Have you ever wondered how to prepare for the Speaking section?
Or what’s the best preparation a student can do to pass the IELTS exam?
How do you prepare a student for Speaking Task 2?
Do you know any techniques or hacks for Task 2? Or even Task 3?
How can you improve the fluency of a student?
A way to overcome exam nervousness?
In this episode I ask all these questions to an online IELTS tutor who has even taught royalty from Saudi Arabia!
You can find the online tutor here (and claim an online class for $5): Speaking ConfidenceClick to read transcript
Hello there, podcast listeners. Today on episode we’ve got Phil from onlineenglishteacher.com and he’s going to answer some questions regarding the speaking test. He’s going to give us some hacks for Task 2 or Task 3. He want to tell us about fluency, and he’s going to tell us how to overcome exam nervousness. So it’s quite a value pack episode in this one.
Ben: So hello there Phil. How are you?
Phil: Yes. Hi, Ben. It’s great to meet you and thank you for inviting me today to your famous website.
Ben: Ah, don’t worry about it, my friend. Don’t worry about it. Okay. Now, can you just tell us a bit about yourself and your website before we get started? And then I’ll start with the IELTS questions.
Phil: Yes. Yes. So basically, I’ve been an English teacher for about… I mean the total time is 8 1/2 years. And I’ve taught offline in Japan, India, Spain, and England. And basically, I was thinking “Hey, this offline teaching, it’s really not very successful,” and I’ve been interested in maybe doing something else. So I tried to make a career change into I.T. but I’ve probably got even worse in I.T. than I was in English teaching. And then I kind of had the thought “Hey, I know. I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t I check out becoming a Skype English teacher?” And I had no idea. I started January 2007. So it’s really just a complete start of online teaching. So basically I got into it and I found out I was pretty much the only person in the world doing it (other than a guy called “Tom”). This is in January 2007. And he said, “Hey, I didn’t know there’s another teacher online. I was teaching for half year. Oh, nice to meet you.” And actually now, this guy now works for me 7 1/2 years later. So actually we’ve known each other for a really long time. And probably we may or we may not be the longest online teachers in the world. I’m not sure. But probably, basically we started right at the beginning and we were the only people doing it so it’s possible. It’s possible there are some earlier people of course. But we have been doing this continuously.
Ben: Wow. This could be a Guinness World Book Record. You could be the longest online teacher.
Phil: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Ben: Okay then. Alright. Let’s get started. What’s the best preparation a student can do to pass the IELTS exam?
Phil: Basically, I have a lot of… I’ve been teaching IELTS. I started about 5 years ago, and have been doing continuously. But now I’ve been… Now, I’m pretty busy. I have like 20 or 30 classes a week for the IELTS or whatever, by Skype. And basically, the first thing is they need to know what is their level and what grade they need to get. This is the main thing. Because a lot of the students say “How many classes do I need?” And I kind of think to myself “How long is a piece of string?”
Ben: I see. Okay. So you’d recommend to take a practice test and get familiar?
Phil: Oh yeah. I mean, definitely, they need to know where they are and where they’re going. I think it’s the same for everything in life.
Ben: I see. Good. Good. Right then. Now, how do you prepare a student for the speaking task?
Phil: For the speaking task, we need to find out what are the weak areas. So usually, and I’m not saying I know this completely, but usually after speaking to them I get some sort of idea what their current level or how many classes they’re going to need. But then also, we can go through speaking exams. But having taught online for 7 and a half years, I guess I sort of… trained my mind. So pretty much after a few minutes I can kind of tell what level the students is for. There are definitely more doing some speaking exams so they can focus more, and trying to pick up some more of their error.
Ben: I see. I see. Could you give us an example of a typical weak area and how you would correct it?
Phil: Yeah. I mean a typical weak area is grammar. So basically, maybe the students… like I was teaching a student yesterday and this was a student from… I can’t think which country that guy was from. But it was a sound from Saudi Arabia and Poland. And basically, we were going… He got great fluency but they got grammar errors. So I would… In fact they were writing down. Obviously they could write them down if they want to but they said they were writing it down. And so basically we just go through and identify the grammar errors and then hopefully they’ll stop making them. But what I recommend which is also similar to the writing, should also be similar to the speaking is for students to like make an excel sheet, and just write down all the errors they are making. And then count for them each time they’re making it. And mathematically they could then quickly see how it has been.
Ben: I see. I see. And also if they are measuring it, if you’re measuring something just the mere fact of measuring it starts to make you pay attention to it. And from there you will see an improvement as well. So that’s a good point.
Right then. Next question. Do you know any techniques or hacks for Task 2.
Phil: Yeah. Over the years of teaching the IELTS it’s like I’ve had a lot of students who don’t know what to say and they just got no idea what to say. What I say to the students is… and it’s not easy… but I just demonstrate to the students from Saudi Arabia yesterday… is basically try to write 15 bullet points, and then you can use 1 bullet point for half, one, or two sentences. And then it’s very easy to speak. Because a lot of students like number one, they’re thinking what they want to say, and number two they think about their English. And they don’t do either particularly well. But if students can write down the bullet points then basically they will be able to speak easily. So basically, I think the key thing is prepare as much as possible, write in the bullet points, and that also goes for Task 1. If you kind of prepare and write down some typical answers. And then people can focus on their English and they don’t have to worry so much about what they’re going to say.
Ben: Excellent advice. Yeah, if they’ve got the content already in front of them, especially if in bullet form, then it’s just a case of working through the list, and maybe expanding on a few points if they find it easier, and working through. That’s excellent advice.
What about for Task 3? Do you know any techniques for the Task 3 when they’re more difficult questions to start?
Phil: What I say to the students is speak longer for the easier questions and then shorter for the shorter questions. So basically for the Task 3, if they’re saying “You mentioned about your job, you’re an accountant. Tell me a bit more about that…? If this has been covered pretty well, they try and speak a lot longer. But if the question is a difficult question then try to speak in a shorter time and that would then hopefully mathematically maximize the amount of time for speaking easy answers as well as to difficult questions.
Ben: I see. So if the examiner asks you a question that (like you said) related to your job, you would recommend your students speak longer on that question because they’ve got a massive (in theory) they’ve got much more vocabulary, and they’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable about it, rather than speaking about just a random point that the examiner’s picked up on during the part 3.
Phil: And the other thing is definitely if students doubt on some questions they definitely go to ask. It’s no good guessing because there’s a million different questions the examiner might ask. So although it doesn’t sound so good, but definitely check. And another thing, it’s good if you could speak and correct yourself. But it’s better if you just speak it correctly the first time. So try to speak at a relatively slow speed or at least as slow to give yourself time to think ahead and check ahead. But then for me, it shouldn’t be like a tortoise.
Ben: That’s true. I find that on teaching that when I come back from the U.K., I usually speak a lot faster and my students don’t understand me. So yeah. If you speak slower it definitely helps for the other students to understand you.
Now almost the last question. Do you know a way to overcome exam nervousness? How can we get confident in the exam?
Phil: Yeah. I’ve had students before who… like the Task 2 we sort of… I said, “Okay, one minute preparing. Ready, start… Start… I said start…” And they said, “I’m sorry I’m too nervous to speak.” I said, “What do you mean? It’s just me and you in this session?” And actually, that one other student there, they actually got 6.5 (sorry to mention that person). So yeah. It’s all about repeating. If you drive a car, the first times you’ve kind of got white knuckles on the steering wheel. But after 50 times you kind of know what you’re doing. And it’s just that. You just have to repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat as many times as possible with a teacher, also by yourself, speaking. It’s just like any skill. Basically, you have to do it so many times that you kind of forget you’re doing it. And then you won’t be nervous.
Ben: Good advice there. So they could just go online, get some Task 2 cue cards, and then just practice, record it…
Phil: Yeah. They don’t have to do it with a teacher. And definitely, especially in my class, I definitely recommend student to just do it by themselves. Go to ieltsblog.com or one of these famous websites and just get all the questions, practice speaking it, record it. Also for the Task 1 questions you can prepare it, write what you’re going to say, and try and expand it. You got to be careful. Sometimes I say it to my students, “It’s not a piece of interrogation. You’re not trying to minimize what you say so you don’t get condemned by your answers.” So try and give full answers. Like “What’s your name?” You wouldn’t say “John,” or “Juan,” or whatever. You’d say “My name is Juan. My friends call me Jay,” or whatever it is. But also, you can’t speak for 10 minutes about your favorite color. It needs to be all in context.
Ben: Yeah. You just spend 15 minutes to the examiner talking about your name.
Phil: Yeah, “This is my name… Oh, by the way my dog’s name…”
Ben: Although we’ve centered mainly on the speaking, you do help students with the other areas, yeah?
Ben: Okay. And regarding the other areas, what’s the most common difficulty you find yourself correcting for students?
Phil: Well, it depends on every student. But grammar and vocabulary are the main things. I think for structure and for task response, this is something the student learn in High School so I don’t really teach it so much.
Ben: Okay then. I see. And do you have any tips for the reading or for the listening?
Phil: For the reading, it’s all about typing. It’s all about… And what I say to students, “The reading is like Tetris. Basically, it’s mission impossible. Don’t expect doing all the questions. It’s all about the percentage. So if you need to get such and such correct, so 32, whatever’s going to be. So basically, it depends if it’s general or academic. So basically, number one, it’s all about time. And you got to have a fast schedule. And number 2, don’t think you’re going to get 100% correct. Most native speakers couldn’t even get 100% correct where some of the questions were difficult sometimes. So basically it’s all about percentages. You better work out words you need and just get enough of that and any other is great. But you don’t need to get 100%.
Ben: Okay. I see. I see. Alright. Now, if a student wants to start classes with you, could you tell us about that offer that they can do a $1 class?
Phil: Yes, right. So basically, we have like a $1 class. So students can try our boot class or certain student class. And actually, also, another thing is, for the listeners, we can do also an offer which is buy 10, get 1 free, using the link. So there’ll be like a link to a special page for Ben’s website, and we’ll also make an affiliate link. But also to encourage people to use that link. It’ll be buy 10 and get 1 free with the IELTS Podcast listeners.
Ben: Awesome. Awesome. So all they have to do is go to the site, look for this post, and then follow the link.
Phil: Yes, the link won’t be to my main site. It will be to another site englishtutor.info/ieltspodcast and the link, I’ll make this for Ben after. And I’ll give the link and so you can use that to get the buy 10 get 1 free.
Ben: Awesome. Awesome.
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