Updated May 30, 2008


Improving Your Grammar


  1. Buy the book called 'Side by Side' (朗文国际英语教程) and use it along with the recordings. There are four 'Side by Side' books and some of you will think that books 1 and 2 are too simple for you but I think many of you could still benefit from using them. (They might look simple to read, but you will find that producing the language is not always so simple.) If they are easy, use them to review and go through them quickly. 

These books are excellent for studying grammar for spoken English. There are very few good choices of materials for self-studying spoken English and 'Side by Side' is the best material that I know. The material in Books 3 and 4 is vital if you hope to get a 6 or above.

  1. Buy the book 'Collins Cobuild English Grammar' (考林斯英语词语用法词典). This is more a reference book than a text book but it is very good! There are other, similar books that are very good but I think this is the best one. Side by Side does not give detailed explanations of grammar; it just has exercises in the form of short dialogues. So, if you need more understanding about the grammar used in Side by Side, consult this book. Any of the Collins Cobuild books are excellent for you. 

  1. Pay attention to forming longer sentences using linking words (连词). Look for exercises on these in different IELTS books or grammar books. You will not get a 6 or more for grammar if you don't clearly and frequently show knowledge of how to make these longer, 'Complex Sentences'. See Complex Sentences for examples of linking words and a few exercises for you to do.

I suggest you especially teach yourself to often use the word, 'which'. If the examiner rarely or never hears you use that word, the impression you give to the examiner is, "This candidate is less than a 6 for grammar" and probably also less than a 6 for Speaking, overall. On the other hand, if you often use the word 'which', the impression you give is, "This candidate sounds like a 6 or more for Speaking". Of course, simply using the word, 'which' quite often is no guarantee of getting a 6 or above for the grammar sub-score and for the Speaking test overall, but it is a good sign of 6 or more.

  1. I have noticed that the average Chinese student avoids using, 'there + be', except in the present tense. This is a weakness because  'there + be' is very often used in English to make a sentence so, if you avoid using it, you will be limiting the choice of sentences you can make. 

Of course, students avoid using this because they are not used to making these sentences. 

You should practice making sentences using the following: 'There was ...' & 'There were...';  'There'll be ...' & 'There might be ...'; 'There used to be ... '; 'There's been ...' (= 'There has been ...') & 'There've been ...'; (= 'There have been ...'), 'There'd be ... ' (= 'There would be ... ') etc. And don't forget to speak these sentences after you write them!

  1. Your grammar score will be based on three things: i) The frequency of your minor errors, ii) Your usage of Complex Sentences and, iii) Your usage of 'Higher Level Grammar'

For the 'Higher Level Grammar', I suggest you pay special attention to, a) Reported Speech (间接引语) and, b) Conditional Clauses (条件从句). You can find good exercises for speaking sentences using these two types of grammar in Side by Side Book 4. 

The 间接引语 grammar is especially useful for answering questions asking, "Why did you ... ?" or similar questions. For example, "I chose to study that because I thought it would lead to a secure job."

The 条件从句 grammar is especially valuable in the Speaking test because, not only does it show knowledge of higher level grammar, it is used to clarify your meaning by giving extra information, and this impresses the examiner as a strong communication skill. 

For example, let's say in the Part 2 topic, 'Advice', you talk about some advice your father gave you about your choice of career. Then, to end your story, you might say, "Yes, I'm so glad my father gave me that advice." That's not a bad ending. But this is even better: "Yes, I'm so glad my father gave me that advice. If he hadn't given me that advice, I'm sure I would have made a big mistake in my choice of career." Or, (even more advanced grammar, combining 条件从句 and 间接引语):  "If he hadn't explained to me why my original choice of career was unsuitable, I'm sure I would have made a big mistake."