I love you because I love you

Yes, I like my job because it matches my education.

In IELTS you will often be required to express opinions about topics that you may not have thought about very deeply or discussed in daily conversation with friends. Not only do you have to give opinions, you also have to give reasoned support for these opinions.

The opening statement can be expressed:

Claim: I like my job.
Support: My job matches my education.

Fine. But let’s say you studied chemistry at university and you now work as a chemist. Then you could say:

  • I like working as a chemist because I studied chemistry at university.

OR

  • I studied chemistry at university because I wanted to work as a chemist.

But then it is possible to say:

  • I enjoy working as a chemist because I studied chemistry at university because I wanted to be a chemist because I was studying chemistry because I wanted to be a chemist.

This is known as a circular argument. You say you like your job, and since you chose to study chemistry, we assume that you like that, too. So we still don’t know why you like chemistry (your job)! You might as well say “I like it because I like it!

circular argument

There are much better reasons why a person might like their job:

  • the job pays a good salary
  • the job involves travelling (which you enjoy)
  • the job involves meeting interesting people
  • the job presents opportunities for career development
  • the workplace is situated conveniently close to your home
  • (other reasons here)

So, when you’re preparing for IELTS, think – more deeply than usual – about the things you like (or don’t like). And then think about why you like (or don’t like) them.

Let’s practice right now. Here is a list of things people either like or don’t like. Choose one item and add a comment below, saying why you either like or don’t like the item. Try to give two reasons, and avoid those circular arguments!

  • travelling
  • shopping
  • reading
  • listening to music
  • preparing for IELTS

Stating subjects in IELTS Task 1

Americans rose steadily, while Indonesians fell dramatically.

Well, maybe. Something like this?

USD_IDR

With a sentence like the one above you are unlikely to communicate anything meaningful about a graph, table or chart. If there was a rise or a fall, then you need to state precisely what it was that rose and what it was that fell – What is the subject?

For example:

divorce rate

  • The divorce rate in America rose steadily, while the divorce rate in Indonesia fell dramatically.

Here there are 2 subjects:

  1. the divorce rate in America
  2. the divorce rate in Indonesia

Some of you will complain about the repetition in this sentence (‘the divorce rate‘). However, it’s better to repeat words and phrases and communicate something meaningful than to avoid repetition and communicate nothing.

Actually in this example repetition can be avoided:

  • The divorce rate in America rose steadily, while that in Indonesia fell dramatically.

* Many thanks to Diro, Nando and Ari for the ‘falling Indonesians’ photo – You guys rock! 🙂

Used to using ‘used to’

I’m not used to invite visitors to my house.

Used to‘ can have more than one meaning:

  1. I used to invite visitors to my house. (= I don’t invite them any more.)
  2. I’m not used to inviting visitors to my house. (= I don’t do it very often.)

If you’re talking about something you did regularly in the past, but don’t do now:

used to + V1

On the other hand if you’re talking about an activity that you don’t do very often and as a result find difficult or awkward:

used to ___ing

Let’s contrast these meanings one more time:

  • When Europeans visit Bali and eat in a restaurant, the staff assume that these visitors do not want to eat spicy food because Europeans are not used to eating spicy food.
  • On the other hand I have a Balinese friend who used to eat spicy food but had to stop because he developed stomach ulcers.

Ouch!

When ‘s’ is not enough

When you add an ‘s’ to some spoken words, you may need to do more than simply add ‘s’. Sometimes you have to add ‘Iz’, instead.

This happens to words that in their normal form end with these sounds:

/s/ – /ʃ/ – /ʧ/ – /ʤ/

  • box (/bɒks/) becomes boxes (/bɒksɪz/)
  • wash (/wɒʃ/) becomes washes (/wɒʃɪz/)
  • church (/ʧɜ:ʧ/) becomes churches (/ʧɜ:ʧɪz/)
  • language (/læŋwɪʤɪ/) becomes languages (/læŋwɪʤɪz/)

Try reading the following sentences aloud!

  • Bosses sit in offices filling pages with percentages.
  • Boxes, faxes and packages are all sent by businesses.
  • Nurses apply bandages and cure viruses.
  • Sausages and sauces stay fresh in fridges.
  • Witches make sandwiches from leeches and eyelashes.
  • An artist mixes paint and brushes it onto canvases.
  • Oranges grow on branches in the gardens of cottages.
  • Men who repair watches wear glasses with thick lenses.
  • People enter races to win prizes.
  • Foxes hide in bushes to avoid surprises.
  • People of both sexes sunbathe on beaches.
  • Birds in cages face disadvantages.
  • Noses of all shapes and sizes detect gases emerging from ashes.
  • When he’s away, he misses her kisses.
  • Students in colleges follow classes in the sciences. They write sentences using tenses in different languages.
  • People buy cars from garages, then drive inches from the edges of bridges.
  • Musicians of all ages appear on stages.
  • My friend washes dishes to earn wages and pay taxes.

Below is a recording of these statements made by a native English speaker.

Listen, pause, repeat. Try to sound like the speaker in the recording, especially at word endings – /Iz/!

Nothing ‘needs’ high cost

Studying abroad needs high cost!

Indonesian flag This one does not translate directly from Indonesian. In fact the meaning changes dramatically!

In English if you say something ‘needs high cost‘ then you are saying:

  • It is better if this thing is expensive!
  • If it is not expensive I’m not interested!
  • Indonesian flag I am ‘gengsi’!

This is like the king who is building a palace that is bigger and better than all of the other palaces owned by all of the other kings.

High cost‘ is used in English as part of a longer noun phrase:

  • the high cost of living
  • high cost housing
  • cheap clothing’s high cost

The preposition phrase (‘of blah blah’) is probably the most common:

  • the high cost of studying abroad

If you are writing about the cost of studying abroad then you might say:

  • The high cost of studying abroad needs to be taken into consideration. Studying abroad is expensive.

The price is expensive (2)

The price of natural pearls is more expensive than the price of man made pearls.

Indonesian flag This is an Indonesian student translating ‘harganya mahal‘!

We see what you mean. But in IELTS if you want a better score for vocabulary (LR)1, and if you want to be more accurate with meaning (FC, TA, TR, CC)1, then you need better collocation (LR)1.

First of all ‘price‘ can be ‘high‘ or ‘low‘:

  • The price of natural pearls is higher than the price of man made pearls.

Products and services, meanwhile, can be ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’:

  • Natural pearls are more expensive than man made pearls.

We can use the same collocation to talk about this bottle of wine:

price

  • Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951 is very expensive. Only a rich person can afford to pay such a high price for wine!

If you say the price is expensive, strictly speaking you are saying that a sequence of numbers (in this case $38,420) is expensive! The wine is expensive, not the numbers!

Here’s a song illustrating common collocations involving ‘price’.

(See IELTS public band descriptors)

I would if I could, but I can’t

I enjoy using Facebook because I could see photos of my friends there.

Students are often confused about can/could, will/would. Sometimes they have learned at school that could and would are more formal, or more polite than can and will. That may be true when you are requesting something, but in IELTS speaking and writing you’re usually using can and will to communicate possibility or ability rather than to make a request.

Possibility

How possible is it?

  • I enjoy using Facebook because I can see photos of my friends there.

In this case there is a strong possibility (almost 100%) that I will see my friend’s photos on Facebook. In this case I need to use can.

Let’s imagine a similar situation where there is no possibility:

  • If I had an Internet connection, I could see photos of my friends on Facebook.

Here the writer clearly does not have an Internet connection and so there is no possibility of him seeing his friend’s photos. Notice that in this example could is part of a structure called ‘second conditional’, which is used to describe an unreal or imaginary situation in the present:

If + subj + V2 + ‘,’ + subj + could/would + V1

In the ‘second conditional’ the situation you are describing is unlikely:

  • If I found a million dollars in the street I would buy a new house.

This kind of imaginary situation is by far the most common context for could and would.

Will

Indonesian flag Indonesian students tend to overuse ‘will‘ because they want to translate ‘akan‘. But ‘will‘ is not used in English as much as ‘akan’ is used in Indonesian. Actually there are generally only three situations where will is suitable:

  1. ‘First conditional’ – a situation in the present that is highly possible:

Look at those clouds. I forgot my umbrella. If it rains I will get wet!

  1. Predictions

Look at those dark clouds! It will probably rain soon.

  1. Habits (usually annoying habits)

He drives me crazy. He‘ll (he will) trim his nails and then leave the cuttings all over the floor for me to clean up!

Ability

How able are you (or were you)?

It’s unusual to talk about past abilities, because once you acquire an ability, for example the ability to swim, you rarely lose that ability. It would be ridiculous, for example, to write:

  • When I was younger I could swim, but then I forgot how to swim so now I can’t.

We generally only lose this kind of ability when something terrible happens to us:

  • When I was younger I could swim, but then I lost my arms and legs in an accident and so now I can’t swim.

On the other hand ability can sometimes be a matter of degree. for example we can talk about partial ability, and about changes in our level of ability:

  • When I was younger I could swim 20km, but now that I’m old I can only swim 20 metres!

Most of the time when we talk about ability we use can – present tense – because, most of the time, we’re making a claim that is true now or always.

Summing up

Next time you write could or would stop and think. You probably should be writing can or will!

Being trendy without ‘trend’

In general, all the lines show that there is an increasing trend of people with bronchitis.

When students are preparing for IELTS Task 1 writing they learn the importance of describing ‘trends’ in graphs, tables and charts. Not surprisingly, they go ahead and use the word ‘trend’ to describe these trends. But native speakers almost never do that.

In the opening example a trend is described, but the word ‘trend’ is redundant. It is enough to write:

  • In general, all the lines show that the incidence of bronchitis is increasing.

This kind of statement stands out as ‘a trend’ because it says something general about a change over time without mentioning data.

So here’s your checklist for a trend:

  1. It is expressed as a sentence
  2. It does not feature the word ‘trend
  3. It says something general without mentioning values from the graph, table or chart
  4. It describes a change over time
  5. The thing that is affected by change is named specifically (‘incidence‘).

Understand also, that a trend is often ‘hidden’ in data that is highly irregular. In the following graph grammatical accuracy goes up and down erratically over time, but the general trend (shown by the straight line) is downward.

trends

The ‘trend’ in this graph can be described:

The more frequently the word ‘trend’ is used, the less accurate the writing.

Reaching a peak in IELTS Task 1

In general, the 6pm news reached its peak for almost 5 million viewers per day in the first month.

This is actually quite communicative and in IELTS this sentence might give you a satisfactory score for TA. However, the language problems would leave you with a much lower score for GRA and for CC.

  1. It doesn’t make sense to signal this statement ‘In general‘, because it’s not general. It features data values taken from the x and y axes of the graph. Better to put this information in the detail section of your essay and signal it “In detail,“.
  2. You need to treat ‘reach a peak‘ as a phrasal verb. If you want to change the tense – and the tense will most likely be past simple tense – then you can modify ‘reach‘ (past: ‘reached a peak‘). Otherwise don’t mess with ‘a‘ and don’t mess with ‘peak‘.
  3. The preposition ‘for‘ is not right.

So, if you really are making a general statement, do this:

  • In general, the popularity of the 6pm news reached a peak in the first month.

If you want to mention detail, then do this:

  • In detail, the 6pm news reached a peak of almost 5 million viewers per day in the first month.

Pay careful attention to this pattern:

something + reached a peak (+ of + value x) (+ time expression)

If you don’t believe me, check out these examples!

And whatever you do, don’t write ‘reached the peak‘! That applies to climbers only, where ‘the‘ refers to the mountain that they happen to be climbing at the time!