A common phenomenon I hear very often, too often for me actually, is my students using the same expressions and linking phrases when speaking. This is not a good idea, as the IELTS official criteria tell us “over-use of certain connectives and discourse markers” = 5.0 for Fluency and Coherence. Not to mention the marks you might not pick up for lexical resource.
This is more often than not for the third part of the speaking section, the one with the more general abstract questions connected to the same theme as on the topic card. Now for the first part of the test, overuse of the same words is not so common, although many people make the mistake of merely reciting the same language as the question.
Q: “What sort of things are popular to keep healthy?
A: “The sort of things that are popular in my country to keep healthy are……”
As you know from the marking criteria, repeating the exact same words will not go down well, now if you paraphrased them, that’s another matter.
A: “Actually, there are many ways for my country fellows to try to maintain a healthy life, you know, I am a firm believer in regular exercise and many people in China, like me, go for tai chi sessions in the park….etc…..”
Another problem is overuse of keywords in the questions, as below.
Q: “Tell me about your hometown”
A: My hometown is Beijing. As you know Beijing is the capital of China. I have lived in Beijing for all my life. Beijing is a beautiful city…etc”
Using Beijing four times or more in the same answer doesn’t really demonstrate a whole lot to the examiner. A better way might be to replace “Beijing” with some pronouns, as below.
A: “I come from Beijing, the best city in China, it’s really great, all the opportunities for jobs and education are there, and I have to say, this city to my mind is really magical, you know, etc…..”
We can substitute “the best city in China”, “it’s”, “this city”, and many others I am sure.
But what I want to write about today is about is two things, the first, briefly, is how to express an opinion, and the second is how to explain causation.
The first is easy, now a lot of people say things such as “I think” to express their opinion, this is fine, but not for every question. It can be a little repetitive and wearing to the examiner. There are many different expressions we might use, and once these are taught to the student, they usually remember to use them. The best way being to vary your delivery, for whether you are uncertain
“I suppose, I reckon, I guess”
Or certain in your views.
“In my view, personally, I believe that, I strongly feel that, etc”
There are others, but these are just an illustration. I don’t want to write more about this as it is easy to do and there are many examples online for you to read about. My main point today is how to explain causation, using “because” in other words. Why is this a problem? Because it is simply overused. You see what I mean? Every question uses “because” as a conjunction and to explain causation.
Q: “Why do peoples tastes in music change as they get older?”
A: “I think…this is because….”
Q: “Which is better for presenting the news, TV or radio?”
A: I would say TV because….”
Q: “Do you trust people you meet online?”
A: “Sometimes, because, as you know….”
So, we need to change this habit. Now I know, all too well, that it is very easy and simple to just say “because” in answer to everything. I am guilty of it myself, however saying this, natives don’t always use a conjunction to explain causation, as we will see below. Also, although many people use this word, for the purpose of the IELTS, it is not in your interests to overuse it. Your objective is to sound as natural and native-like as possible, and to demonstrate a wide range of vocab and lexis, which is rendered somewhat difficult if you overuse certain words. Now, for some of these examples, you might be able to make a direct substitution for “because” with an alternative conjunction or conjunctival phrase, you may need to reorder the sentence a little, however, that would not be so difficult with a little practice.
Let us see some examples then.
Q: “What are some of the best places in your country for a tourist to visit?”
A: Well, I would say if you come to Beijing, the Great Wall of China because it is the most famous landmark in my country, I suppose.
A: Well, I would say if you come to Beijing, the Great Wall of China as it is the most famous landmark in my country, I suppose…
Q: “Do you feel that film stars are overpaid for what they do?”
A: “In my view they are because they don’t contribute anything meaningful to society”
A: “In my view they are, I mean to say, they don’t contribute anything meaningful to society”
Q: “Do you think it is important for a country to preserve old houses and buildings?”
A: “Yes, absolutely, because these buildings are a part of our heritage and national culture.”
A: “Yes, absolutely, these buildings are a part of our heritage and national culture so we must preserve them.”
Q: “Do you think computer skills should be taught in schools?”
A: “Certainly they should, because to get on in life, at work for example, these skills are vital.”
A:”Certainly they should, since these skills are vital to get on in life and at work for example.”
Q: What’s the best way to travel around your country?”
A: I would say by train, because planes are expensive and we have a good rail network”
A: I would say by train, actually planes are expensive in my country and we have a good rail network.”
Q: Why have so many people nowadays gone to live in big cities?
A: “Good question, I suppose it is because they want a better life in terms of job opportunities maybe.”
A: “Good question, I suppose the reason is they want a better life in terms of job opportunities maybe.”
Q: “What are the worst health problems facing the world today?
A: “I believe that obesity and cancer are the biggest because they kill millions of people needlessly every year.”
A: “I believe that obesity and cancer are the biggest due to the fact that they kill millions of people needlessly every year.”
Ok, that’s enough of that, you can hopefully see my point. In the examples above, you can substitute a synonym or reorder the sentence for another conjunction. There are more words you might use, but these will do for now.
So, in sum, I am not saying you cannot or should not use because, it is a legitimate part of English after all, what I am saying is that you can try to vary your responses to get a better score for this criteria. Remember, the criteria says that for 7.0 and above, you need to show a wide range of structure, so, mix it up, try some different responses, and try not to use “I think…because…” for every answer.