IELTS Speaking Part 1 Techniques

IELTS Speaking Part 1: Useful Language

In the interview part of the IELTS Speaking test (Part 1), you’re simply asked questions about yourself and other familiar topics. The examiner will be listening for how well you express yourself in a few words or sentences.

Of course, you should try to do more than simply answer the question if you want to achieve a high score. The following useful language will give you ideas for expanding an answer by talking about the past, present and future. It will also help you speak more fluently and with an awareness of collocation and idiomatic speech. Some idiomatic expressions are explained in parentheses.

Asking for repetition

  • Could you say that again?
  • I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.
  • Did you say (          )?

Stalling for time

  • Well, let me see.
  • In my case, …
  • Hmm, I’d have to say …

Saying something negative

  • I’m sorry but …
  • I’m afraid (to say that) …
  • To be (perfectly) honest, …

Giving an example

  • For example, …
  • A good example is …
  • Maybe you’ve heard of …

Describing frequency

  • Every other day, … (= Frequently)
  • Once in a while, … (= Occasionally)
  • Once in a blue moon, … (= Rarely)

IELTS Speaking Part 2 Techniques

IELTS Speaking Part 2: Useful Language

In the individual long-turn part of IELTS Speaking, you have to talk for one to two minutes on a topic chosen by the examiner. This is the only part of the Speaking module in which a time limit applies, so there’s more pressure to speak quickly and without hesitation. However, it’s also the easiest part to practice, as answers tend to follow a similar pattern regardless of the topic. The useful language below will help you structure a response in Part 2. How you use it depends on the question.

Beginning your response

  • I’m going to talk about …
  • I’d like to tell you about …
  • I’ve decided to speak about …

Indicating a time in the past

  • I think it was when I was around (age) years old.
  • When I was a (school) student, …
  • In my (school) days, …

Speaking hypothetically

  • If I could choose any (repeat topic), I’d choose …
  • Given a choice of any (repeat topic), I’d rather …
  • If money were no object, I’d …

Describing a book/film/story

  • It’s about a (person) who …
  • The story concerns a (person) who …
  • The main character is a (role) played by (actor) who …

Omitting some details

  • Briefly, …
  • I won’t go into detail here but …
  • There’s no time to explain fully here but …

IELTS Speaking Part 3 Techniques

IELTS Speaking Part 3: Useful Language

For most people, the discussion is the toughest part of the IELTS Speaking test. Remember though, you’re NOT required to demonstrate any special knowledge of the topics discussed. The examiner is listening for how well you connect your ideas, expand your answers and cope with difficulty when it arises. The following useful language will help you speak with more fluency and coherence, which together are worth 25% of your speaking score in IELTS.

Asking for help

  • Could you say that in other words?
  • I’m not sure what you mean exactly.
  • Do you mean (          )?

Stalling for time

  • That’s a(n) interesting/tough/difficult question.
  • I don’t know much about this issue but …
  • I’ve never really thought about it before but …

Giving an opinion

  • Well, I think/suppose/would say …
  • … for two/several reasons.
  • I think most people would agree that …


  • Or rather …
  • I mean …
  • Or, should I say …


  • What I mean is …
  • What I want to say is …
  • What I’m trying to say is …

IELTS Speaking IELTS Writing Vocabulary

Informal & Formal Vocabulary for IELTS

As an IELTS teacher, one of the most common questions I get asked is if a particular word is appropriate for IELTS. People seem to be obsessed with using formal vocabulary!

In a way, it’s not surprising since one of the things that dictionaries are not so good at is explaining register: that is, the appropriate situation in which to use a certain word.

My rule is very simple: make your language as formal and academic as possible in IELTS writing, but try to use natural-sounding language in IELTS speaking.

However, there are some words that you shouldn’t use in any section of the test. What are they? See my list below for all the answers.

Informal (Avoid) Neutral (Speaking) Formal (Writing)
Stuff Things Items, Possessions
Folks Family Relatives
Kids (younger) Babies, Children Infants, Offspring
Kids (older) Teenagers Adolescents, Youths
Guy Man Male
Old people Elderly people Senior citizens, Retirees
Boss, Manager Supervisor, Superior
Cops Police Law enforcement
Crooks Criminals Offenders, Lawbreakers
OK, Alright Fine Acceptable, Satisfactory
Great, Awesome Good Preferable, Desirable
Rubbish, Useless Bad, Poor Unsatisfactory, Unacceptable
Nice, Polite Considerate, Agreeable
Kind, Friendly Sociable, Neighbourly
Nasty, Cheeky (person) Rude, Impolite Abusive, Disagreeable
Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (idea) Misguided, Questionable
Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (person) Misguided, Mistaken
Happy (person) Satisfied, Delighted
Happy (situation) Satisfying, Delightful
Sad (person) Regretful, Distressed
Sad (situation) Regrettable, Distressing
Sick of, Fed up with Tired of Dissatisfied with
Poor (country) Developing, Poverty-stricken
Poor (person) In poverty, Underprivileged
Rich (country) Wealthy, Developed
Rich (person) Wealthy, Privileged

Bonus tip 1: Contractions such as don’t are fine in IELTS Speaking but it is better to use do not in the Academic Writing module. Avoid very casual contractions such as gonna and dunno completely.

Bonus tip 2: Don’t use too much formal vocabulary in IELTS Speaking or your answers will sound very stiff and unnatural. Just be yourself!

Classroom Resources Study Tips Teacher Tips

Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use

With more than a million test-takers annually, more and more publishers are getting into the IELTS textbook market, with varying results. Choosing a coursebook for a group of students is a serious responsibility because, along with the teacher, the book may well be the most important influence on their test preparation over the following months. I’ve taught groups using all the most common IELTS textbooks, and these are the five I’ve found to be most reliable:

Focus on IELTS (New Edition) (Longman)

Focus on IELTS has long been a popular choice for teachers and it’s easy to see why. There’s a good balance between authentic Academic IELTS test items and meaningful group exercises, while the inclusion of a grammar reference guide and extra writing practice make this a solid friend for classroom use. The new edition corrects most of the mistakes in the first edition and adds more EAP elements such as critical thinking and reflective learning. One remaining drawback is the lack of a version with full answer key and scripts. Also available in a Foundation edition that introduces test practice more gradually. Rating 9/10

Objective IELTS Intermediate/Advanced (Cambridge)

One unique aspect of the Objective series is that test practice exercises are mostly written to focus students’ attention on a particular item type. There’s also an attractive presentation, discussion-led format, and strong grammar coverage throughout both books. The inclusion of test items from both the Academic and General Training modules in both books can be either a blessing or a curse depending on your teaching situation. A self-study student’s book with answer key and scripts is available for a slightly higher price, and there’s a teacher’s book with regular practice tests. Be warned: the level of questions in Objective IELTS Advanced is extremely challenging. Rating 8/10

Classroom Resources Study Tips Teacher Tips

Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Self-study

Over the years I’ve been asked countless times which IELTS textbooks are best for independent study. For me, the main criteria are a full answer section, preferably one with explanations of answers, and an approach to the test that breaks down strategies into simple steps that learners can follow. Here are five textbooks I’ve recommended many times in the past:

Focus on Academic Skills for IELTS (Longman)

At first glance this seems to be a supplement to Focus on IELTS, but it’s actually a radically different kind of coursebook, one very well suited to self-study. Test strategies are broken down into easy-to-follow processes, and authentic test items are supplemented with directions in blue text. There’s also a full answer key. The new edition of the book includes both audio CDs and is therefore an even more complete package than the first edition. The only drawback is that it’s a little too process-oriented for classroom situations. Rating 9/10

Grammar for IELTS/Vocabulary for IELTS (Cambridge)

Vocabulary for IELTSIndependent learners will appreciate these self-study guides from Cambridge which focus on grammar and vocabulary with an academic dimension. Suitable for all low- to high-intermediate-level students. Both books come with an audio CD, which means that test-takers are activating more than just their reading and writing skills. Of course, it is ideal if these books can be supplemented with opportunities for spoken output such as a group lesson or study buddy. Rating 8/10