ielts-yasi.englishlab.net

Written Dec. 8, 2010 

 

Email About How to Give a Part 2 Answer

 

This email is about a "model" answer that was found in an IELTS Speaking text book in China. I know this book but I will not name it.

There are four points that stand out about that answer:

i) An unsuitable usage and over-usage of "fluency filler" language,

ii) A "taste" of over-formality in the language that makes the answer seem like a "speech" rather than simply an extended answer or a "little story",

iii) A relative lack of real information. It is very "unbalanced" language (i.e., false language) when a person has the ability to use fancy-sounding fluency fillers but not the ability to say a few more sentences that give real information to the listener. About 50% of the whole answer consists of the "empty language" of fluency fillers.

iv) The absence of contracted English in the answer, which also gives it a formal and written tone.

 

The answer is typical of the kind of thing written by some Chinese English teachers (but very few of them go to the extremes of this answer). I can't really blame these teachers for writing "model" answers that resemble a prepared "speech" because they were trained in university to be high school English teachers and in China, teaching the students to give speeches is an integral part of the English course. In contrast, there is very little, or no "conversational" English taught because there is no test of spoken English in the College Entrance Exam. But the IELTS test is assessing your conversational English ability, not your speech-giving ability.

My second reply to this student gives a more natural way to speak the same answer that was found in that book.

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--- On Tue, 12/7/10, XXXX wrote:
 


From: XXXX
Subject: Asking for advice
To: gelin3@yahoo.com
Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 8:25 PM

 

Dear Mr. Green,
 
I'm a faithful reader of your website and always appreciate your endeavour to impart knowledge. Your kindness benefits hundreds of thousands of IELTS examinees.

 

The following is a strategy of a IELTS speaking book relative to Part 2 topic card, if it can be used during the speaking exam? And give your advice about this structure.

 

          Describe a famous person you would like to meet.
              You should say:
                      Who the person is
                       Why he/she is famous
                       Why you would like to meet this celebrity
               What you would like to do if you met this person.

 
      "I guess i could begin by saying something about who this person is,and i think i would have to choose the superstar Jackie Chan from Hong Kong.
       Going on to my next point which is why he is famous, I really need to add that he is a world-renowned martial arts film star as well as being a successful director.In fact he was probably the first Chinese actor to achieve blockbuster success in Hollywood.
        And now with reference to why i would like to meet this celebrity,the point i want to make here is that i have always been a big fan of martial arts movies,so if i had the chance to meet one of my childhood idols,it would be a dream come true.
        And so finally then,if i have time,in answer to the question of what i would like to do if i met him,really i should mention that i would probably ask him to teach me a few special Kung Fu tricks and I would possibly invite him out for dinner at a classy restaurant or something like that.
 
Thanks in advance.
 
Yours sinserely,
XXXX
   

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My Reply

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 1:02 AM
 
From:
 
 
To:
XXXX
 
Hi XXXX,

I am familiar with this kind of answer and with the main book that it comes from. I'll tell you straight out that I don't like this kind of answer very much and I'll try to explain why. This email will be quite long because this is a complex topic.

(You also should be aware that this "Famous Person" topic is no longer being used. Did you know that? You should know it if you are a "faithful reader" of my website. See this page: http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/TOPIC_USAGE_2010_P3.htm  I also did suggest in my notes not using a person from Hong Kong or Taiwan since, strictly speaking , these are not "foreign" in China. The same applies to a 华侨人 (see note)
living in Canada, for example. And I think I suggested in my notes not using Jackie Chan because many examiners have heard that same example many times and they realize that the Chinese English teachers are telling the students to use that example. Examiners hate answers that students learn in IELTS classes.)

Before I comment specifically on that answer, I'll also tell you that it is quite difficult for me to justify why I don't like the answer. Your aim is simply to get the highest score you can in the test and the examiner's job is to assess your score based on the grading criteria and, as far as I know, the grading criteria hasn't changed much since I was an examiner. These grading criteria or "Band Descriptors" are shown at # 4 (written by the IELTS organization) and # 5 (written by me) on this page:

http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/THE_BAND_LEVELS.htm#The%20Speaking%20Band%20Descriptors


The key point is this these band descriptors do not mention anything about memorized answers but very possibly (I don't know for sure), examiners in China have been given instructions on how to deal with memorized answers. Just before I left the examining job in 2003, they introduced a rule that said that an examiner could reduce a score to Band 1 (!!) if the examiner has strong evidence that almost all of the candidate's answers were memorized.

Now, only parts of that answer are memorized, i.e., those parts that I have highlighted in yellow. But examiners will get a strong "taste" of memorization when they hear that answer and they will try to find good reasons to reduce your score they will be unsympathetic to you much more than sympathetic. It's true that, to learn a language, you have to memorize some phrases and expressions so it's difficult to say why those parts I highlighted are not very good but I will explain more, later in this email. Basically, those highlighted words are starting to move away from standard expressions or phrases that people learn when they learn English; they can be thought of as "small sections of memorized answers". Many or most examiners will try to find ways to justify decreasing your score (a little) for this, as well as try to ask you more difficult questions than usual in Part 3 in order to find your real language ability.

Another point is this:

As far as I know, there is nothing in the instructions to the examiners that says that your answer for Part 2 should be spoken in a "natural" way, as if your were answering a question in a normal, everyday conversation such as, "Who's one famous person you'd like to meet?". But I believe that most examiners like to hear that kind of answer most of all, instead of an answer that feels unnatural and almost like a speech and, I believe that most candidates will speak more freely if they speak more the way they would in a "natural" conversation.

To be more specific, there were no instructions when I was an examiner that said that the candidates should not specifically mention the words of the points on the card it was simply assumed that candidates would include the points on the card in their Part 2 answers but would not draw attention to the fact that they were answering points on a card. So, it's difficult for me to explain why I think it's not a good idea to do that because it's difficult for the examiner to find fault with that style of answering. But I can tell you that an experienced examiner in China would recognize the style of this answer and would feel that the candidate was putting on a "performance" rather than communicating naturally. This would be especially true if other aspects of the candidate's English did not seem to "fit" the level of language used in this Part 2 answer. Then this examiner would try to force the candidate to reveal his true English level in Part 3 by asking the candidate more difficult questions than usual.

Again, I repeat, what examiners like or dislike is not enough reason to reduce or increase a candidate's score the examiners really have to follow the Band Descriptors as much as possible. So, the book that this kind of answer came from was quite skillfully written.

Before I write about that answer in more detail, I'll also tell you this: I still do many "mock" Speaking tests and I sometimes hear an answer like the one your wrote in your email. Nearly always, the candidate is really at about Band 5.0 or 5.5 and, when I hear that kind of answer, I immediately know where it came from, I am not impressed and I don't give the candidate any extra points for this answer (although I don't greatly reduce the score, either). In other words, it's almost as if I didn't hear that answer and I base most of my score on the Parts 1 & 3. But that's just me! Maybe other examiners have never heard this kind of answer before and maybe a few of them might even be impressed. But the more experienced the examiner, the more he or she will be like me, I think.

The book that this kind of answer comes from (which I will not name) is based on the idea of using "fluency fillers" to increase the candidate's fluency. A "fluency filler" is a set of words or an expression that does not communicate much real information and that is used to "fill in" what would be a period of silence. To a certain extent, it's good to use some fluency fillers, provided the speaker uses them in a natural way, not a "rehearsed" way that usually results in unsuitable usage of this language. But that book gives model answers and examples that consist of almost all fluency fillers and just a little real information. That Part 2 answer is like that to some extent the fluency fillers represent almost as much language as the informational language. This is unnatural, rehearsed and not good communication. In fact, that book advises students to avoid answering questions in a direct way but instead, to delay the answer by first using fluency fillers. I think this is bad advice except in the case of genuinely difficult questions, such as some Part 3 questions, which naturally suit the use of a fluency fillers rather than sitting there silently while thinking of an answer.

If you have a look at the example answers for Part 3 questions in that book, you'll see that there are a few good examples of the usage of fluency fillers. But when I closely studied those answers, I noticed many that were using particular fluency fillers inappropriately in other words, the author was not a native English speaker and did not know the real meaning or usage of some of these fluency fillers, despite the fact that the book was supposedly written by a native English speaker. I think the author(s) of the book looked at a lot of examples of spoken speeches, such as from the Cambridge IELTS Listening tests, took the fluency fillers from these examples and then put them into the book. As I said, the basic idea of this book is quite good to teach the usage of some fluency fillers but, unfortunately, I think the book, overall will be more harmful than helpful for most IELTS students.

For students who are at the Band 4.0 or 4.5 level, the answer shown below and the examples shown in that book might help them get a 5.0 or 5.5 score. But for students who are already at the 5.0 or 5.5 level, which is the majority of students in China, I sincerely doubt whether that answer or that book will help them move up to Band 6.0 or 6.5. (But again, that's just me! There might be a minority of examiners who would be fooled by such answers and give the candidate a Band 7.0!)

Now to look at that Part 2 answer.

If you think about those parts that I have highlighted in yellow, you'll see that they don't transmit much, if any information they are like "empty language" they are just fluency fillers. In Part 2, you only have 2 minutes to speak and if you use too many fluency fillers inappropriately, you will have less time to say more meaningful things. By "inappropriately", I mean using a fluency filler to fill in a space where you don't need to fill in space, i.e., where most people would normally be able to speak rather fluently anyway. This gives that answer a feeling of "artificiality" and most examiners will not be impressed.

Then we have poor logic in the choice of language. Look at this I guess i could begin by saying something about who this person is "say something about who this person is" is stupid; you should simply, "say who this person is". Also, the words, "I guess I could begin" are straight from a speech or a talk that someone has given when the topic is rather complex, something that is rather hard to begin talking about. But this topic (a famous person) is not so complex. It's artificial to begin that way. Ok, it's not "wrong" or bad English, especially if you just said, "I guess I could begin by saying who this person is". But as soon as you use the words, "I guess I could begin by saying", an experienced examiner will know it's artificial and from someone else's mouth (the author of the book). It also has a taste of formality that is unnecessary for this topic.

Why would you "have to choose" Jackie Chan? Is there any compulsion here? I think the words, "have to choose" would be more suitable if the question asked for your "favourite" famous person or "the best" something. Here, it just asks for "a famous person you would like to meet". Maybe by, "have to" you mean that you are such a great enthusiast of martial arts that there would be no other choice but the answer doesn't mention this point until later. If you say, you "have to", you should explain why you "have to" just after you say you "have to".

"Going on to my next point" doesn't suit the situation of simply describing a person. That language is more suitable when you are arguing something, using several points to justify your position. Do you see how the author took language from speeches or talks and tried to force it into a Part 2 answer?

"I really need to add" This language doesn't fit with what preceded it, i.e.,  "Going on to my next point, which is, why he is famous, ... ". The words, "I really need to add" is the kind of language that is used when someone is adding an important afterthought to what they had said previously. The examiner knows that you "really need to say" why Jackie Chan is famous because it is written on the card what is the purpose of telling this fact to the examiner?

"with reference to" is too formal for simply talking about why you like Jackie Chan! 假的(See note)

"the point i want to make here" is similar to "going to my next point". It's unsuitable when describing why you would to meet Jackie Chan. That language is used when you are trying to explain a more complex, abstract idea. It's similar to saying, "What I mean is" or, "In other words".

"And so finally then" is another example of someone summing up or coming to a conclusion after giving a longer and more serious and complex talk or speech. It's not the way people speak in normal conversation, in a 1 to 2 minute answer, when describing something as simple as someone famous they'd like to meet.

"if i have time" Well, you will have more time if you don't waste it by saying, "if I have time"! 假的That's another example of language straight from a speech or talk that someone has said. People say that when they have almost used up the time they are given for their speech but are asking for a little extra time to say something else that they think is important. You can't ask for more time in Part 2. And, once again, nobody speaks that way in normal conversation when describing someone famous they'd like to meet.

"in answer to the question of what i would like to do if i met him" These are empty words and therefore a waste of valuable time. Just say what you would like to do if you met him; there is no need to make a big announcement that you are going to say this. People speak that way when they are asked a question from the audience after they have given a speech or talk. Nobody speaks this way in normal conversation. And don't refer to the questions on the card. (See my final point, below.)

"really i should mention" Well, if you should mention it, just mention it! That language is used when someone is adding an extra point but the card specifically asks you to say what you would say to this famous person, so this is not "an extra point".

Overall, XXXX, my advice is to be very careful about this kind of language, i.e., using fluency fillers when a normal person can speak fluently enough already. Yes, use introductory language to introduce your next idea, but not these examples of "empty" language. Using this kind of language won't get you as many points as you think (unless you are Band 4.0 or 4.5 now) and using this language will leave a bad taste in the examiner's mouth, so much so that some examiners might reduce your score a little and will certainly be watching you very carefully for rehearsed answers in Part 3.

Finally, specifically mentioning that you are answering "points" (from the card) is, I think, repetitive and non-original because this is not your language    it's like repeating the words of the question in Task 2 of the writing test. If you do that in the writing test, the examiner will subtract those words from your word count. Not only that, it gives your answer the feeling of a formal speech when what the examiner really wants is just an extended and detailed answer to the question, "Who's a famous person who you'd like to meet?"

To repeat: This kind of "empty language" would help a Band 4.0 candidate who might not know what to say, or who doesn't have the vocabulary to say what he wants to say (or who even doesn't fully understand the words on the card) but, if you are reading this, you are probably not Band 4.0. Therefore, you can do better than this.

Chris

 

"I guess i could begin by saying something about who this person is,and i think i would have to choose the superstar Jackie Chan from Hong Kong.
       Going on to my next point which is why he is famous, I really need to add that he is a world-renowned martial arts film star as well as being a successful director.In fact he was probably the first Chinese actor to achieve blockbuster success in Hollywood.
        And now with reference to why i would like to meet this celebrity,the point i want to make here is that i have always been a big fan of martial arts movies,so if i had the chance to meet one of my childhood idols,it would be a dream come true.
        And so finally thenif i have time,in answer to the question of what i would like to do if i met himreally i should mention that i would probably ask him to teach me a few special Kung Fu tricks and I would possibly invite him out for dinner at a classy restaurant or something like that.



 

(For non-Chinese readers: "假的!" = "Fake!" and, "华侨人" = "overseas Chinese person".)

 

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Second Reply (sent a few minutes after the first reply)

From:
 
To:
XXXX
 
Hi XXXX,

I didn't read your email carefully enough. You wrote that this was an answer from a book, not an answer for the topic, "A Famous Foreign Person You would like to Meet", which has recently been retired.

Just to follow up on my previous email, I'll write a more natural answer, using the informational language (minus the fluency fillers) from the answer you sent me. But notice, my answer is too short it would last for only about 30 seconds. You need to aim for about 1:40.

Notice that I use 缩写式 (contracted English) here, something that the original answer didn't use. The introductory language I use, highlighted in yellow, is much more natural and suitable than the language in the original answer.

 "Well, one person I'd really like to meet is the superstar Jackie Chan from Hong Kong. He's a world-renowned martial arts film star as well as being a successful director. In fact he was probably the first Chinese actor to achieve blockbuster success in Hollywood.
The main reason I'd like to meet him is that I've always been a big fan of martial arts movies, so if I had the chance to meet one of my childhood idols, it would be a dream come true.

If I was lucky enough to meet him, I'd probably ask him to teach me a few special Kung Fu tricks and I'd possibly invite him out for dinner at a classy restaurant or something like that.
 

Chris

P.S.  I prefer the pronunciation of "gong fu" to "kung fu". Similarly, although the Taiwan city of 高雄 is spelt as "Kaohsiung" when written in a Romanized form outside of mainland China, it should always be pronounced as "gao xiong", never "kao xiong" just because the written form of Romanization is different to Hanyu Pinyin does not mean that the pronunciation was ever different. Respect your own language.