover for a new app for the iPhone. There is such a huge variety of work, and with new technology developing over time, you never know what the latest thing will be.
Ben: Okay, hopefully, you identified the voice as one of the best voices in the world, like my own voice. I’m just joking. Now, hopefully, you identified the voice as the Received Pronunciation or BBC English. Just a small exercise I wanted to do is, hopefully, you noticed how there’s a lot more intonation, and this kind of speaking, it’s done more with the front of your mouth, and this is a lot more – how do you say? It’s a lot more challenging as well for a foreign speaker, I think.
I also hope that you managed to identify some good phrases there, some good structures that you could possibly borrow. For example, I work primarily as a voiceover artist. This could be quite useful. You could use this for anything. I work primarily as a waiter. I work primarily as a teacher. My work really covers such a large span, yeah? This is what you’d say if there are lots of aspects to your work, yeah?
So for example, I could say my work really covers such a large span. I’m a teacher, I’m a tutor, a translator, interpreter, yeah? And you can almost list the fields that are related to your work, okay? If you’re an artist, you could say, “I’m also a technical drawer. I’m a painter and a sculptor,” that kind of thing.
Okay, now, listen to the second question. In this second question, now, try to listen for topic-specific vocabulary, okay? And if you’ve got a pen, try to make a list of what you hear. If not, don’t worry. We’re going to go over it in a second.
Alison: So how did I choose voiceover work? Well, I’m not sure if I or if anyone really chooses voiceover work. I think it sort of finds you, really. I spent all of my career working within the major industry, so I started off in feature films when I completed film school. I worked as a location assistant and then as a location manager, and then I moved into more TV production, so I worked as a production manager and associate producer. But then, I quickly realized that these jobs, they were so intense and full-on. No were great fun, but they were quite time-consuming and that if I were to decide to have a family, then it was going to be difficult to sort of work and look after children at the same time.
So I wanted to find something else I could do, something that was still within the media and create a business, but something that I could do from home and could fit with family life, and that’s why I sort of came across voiceover work and thought, “Well, that would be perfect.” And at the end of the day, it’s really worked out quite well.
Ben: So, although (indiscernible 12:23) probably never done an IELTS speaking exam, we can learn a lot because you’ve probably realized that she’s paraphrasing all of the questions. This gives her a little bit of extra time, but it also makes it clear to follow. She does it in a way that’s not parrot fashion. She does it in a kind of natural way. So definitely learn the skill of paraphrasing, and secondly, the amount of vocabulary that she used, the really technical vocabulary, theatre film, location manager, media assistant, associate producer. All of these vocab she obviously knows because it’s her industry. However, it’s obviously good to learn all the vocabulary related to your work, related to your study, and that you can take the opportunity to impress the IELTS examiner with all these wonderful words that you learned, and of course, learn them in the context. Yeah?
Doing this is also going to help you with maybe your immigration application. If you can write down what you’ve been doing and write it down in a professional way, also, it’s going to help for your university application, and if you have an interview within the admissions officer, more than likely, he’s going to ask you a similar question, so it’s a good opportunity to learn it now, learn it well, and then it’s going to flow when you do need it in a more real-life example and more real-life situation.
Another aspect to notice was the use of adjectives. It gives a very descriptive picture of what would happen in that job. She says it’s very intense, very full-on, very time-consuming, yeah? I mean, maybe these are applicable for your situation, but if they’re not, you can always learn some other adjectives, and it’s worth taking the time to learn them because you can learn them in the context, in the same context as you used, as you learned the other vocabulary, yeah? So if you’re learning vocabulary about your work and you’re an associate producer, you might as well learn the adjectives at the same time. “I was an associate producer; however, it was a very intense full-on job, and it was very time-consuming,” yeah?
The next part is quite simple. I’ll just let you listen to it. See if you can pull out the questions that were asked, and see if you can pull out anything that’s useful for you that you could just directly copy, and of course apply it to yourself.
Alison: So how long have I been working as a voiceover artist? Well, I probably would say full-time, probably for at least six years now. What is a typical day? Well, the great thing about voiceover work is that there is no such thing, really, as a typical day in terms of what scripts I’ll be asked to record. The exciting thing for me is that many of my clients are internationals, so they’re working and sending me scripts while I’m asleep in bed. So I’ve no idea in the morning when I open up my email inbox what I’m going to find. So it could be anything from narrating a documentary for television or recording a children’s story for an audio book. The variety is really what keeps this job so interesting.
And then obviously, apart from the recording, I spend my day doing the basic day-to-day running of a business. So as it’s just me, I do everything from invoicing to marketing. Whatever needs doing, I have to do it.
Ben: There, we had a few phrases that were quite useful. For example, “The great thing about,” yeah? “The exciting thing about.” These are very easy to use, yeah? “The great thing about studying abroad,” “The great thing about learning English,” “The exciting thing about being a student.”
Okay, another phrase there, which is quite universal, “The variety is obviously what keeps this job interesting,” yeah? You can take these phrases, attach them for yourself, you know? “The variety is obviously what keeps this job exhilarating.” “The environment is obviously what keeps this university course interesting.”
Now, listen to the next part. Try and spot a few expressions and write them down and try to use them today in your everyday activities, if you are in an English-speaking country. Try and incorporate them. If you use them about five times or use one sentence or a phrase about five times, and review it tomorrow as well, it’s a safe bet that it’s now committed to memory, especially if you do what Pete said from Splendid Speaking, which is try and personalize the expression, as well. All right, so that’s just his fine chunk, and then we’re going to go onto the set expressions that you could use for the speaking, okay?
Alison: I wouldn’t say there was much I didn’t like about my job. I mean, doing accounts and invoicing can be tedious, but overall, because I’m involved in every aspect, it’s — no day’s ever dull. So how did I become great at speaking with RP? Well, that’s very kind of you to say. Well, the RP accent is my native accent, so I’ve always spoken this way.
And so I must have developed the accent from listening to friends and family and teachers and you know, from the TV and radio programs, and I think your accent can be influenced by so many different people and so many different things.
Is there a common mistake people make when learning RP? Well, I don’t think there is. I think people come to learning RP with their own individual accents, and each native accent brings with it their own way of speaking. There’s such – such a variety between how certain sounds of letters and combinations of letters are produced between the different native accents and dialects.
So that if someone would say with a Japanese accent will struggle with a different aspect of RP than say someone with a German accent will do.” You just – I mean, each individual has to take their time and practice speaking with the RP accent, so you sort of – you relearn how to make the individual sounds and you retrain your muscles and your mouth, and your tongue, and your lips, to form these new sounds and the new shapes.
Ben: Right then. So I asked Alison if she would be able to recall some set phrases, stock phrases that students could use for the exam. Now, this is a perfect opportunity to listen, repeat, and try and mimic Alison exactly. However, when we’re using set phrases like this, we have to be really careful, because we need to know when to use them, how to adopt them, and how to master them, because if they’re not used correctly, then you’re going to lose points, all right? So once you’ve learned them, try them in the context and see if you fully understand them, all right?
Alison: Okay, so you sent me some stock phrases to say for your podcast listeners. So let’s take a look at these. The first section is expressions used when giving examples. So we would say, “To illustrate this.” “To illustrate this,” “To give you an example, To give you an example, it’s difficult to say,” “It’s difficult to say,” “To show you what I mean,” “To show you what I mean,” “A case in point is,” “A case in point,” “Take McKenzie, for example,” “Take McKenzie for example.”
So this next section covers phrases you can use to give yourself time to think so you could say, “Well, to cut a long story short,” “Well, to cut a long story short, that’s a good question.” “That’s a good question.” “Let me think.” “Let me think.” “Well, to be honest.” “Well, to be honest, it’s funny you should ask.” “It’s funny you should ask.”
And here are the expressions you can use for active listening and responding to comments. “That’s an interesting point.” “That’s an interesting point.” “Could you explain what you mean by?” “Could you explain what you mean by?”
Back to the questions, yes, I do have a product available. It’s called the “Ultimate RP British Accent Learning Resource”, and as you say, it’s available on my website as a digital download. There’s over 15 hours of audio and video RP pronunciation practice material for all of you who’s interested in improving your RP accent.
Is it good for non-native English speakers? Well, I would want to stress that this material is really to help you with pronunciation practice. It’s, rather than as an English-teaching course, I would think that you should have a good command of English before you really want to use this course. So first, start with a course that teaches you English, and then once you’re confident with English grammar, et cetera, then it would be time to look at developing the RP accent side of things. Saying that, if you have a good understanding of English, then I know many non-native speakers have found that the ultimate British accent has really been helpful for them.
What type of person buys the product? I mean, the training material appeals to all sorts of people from students coming to the UK to study to business execs wishing to speak more confidently with their international clients.
The most popular aspect of the course? Well, hopefully, I’d like to think that all aspects of the course are popular and useful, but I do get the impression that the most helpful aspect to the training material is the presentations called the “Sounds in the British Accent,” and this takes you right back to basics. This is how to form each individual vowel and consonant sound, and which are you know, the real building blocks to learning any accent.
So if anyone was interested in finding out more or indeed to purchase the Ultimate RP British Accent Learning Resource, then they should first go to the website, which is www.learningbritishaccent.com, and then click on the Ultimate British Accent link.
Well, thank you very much for listening, and thank you very much for the invitation to be on the show, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Bye for now.
Ben: Okay, I hope you liked that podcast. We’ve just got a few minutes left. So I’d just like to ask if you’re actually learning from these, because I remember when Bromine, she said to me – she said, “There are two parts to learning. There’s discovering new material and reviewing it,” and if you have one without the other, you’re not really learning that effectively. And it also reminded me of what Esther said to me the other day as to the speech therapist. She said that one of the best ways for students to learn is with the headphones and with the actual written words of what’s been spoken in front of them as well. And Tish said the same, who’s also an experienced IELTS tutor. She said it’s one of the best ways because if you don’t understand the word that you hear, well, you can see it in front of you, and if you don’t understand the word – if you don’t know how to pronounce the word that you see in front of you, you can hear it immediately. And I guess it deepens that intuitive skill that comes with the language.
So with that in mind, I decided to get some transcripts made of the actual recording. And going back to what Bromine said, the ex-IELTS examiner, and going back to what Ryan said just a few episodes ago about doing 50 practice tests, I thought, well, there’s no real reason just to give out the transcripts, but not actually test what’s — if it’s been learned, so I decided to make it in the style of an IELTS practice test. And this has a few benefits because if you do take Ryan’s advice and you do 50 practice tests, which is a lot, and you do these to increase your comprehension skills, you do it to find your weaknesses, and you do it to improve your listening ability, but it is kind of boring, I imagine, doing 50 practice tests or random topics. Maybe you do it about penguins in Brazil or whiskey in Scotland or some other esoteric topic, I thought it would be good if you could do an actual practice test or IELTS style practice test on the actual topics that we discussed in the podcast.
So if you are going to spend hours and hours trying to improve these skills, you’re finding your weaknesses and improving your comprehension – all the rest of it, why not do it on information that’s beneficial to you that’s going to actually help you in about a month or so?
So I decided to do this practice test and couple it with the transcripts. So have a look at the website, and yeah – oh, there’s one other thing. If you do download the transcript and the practice test, yeah? You have to bear in mind that this isn’t the answer. In fact, there is no IELTS answer or solution, so to speak, or a magic pill to swallow. It’s if you do, do these tests, yeah, the thing you have to bear in mind is that they will have a bias, of course, towards education, towards learning. You still need to find and get familiar with other subjects such as technology, health, society, pollution, all those of the IELTS topics. However, with improving your comprehension skills, improving your study skills, exam skills, there will be a benefit. So go to the website, download those, check them out, and of course, yeah, tell me what you think about them.
All right, and yeah, keep studying, and all the best, and if you’ve got your exam coming up soon, I wish you all the best, and make the most of it. You’re almost there. Okay guys, see you later.
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