The other day I had a few minutes spare so I jumped into Twitter….
…and realized that English teachers ABSOLUTELY LOVE tweeting, – this is a hidden OASIS of language professionals.
I found CELTA, DELTA, TEFL, TOEFL and TESOL experts, all happily tweeting away, so after a few tweets I found a fantastic teacher, called Eric.
Here are two ‘gems’ from the interview:
- If you have an opinion, have a reason.
- If you made a decision, share the rationale, explain the consequences.
Listen to learn:
- How to prepare for the IELTS speaking.
- A tip to be more relaxed during the exam.
- A methodology to follow to give solid answers.
- Phrases to explain points.
- How to make a good impression at the start.
- Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes progress.
- The key to answering reflective questions.
- How to share a narrative.
- Follow a framework to give complete interesting answers.
Download the whole episode here, for free, then sign up.
Click to read transcript
Ben: If you need to pass the IELTS exams pretty soon and you failed already and this is like your second or third attempt, I strongly recommend that you go to ieltspodcast.com and download all the episodes, because there, there are episodes which you can choose which ones you want to listen to of course, but there are specific ones that are related to the speaking: how to improve your score in speaking, how to prepare for the speaking. There are tutors there. We’ve talked about for one hour, about how to construct your essay. What to include in it? And how you can score high, how to prepare, how to improve your writing. All of these is available at ieltspodcast.com and if you listen to it all, you’re definitely going to improve your score and you can pick and choose which ones you listen to and just choose one that is most appropriate to use. If your listening is a challenge, listen to all of them. If your reading is a challenge, listen to the ones specifically for reading and so on and so forth. But definitely, check that out, ieltspodcsat.com and click on, get all 27 podcasts. Okay, enjoy the episode.
Hi there podcast listeners today I’ve got Eric. Eric [indiscernible 1:36] and he’s the author of a few, quite a few actually, English books, English textbooks and he’s going to help us today and give us some world class advice about speaking in general and how to get the best style of your own ability. He’s been teaching like non- native English speakers, how to get through tests, how to pass the exams. He’s got –
how many years of experience have you got in this, Eric?
Eric: Well, all total, I’ve got over 20 years of experience and thank you for that very kind introduction.
Eric: I guess it’s really key to focus on the authentic context and so like on one of the tests, when I was the director of the Adult Education Centre in West Hollywood, we had a lot of immigrants and refugees from the former Soviet Union who were under pressure to become US citizens or they would lose their benefits.
Eric: And so getting them through that citizenship test was really important and it’s an authentic third party test and so it’s got you know high stakes. And I think the IELTS test is also a high-stakes tests.
Eric: So it deserves a lot of focus, a lot of attention and it’s worth investing time and energy in trying to deconstruct the inner logic of the test.
Ben: I see. And how did you go about that just by analysing the test?
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. So we are fortunate in that in the interest of fairness, the Federal Government agreed that the four-page document would, they would ask all of the questions exactly in order. Now this was extremely significant, because it meant that you knew what the questions were going to be. So if you had very limited English skills, we could still train you to memorize appropriate answers using appropriate phrases if you just kept track of what question it was.
Ben: I see and just go through.
Eric: So, I’m not saying that’s the best way to get through it. It’s obviously best if you are completely comfortable in the language and you can answer each question in the right verb tense, with the appropriate vocabulary and demonstrate your considerable intelligence with you know, detailed responses. But if, for the weak students —
Ben: So you developed like a strategy to get them through this test, because you knew the order of the questions and what was going to happen, so you gave them like a good drilling?
Ben: How would you prepare students who have to take the IELTS exam which is like part 1, a bit of an interview, part 2, where they have to give a presentation on a few points and it could be any topic and then part 3, where it’s like questions related to mini presentation or discussion they gave? How would you prepare them for that?
Eric: Well, part 1, you know, the question are all related to you, and your life and I would focus on three tips: One, be prepared with a range of stories and as soon as possible, demonstrate comfort with a present perfect verb tense. So you know, I have been in… I have been studying for the IELTS for six months. I have decided to focus on electrical engineering for my studies.
Ben: I see. You take the exam up to a good start.
Eric: Yeah. As soon as you demonstrate that you have control over verb tense then it’s kind of tracked off.
Eric: So done. You know how to use present perfect, you have control of verb tenses and you can talk about yourself. So, how long have you had this job? I’ve had this job for a nine months. I have worked in this industry since 2008. So, if you can anchor it with and practice those questions in advance and you don’t the exact question, but you know that for part 1, they are going to relate to you and your life. It’s a conversation. It’s a casual conversation, but it’s also a highly structured conversation with a very particular goal and you don’t want to be stressed because it’s a test. You want to think of it as a conversation, but it’s an important meaningful conversation and you want to make sure that you demonstrate adequate, sufficient language proficiency as soon as possible.
Ben: So, straightaway start showing the examiner what you can do and that way you’re going to get confident yourself if you start off on a good footing you know, and you demonstrate it, it’s going to put you at ease for later parts of the test.
Eric: Absolutely! And this is, you’re talking about your life. So you know you are the world’s leading expert on your life. So you don’t have to worry and be anxious about, well, I made this, I made that. It’s your life, your story. Just keep in mind, two things: one verb tense and two, if you can have some nice terms that give us some linking language will be helpful and this will be helpful later, too, in part 2 and 3.
Ben: Could you give us examples by what you mean by that? Some linking terms?
Eric: Well, if you tell me, when you have an opinion, you should have a reason. If you have made a decision you show us the consequences or the rationale. So use words like because, so. Likewise when you’re going through, I would say things like, in fact, for example, afterwards, you’re giving us kind of a sense of narrative. So we can follow the story. And it’s easy for some people, especially if you’re worried about your English to just give us information and forget the important connecting words.
So you’ve got the experience in your mind and now you need to help us see that experience and understand that. Using those connecting phrases will help us do that. And every time you have an opinion, you should have a reason. Every time you make a decision, you should have a rationale and we should understand the consequences. And of course, this is an advertisement for yourself. This is an attempt to tell your story from a positive perspective. Let me give you an example related to IELTS. At the university, I worked at the University of Southern California and we do the international student exam and many times, in the beginning I almost want to tell students who are being too honest, you’re arguing against yourself.
Ben: I see.
Eric: They’ll see thing like – I’ll say, “Why did you choose the University of Southern California?” And they’ll say, “Well it was the only one that took me. I’m not a good student. I don’t know why they took me. Why would you say that? Please don’t tell the university they made a mistake. Certainly, don’t tell us that your English is too weak.
Eric: Let us make that decision if you need a remedial class.
Eric: But don’t tell us to put you in a class. You know, don’t argue against your own cakes. I don’t get it.
Ben: Exactly. One teacher told me about a student who started the speaking exam: “My name is Lee and my English is really bad” and this an English exam.
Eric: But for the student point of view, you owe it to yourself to do as well as you can.
Eric: I think part of that is studying and knowing what to expect. So in Part 1, you know we’re going to ask you ask you about your life and your experiences and I think having a lot of questions and practice, responses to predictable questions will help on that. Two, keep in mind you do want to pay some attention to verb tense.
Ben: Yes, yes.
Eric: Many students get confused and that’s an early sign that an examiner will note. So if you’re initially pegged as needy, as having verb tense problems, your score is going to be lower and that first 45 seconds to one minute it’s partly due to put you at ease and relax but also there’s some initial assessment of the student’s skill. If you can establish that you have control of present perfect, you’re in good shape.
Ben: Yeah. I see. And you said as well before that the student needs to – well you said, some students they present it like a block of information.
Eric: Yeah. And it looks like it’s memorized. Because it often is.
Ben: Yeah. How can the student [Inaudible 12:11] Eric: Yeah, no. that’s not good. We want to have a real conversation.
Eric: You want to keep in mind tempo. You don’t want to just shoot your answer out as like a machine gun especially when it’s followed by a question and then the student doesn’t understand the question.
Ben: I see.
Eric: So, you want to avoid the excessive memorization and just be comfortable at a natural tempo in responding.
Ben: Get used to these types of questions. But also get used to slightly varying them. Get used to the speed of the answer and also pay a lot of attention to the questions as well that you’re going to be asked.
Eric: Absolute. Absolute. So often and you see this with native speakers, too in other authentic context where people will answer the question they wanted to be asked or expected to be asked rather than the question you did ask. It’s very common in job interviews for applicants to respond to the question they wanted to be asked rather than the question they were asked.
Ben: In an exam, context it shows that you haven’t listened or you misunderstood which shows a lack of listening ability. In fact, one teacher said that the speaking exam is a listening exam and that you have to pay so much attention to the questions and that the writing exam is a reading exam for exactly the same reasons that you have to pay real attention to the question being asked in front. You know when you’re doing the writing part.
Eric: That’s an excellent point, Ben and one way I summarize that for students is they need to listen louder.
Ben: Listen louder. I like that. By that you mean just turn up the volume when they’re listening.
Eric: Pay great attention to the question that was asked.
Ben: I see. I see.
Eric: You know, really focused.
Ben: Yeah and that’s not an easy task, either especially in the exam because with all the nerves and stuff so yeah, that would need to be practiced with a partner, I imagine.
Eric: Yeah. I say practice may not make perfect but practice makes progress and so practice likely questions over and over and over again and in different variance. Now the IELTS is a much better exam than many others.
Eric: One reason why it’s such a strong exam is that there is relatively limited range of what questions will be asked in each of the three parts.
Eric: So that nothing’s going to be coming out of completely what we call left field. There’ll be no crazy questions and that’s helpful.
Eric: That’s very helpful.
Ben: Definitely. When I was doing my research, I read something about reflective questions. Now are there any techniques for these types of questions.
Eric: Well, I think it’s helpful to look at your response, look at your life and think about how did you feel about – what’s your favourite food? And you can always – part of that reflective thing – and we ask this very abstract question. Well I don’t know. Maybe ice cream now. Well, it’s helpful maybe to put it back in context as a child of eight, as a 15-year-old, as a 22-year-old and now.
Ben: I see.
Eric: So just by adding that little condition of thinking about yourself at different ages, as someone who’s developing and evolving and growing then rather than thinking of yourself as a static person.
Eric: I think it’s very helpful especially because many of us have faced setbacks and we haven’t always done as well as we hoped and we need to be resilient and we need to recognize that we fell down in one context in one situation at one time. And then let’s – how did we recover? How did we do better?
Ben: I see.
Eric: If we can just constantly think about in some context then I think our answers will be more honest, be more detailed and more illuminating. And that’s what I mean by being reflective and then recognizing how you might have changed from an 8-year-old to a 15-year-old to a 22-year-old to you know, who you are now.
Ben: I see. Putting it in the context of almost like transformation.
Eric: Yes, I think that’s helpful. So for us to question like, you know, what role has technology had on your life? Well, it’s such an abstract big question. I don’t know how to answer it.
Ben: I see.
Eric: But if I can take it and kind of put it in some context, well, as an 8-year-old, I did this and as a 15-year-old, I – this. And as a 22-year-old, I learned how to program. You know, if you can just give us particular activities for each of those ages then you’re giving us a narrative and that narrative should be one of progress, by the way.
Eric: It’s a positive narrative you’re telling us. Because you’re giving us an advertisement for yourself.
Ben: Exactly, yeah. I was just thinking the same. And the examiner doesn’t have to work as hard and they can just sort of like sit back and right this guy is confident. He can communicate or she can communicate whoever and there you’ve made the examiner’s life easier and you’ve shown a tremendous ability because you sort of you’ve used the past. Well, when I was seven years old I did this. I liked this. Now, when I was 15 I preferred this to that.
Eric: Oh, beautiful.
Ben: You know and you show the examiner the whole range but I like this framework a lot because you could use it for countries. You know, when I was in China, I preferred this. Now, I prefer this and you can use it. Yeah, it’s very flexible. If it’s switched on, you can use it and you can deepen and lengthen practically any question. It just takes a little bit of skill with it, you know, a little bit of practice with it.
Eric: Absolutely. And it launched itself to compare and contrast which is a useful skill and you’ll be telling more interesting stories.
Ben: Exactly, yeah.
Eric: Likewise, if you can layer in, if you don’t want to talk about yourself, you can use years to give the answer. In the 20th century, in the 21st century, when I was young, now that I’m older.
Eric: You can do it for time, you can do it for place, you can do it for professions, you can do it for any kind of context but compare and contrast is useful. It’s a way to demonstrate storytelling and control of verb tense.
Ben: Yeah, that’s awesome. Plus if the students got some framework to follow and they know like, “Okay, for part 3, I’m just going to try and tell a tiny little story. I’m going to give a bit of an insight when I was younger, when I was old or when I was in Russia, when I was in Australia. Having this knowledge and knowing to do this will make the student or make you more relaxed and there’s more probability that your true language ability is going to come out rather than your language ability on test day.
Eric: Yes. Yeah, I think that’s really important because we know so many students hurt themselves by allowing the test to become a stressful instead of satisfying experience. People I think sometimes get more nervous than they need to about the second part where they think of it as a presentation. It’s called a presentation but it’s really not a presentation. You’re just telling us a story.
Ben: Exactly, yeah.
Eric: And just tell us a story in part 2.
Ben: Yeah, definitely. Just work through it. You share it open, open up and just tell the story.
Eric: And again, give us those connectors. Give us those links.
Ben: Could I just ask you another question?
Ben: While we’re on the topic of like relaxing, do you know any techniques or how do you advise your students to sort of like slow down and really make it their opportunity to reflect their ability rather than it transforming into a big chaotic nervous stressful event?
Eric: Yeah, it’s a great question and it’s a very real question. If you notice many political leaders when they are being interviewed on TV, at least in America or testifying, they will have some water with them because their throat may get dry. So you know, I think it’s okay to have to do that.
I do silly things like stretch beforehand, maybe go to a private place and just physically stretch and try to stand tall and look healthy and look I’m bringing out my confident face. It doesn’t mean I feel confident but I’m going to at least look confident.
Eric: Sometimes you have to – there’s a nice expression, “Fake it till you make it” and I think that there is some of that. Some of our Catholic friends talk about act as if you have faith. And I think that’s a beautiful expression.
Eric: So go into it knowing that you will do your best and then do your best. So for me, I need to stretch, I need to physically kind of stand tall, make sure I’m looking at them, the questioners. I feel more comfortable talking a little bit with my hands, not too much, to emphasize appropriate points. Sometimes you – I can shake hands and then you know, give a real handshake like you’re glad to be there. Not like you’re terrified and like you know, you’re just barely alive.
Eric: Bring your life force into the interview.
Ben: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And on a side note, anybody who’s listening when you give a handshake you’ve got to squeeze their hand. Too many people especially well, around the world but in England, handshake has to be – I think in the US as well, but it has to strong.
Ben: When somebody gives me a weak hand, and it’s just floating there, and it feels like a piece of wet lettuce, it just makes me cringe. It’s horrible.
Eric: Yeah, it really is horrible and it’s one of those little things that shouldn’t matter because it’s a speaking test.
Eric: Like your physical presence always matters.
Eric: And the handshake matters, the eye contact matters. I’m more traditional than some people and so I’m going to dress in a casual but casual comfortable but not sloppy manner.
Eric: I’m going to have on a nice shirt.
Eric: That the shirt should not be wrinkled.
Eric: You know, you should be there and you should be glad to be there and it’s a serious important occasion and your dress and your manner, your presence should indicate that.
Ben: Exactly. Great advice.
Eric: Well, this has been a great conversation, Ben.
Ben: Yeah, definitely, Eric. Thank you for agreeing to do it.
Eric: Oh, my pleasure.
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