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IELTS WIN: Maria 👱‍♀️🏆

So much of what I know about how to pass the IELTS exam (and teaching English in general) comes from the successes and, err, non-successes, of my previous students.

I have learnt a great deal from these students and by reading their stories, so can you.

As such, in this series of articles, I'm going to share some stories with you about the most memorable WINS and FAILS of my former students*.

*All of these stories are real, but all students' names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

Maria and uh, her, er, Speaking Fluency

Today, I'm going to tell you about Maria, how she improved her speaking fluency, and how she got a band 7 in the IELTS test.

I first taught Maria as part of a group class. She had a decent level of English and she seemed very confident and chatty. She quickly made new friends with the other students and was already ready to participate and speak in front of the class.

However, at the end of the course, when we did a full mock speaking test, something happened ...

Henry: So, Maria, where are you from?
Maria: I'm from, er, Medellín.

Henry: And do you work or do you study?
Maria: I work ... I am, umm, I'm an er, accountant.

... It went on like this.

Henry: Which social media websites do you use?
Maria: uhh, I, uhh, I ha- have, er, like Facebook, umm, Instagram, and er, like LinkedIn. These days I uh, nor-, normally err, use Instagram the most because, uh, that is where, uhh, where most of my er, friends upload uhh, their pictures and uhh, I like uh, looking at er, nice photos of uhh, la-, landscapes and uh, things like that.

This was just Part 1 of the test, when giving relatively short answers about her everyday life. As you can imagine, it only got worse in Part 2, where she had to sustain 2 minutes of speech, and in Part 3 where she had to discuss more abstract topics.

She was clearly very nervous, and this was manifesting itself in constant 'audible pauses' (or, 'filler sounds' or 'crutch words' (or 'muletillas' in Spanish). Despite the fact that her grammar and vocabulary were good, with a speaking performance like this, on exam day she wouldn't get higher than a 4 band for fluency.

I told her that an effective way to reduce her nerves and to improve her fluency, while working by herself, would be to:

  • record herself answering IELTS speaking questions, in particular by giving Part 2 talks

  • then listen back to herself

  • then repeat the exercise, each time trying to speak more relax and speak a bit more slowly and carefully, reducing the number of audible pauses.

Two weeks or so after the course had finished, she contacted me asking for some one-to-one classes before to prefer her for the exam.

When we did another mock speaking test, something amazing happened ...

Henry: So, Maria, where are you from?
Maria: I'm from Medellín, Colombia.

Henry: And do you work or do you study?
Maria: I work as an accountant here in the city.

... And it went on like this.

Henry: How often do you see your neighbours?
Maria: Not that much to be honest. We sometimes say, like, 'hi' in the mornings, but uh, I'm generally out at work all day so when I get home in the evenings I go straight to bed. I imagine a lot of them are exactly the same!

Henry: Do you think you're a good neighbour?
Maria: Well, er, I guess ... In general I try not to make too much noise, and as I said, I uh, don't spend that much time at home these days. Also, a few weeks ago I helped this um, old lady carry her groceries up the stairs in our building, so uh, yeah, I try to help my neighbours if I can.

It was like speaking to a different person! She was much more relaxed and had excellent control over her fluency. She was able to maintain this through all three parts of the practice exam.

I commended her on her improvement - she laughed and said "You have no idea how much I've been practising!!"

She told me that she had recorded herself 100s of times, each time listening back to see how she could improve, then repeating the exercise. In doing this, she realised how frequently she was saying err, uhh, umm and had worked hard to try and improve.

In effect, what she did was:

  • Listen to and act on feedback

  • Identify the problem herself

  • Focus on fixing that particular problem

  • Work hard and practise a lot to fix the problem

  • In this case, she fixed the problem with her fluency by speaking more a bit more slowly and carefully, while breathing calmly, and not leaning too much on those 'crutch words'

When she did the test a few days later she obtained a well-deserved band 7 in the speaking exam.

This truly was an EPIC WIN!

I love sharing this particular story because it shows how we can all improve with some deliberate practice and hard work.

Well done, Maria! 🎉🎉🎉

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