IELTS Speaking topics - EngExam.info

IELTS Speaking topic – Money and shopping #3

IELTS Speaking topic - money and shopping 3 sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary. Can be downloaded as PDF.

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Talk about a shop that you come to often
You should say:

  • how you found out about it
  • what the shop sells
  • what kind of people go there

and say what makes you choose this particular shop.

Model answer

I am not to keen on shopping to be honest, so I’ll just talk about a grocery shop I frequent. It’s a chain store, I’m pretty sure similar ones are all over our country. The way I found it was quite straightforward – I can see it from the living room in my flat. The day we moved in I saw it there and since then it has been my go-to place for my grocery needs. The place has a nice choice of ready-made meals, bread, cheese – the works. The prices are reasonable, I wouldn’t call it an upmarket place.

The people that shop there are nothing out of the ordinary. I am pretty sure most choose that shop because they either live nearby or it is on their way to work or place of study. Because it’s a chain store, there is nothing really impressive or otherwise special that would attract customers from other areas of our city. It is just a conveniently placed corner shop that has it’s client base mostly consisting of people from neighbouring apartment blocks. It is true for me as well – the reason I go there is simply because it’s located just next door.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Money and family

In your opinion, should parents give their children pocket money? Why/why not?
It is probably a good practice to give one’s kids pocket money. Moderation here is very important. As long as keep their allowance at a reasonable level it should be fine. Giving them just enough money to buy lunch at school or an occasional treat from some shop will help them become more financially literate. However, giving them access to excessive amount of money will very likely spoil them. The reason for that is that children usually have poor restraint and impulse control, so they are more than likely to go binge spending as soon as they have access to extra cash. So instead of teaching them how to deal with money you will only encourage materialism and conspicuous consumption. Therefore maintaining balance when it comes to pocket money is crucial, otherwise it will just backfire. As they say, no good deed comes unpunished.

What influence can money have on relationships within a family?
Financial situation within a family can put a lot of strain on the relationship dynamics within it. It doesn’t even matter much whether the family struggles financially or, on the other hand, are quite comfortable money-wise. The first scenario usually means that family has to carefully plan their spending and it often comes at the expense of certain members. For instance, the children might expect to get a mobile phone or a gaming console for their birthdays, but the parents might simply not be able to afford that. This could alienate kids from their parents as they are likely to mix up financial difficulties with parental negligence.

With richer families the situation is not necessarily better. While such families can comfortably cover most expenses they might have, they also tend to have much higher financial expectations. Exotic holiday destinations, extravagant celebrations and splashing out on gifts are all very common to them. People quickly get used to such spending habits. This might put undue stress on the providers in these families who have to maintain their income level to afford all the luxuries they came to like so much. As a result, constant worry and materialism might test the relationships within said family.

How can parents teach their children about the value of money?
I think a good way to gradually introduce your children to the ruthless world of money and finance is through inclusion. You might want to take them shopping with you and point out that, for instance, price of an item is not always directly proportional to its value or quality. The parents could show their kids utility bills which would help them understand how heating, water and electricity they use daily come at a price. This in turn could make them more mindful when using these amenities.

Nowadays, you don’t even have to be so involved in the process to give your young basic understanding of money. You always have YouTube and other resources at your disposal. There are hundreds of videos available for free, all of which can break down the idea of value and money even for the youngest of kids. There are also economics textbooks written with younger readers in mind – to keep them both entertained and educated. All in all, giving your kids basic idea of money is not difficult at all – all it takes is a little bit of involvement on your part.

Money and income

Do you think it’s fair that some people earn significantly more money than others?
Answer to this question ultimately depends on how much value people with higher income create. I’d say it is fair for a well-run, profitable business to flourish and pay dividends to its founder. The person in charge proved a lot of value to the community as indicated by the profit margins and how in-demand his establishment is. However, many people might get unreasonably jealous of such success, possibly attributing it to nepotism or bribery. Crabs in a bucket mentality is very common in environment with noticeable financial disparity. It seems easier for people to assume that others are more successful because they cheated, rather than because they worked hard to get where they are.

Of course, the opposite situation is very common. A hard-working, low-skilled specialist might often find himself working for pittance simply because they either made poor career choices or never had any choice to begin with. This might make others think that this person is lazy, lacks ambition and is generally unmotivated. Such false assumption can further demoralise this person, making them even less likely to improve their financial standing.

What influence does income inequality have on society?
I believe that disparity in income levels has a number of negative consequences. First of all, it leads to stratification of society – that is, people get pigeonholed into different groups based on their wealth status and they mostly interact with others from the same group. It is of course very reasonable – people of the same financial standing tend to relate to each other. Second issue is increased difference in opportunities – richer people have access to better health and education, which in turn exacerbate the gap ever further. Meanwhile, the less financially stable groups spiral down, burdened by debt and other financial liabilities.

There is also the issue of the relationship between the rich and the poor. People from lower income bracket seem to feel taken advantage off and tend to blame the richer populace for the situation they are in. In turn, richer individuals mostly feel contempt for less fortunate citizens, probably believing that they are poor by choice rather than for any other reason. All in all, there is a lot of misunderstanding between these two groups, ultimately leading to atomisation of the society.

Money and shopping vocabulary

Frequent (v) – used as a verb, this word means to go somewhere often and regularly. Note that the stress is on the last syllable – frequent. I used to frequent this cozy restaurant, but eventually the owner ran out of money and they had to close down.
Upmarket (adj) – of higher quality and price that comes with it. If you’re shopping for upmarket real estate, be ready to either spend twice the money or spend much more time looking for a bargain.
Chain store – a store that can be found in many areas, cities or even countries. They usually offer the same lineup of product everywhere.
Allowance (n) – (here) the amount of money parents give their children for various expenses.
Financially literate – having good understanding of finance basics.
Excessive (adj) – more than enough, allowed or needed. Do not put your car’s engine under excessive loads or it might blow up.
Binge spending – a state when you make a series of costly purchases and are unable to stop. Her main method of coping with stress was binge spending at local high street.
Conspicuous consumption – a practice of buying very expensive things to show that you have money to buy them rather than because you want or need them.
Come at the expense of – if something is done at the expense of somebody, it means the latter suffer or lose from it. It is important understand that the nature of investing means that the winner’s wealth comes at the expense of the loser’s.
Splash out on smth (phr v) – to spend a large some of money on one thing. We’ve always been sensible with money, but just this once we decided to splash out on our wedding anniversary and ordered a live band to perform at the party.
Flourish (v) – (here) to be successful and developed. Entrepreneurs tend to flourish in low tax countries.
Pay dividends – (here) to bring money as a part of successful operation. After three years of building up client base my shop is finally paying serious dividends.
Founder (n) – the person who originally created something, i.e. a business, a shop or a company. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is one of the richest people living today.
Establishment (n) – (here) business. Our humble establishment wasn’t bringing much profit, but it felt nice to have a thing you could call your own.
Nepotism (n) – showing preference and giving favourable treatment to your friends, relatives and family in situations when such behaviour is unacceptable, especially if you have considerable power in the situation.  Examples include government appointments, elections and others.
Bribery (n) – an illegal act that involves giving money to a person or a governing body to have something ruled in your favour. Bribery was rampant last century, it would often be the only way to get all the necessary licenses and permissions to open your own business.
Disparity (n) – noticeable difference or inequality, especially in situations where it is not supposed to exist.
For pittance – for very little money. Working for pittance is fine when you are in college to get some experience. After that you should be more respectful of yourself and your time.
Liability (n) – (here) responsibilities such as debts, people that you have to support financially and so on. With so many financial liabilities I hardly had a chance to pay off the house this decade.

General vocabulary

Keen on smth – to be interested in something or enthusiastic about it.
Go-to – proven, working, or favourite. This is my go-to restaurant if I want to eat till I drop!
Ready-made meals – processed meals sold at shops that you can either eat right away or after pre-heating them in over or microwave.
The works – everything that can be had, the entire list. This bar had many drinks to offer – whiskey, vodka, vermouth, beer – the works.
Moderation (n) – having or doing not too much or too little of something; restraint. Alcohol taken in moderation is said to be virtually harmless.
Restraint (n) – stopping or limiting yourself when it comes to something that can be harmful to you.
Impulse control – ability to give yourself time to think and decide whether you want to act in a particular way, even when it seems that you really want to do it. It takes a lot of impulse control to quit drinking.
Backfire (v) – to turn against you, to happen in a way you didn’t expect. Our plan to take Josh’s car backfired when we ran out of gas two miles away from the destination.
No good deed comes unpunished – an idiomatic expressions which shows that people are usually ungrateful and might act entitled if you try to help them.
Put a lot of strain on – to expose something to a lot of stress, to use something long and hard. Don’t put too much strain on this tool – it looks very fragile.
Wise (as a part of word) – use this to show relation to something, see example. Health-wise, he is in perfect order. Money-wise, he is a total mess.
Alienate (v) – to distance in terms of culture or relationships. You really alienated your parents because of your decision never to have kids.
Negligence (n) – not paying enough attention to something, especially something important such as your duties. Professional negligence is a serious offence, in some cases you can go to prison for that.
Undue (adj) – unnecessary or inappropriate. Your undue comment on Kate’s looks broke her heart.
Come to like smth/smb – to slowly grow more fond of it. I eventually came to like pistachio ice cream, even though at first I believed the flavour to be too exotic.
Ruthless (adj) – cruel and unforgiving.
Inclusion (n) – (here) making somebody a part of something.
Point out (phr v) – draw somebody’s attention to something. I would like to point out that David here has done the majority of work on the project and that he should be rewarded for that.
Directly proportional to something – has immediate connection to something. In an ideal world your salary would be directly proportional to the effort you put in your work.
Utility bills – heating, water and electricity bills apartment owners have to pay.
Mindful (adj) – (here) aware, knowing, informed. Be mindful of possible complications during the surgery.
Amenities (n) – (here) something that makes your life more comfortable, i.e. running water, bathroom and so on.
At your disposal – something that you have and have freedom to use the way you like.
Break down (phr v) – to explain something in detail.
Have somebody in mind – for somebody in particular. When designing these houses we had young families with one or two kids in mind.
On your part – from you or something you are responsible for. Make sure to do everything on your part and we will make sure to do our job well.
Attribute something to something – to see something as a result or in connection with something else. Suzie’s parents attribute her impressive academic performance to good parenting on their part.
Crabs in a bucket mentality – a way of thinking that if you do not succeed then nobody should. Used negatively to talk about people jealous of other’s achievement and success and who would rather see everybody fail, projecting their own failures on others.
Assumption (n) – (here) an opinion not based on any facts.
Stratification (n) – division into different layers (strata plural, stratum singular (Latin).
Pigeonhole (v) – to put into a category, especially one that is too general. To pigeonhole all people as ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’ is very restrictive and does not give any idea about the society as a whole.
Exacerbate (v) – to make a bad thing worse. Financial crisis exacerbated unemployment and product deficit even further.
Spiral down (phr v) – to go lower rapidly, to decrease quickly. Sales spiraled down because people no longer had any spare money to spend on non-essential things.
Burdened (adj) – weighed down, slowed down by something.
Contempt (n) – if you feel contempt for something, you dislike them and do not think highly of them.
Atomisation – (here) isolation of individual members from one another. Used negatively.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Health and well-being #3

IELTS Speaking topic - health and well-being 3 - sample questions with model answers and useful phrases. Downloadable in PDF

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Describe a time when you had to take care of someone who was sick or injured
You should say:

  • what was wrong with their health
  • how you had to take care of them
  • how long you did that for

and say if they recovered fully.

Model answer

I haven’t had any experience of looking after sick people, so instead I’ll share a story about my pet who got hit by a car. It happened many years ago when I was a teen. We lived in a small town with very few cars – we didn’t even have proper roads to start with. Anyway, I was walking with my dog and it just so happened that a car out of nowhere rushed past us and the dog barely managed to avoid getting hit. They did hit one of his hind paws.

The dog limped back home with me, whimpering. Later that day we took it to an x-ray and it turned out to be a fractured bone. The vet put a splint on it to prevent the broken ends from moving and instructed me on how to take care of the dog. I had to make sure it lies still for at least a week and I had to see to  him having food and water right next to him at all times. The challenging task was to keep dog from moving too much, because he was very active. Well, after a week the dog made almost full recovery. I guess we both learned a valuable lesson to pay extra attention whenever we are in immediate vicinity to roads and motorways.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Health and age

How does a person’s health change as they grow older?
It is a common sentiment that as you age you inevitably grow weak and frail and eventually fall apart. While it may be true for some, it is not necessarily the path everyone has to go down. If you keep exercising and challenge your mind, neither of those will ever let you down. The expression “use it or lose it” exists for a reason. Of course, age does impose certain limits. Senior citizens have to fight an uphill battle against lowering testoterone or estrogen levels and general hormonal shifts. This shouldn’t mean that it is a fight not worth fighting though. There are many living examples of people in their later stages of life who still look and think almost as good as they did in their fourties.

To sum up, I believe that ultimately it comes down to your lifestyle choices and your idea of sustainable health. Strong mind and body are not programmed to go downhill after a certain cut-off age – that is, unless you tell them to. So if one sets out to remain a well-functioning member of society, there should be little to stop them.

What can the government do to improve quality of life for older people?
Two most common issues older people face are related to their finances and health. I believe both of these could be alleviated with enough support from the state. The second issue could be made better in a variety of ways. For instance, government could make healthcare more affordable to senior citizens through subsidies, free drugs as well as preventive care that would stop more serious health conditions development. Addressing financial struggles of the elderly might prove more challenging. For instance, the government might consider establishing additional pensions funds to contribute to the retirement money old people have. A good idea would be to make it directly proportional to their employment history to make it more fair for those who worked harder. This would also incentivise adults to stay employed longer in order to reap the benefits of such programs.

How do attitudes towards aging and health vary across different cultures?
I will risk making some sweeping statements here – I think the western culture in general has less respect for the elderly than the eastern culture. Asian cultural groups in particular tend to look up to the seniors as sources of wisdom and experience. They see age and aging as blessing rather than an inevitable, unpleasant fact of life. The West mostly focuses on the perks and merits of the youth. Attractiveness, boundless energy and great learning capacity are the main things westerners laud in younger people. Another good example is cultures of the Middle East, where old age is connected to elevated spirituality and religiousness.

All in all it seems that most cultures have prevalently positive attitude to both old people and aging. I concur with this point of view – I’d say it would be silly to see the final years of your life as something dreadful. Instead it is a good time to reflect on things that you have done and all the experiences you have had.

Attitude to health

How can a person’s attitude towards health affect their overall well-being?
Caring about your health can bring nothing but positive effects. Following a balanced diet rich in nutrients and avoiding processed foods will make sure that you get enough daily intake of all the necessary vitamins and minerals. You have no idea how much your productivity and mood are affected by what you eat. Exercising or otherwise exposing yourself to reasonable physical activity infuses you with endorphins which makes you happy and full of the sense of purpose. Finally, staying away from drugs and alcohol – I think that goes without saying. Nobody would seriously consider taking these substances if they were aware of how much long-lasting damage they cause.

Sure, you can miss out on social parties that revolve around alcohol, but it is worth the price. You might want to miss the joy of pigging out on fast food, but that joy is fleeting and has serious consequences. Laying on the couch all weekend might seem fun for a while, but the effects of passive lifestyle will soon follow, especially as you grow older. At the end of the day it’s all about your attitude to you mind and body and how for ahead you can think to understand the impact of decisions you make today.

Does social media and the Internet affect our health? If so, are these effects positive or negative?
I think the problem with both is that they are awfully addictive. One of the issues that stems from spending too much time online is increasingly sedentary lifestyle. We spend a mindblowing part of our day hunched over at the computer screen or slouched on the couch scrolling your phone news feed. People of today often do not feel compelled to go outside, because evidently the most engaging events take place online, not in the real world. Bad posture affects our spine and leads to conditions like scoliosis. I guess it is also obvious that the eyes go through a lot of strain and you often become myopic – or shortsighted. Finally, staying indoors too much means you do not get enough sun, which is a rich natural source of vitamin D – one that makes you feel better and has many other benefits.

Should schools pay more attention to educating  students on the importance of staying healthy?
Well yes, they probably should. However, I think this responsibility should not lie on schools exclusively. I believe that propagating the idea of healthy lifestyle has to take place at home, work as well as your place of study. It has been scientifically proven that we are more likely to follow advice of a person we hold in high regard. Unfortunately, with teachers it is not always the case – some students might resent theirs or studying in general. That is why it has to come from somebody one respects – maybe it is their family or colleagues – it can vary from one individual to another.

All things considered, spreading the knowledge about health and its importance has numerous benefits. One that deserves particular attention is that a healthy individual contributes more to society as a whole. They are more productive and creative, eager to work overtime and participate in their community. Financial aspect of healthcare is not to be overlooked either – we all know how crazy high those hospital bills can get. Finally, I guess very few would spend their time in a hospital bed voluntarily.

Health and well-being vocabulary

Look after (phr v) – to take care of somebody, especially if they can’t do that themselves. Pet shelters are always on the lookout for volunteers willing to look after the animals.
Limp back – to limp means to step carefully because one of the limbs is damaged. To limp back means to return somewhere slowly and carefully because of an injury or a damage. Can be used figuratively. My car barely started to I had to limp it back home.
Fractured bone – the term ‘fractured’ is a more medical one and means ‘broken’. Fractured bones heal much easier if you are younger.
Splint (n) – a special medical casing that tightens two pieces of a fractured bone in place so they don’t move, to prevent from damaging surrounding tissues and help recovery.
Full recovery – if somebody has recovered fully it means they are back to normal. Full recovery from this illness might take years.
Frail (adj) – weak and easily damaged or broken. With age, bones become porous and much more frail.
Nutrients (n) – substances that feed our body with elements necessary for survival. This bread is rich with nutrients even though it is not that tasty.
Processed foods – types of food that undergo chemical treatment to last longer. Used negatively. Dietologists suggest avoiding processed foods even if it means paying extra for alternatives.
Daily intake – a total amount of something that you eat or drink during the day. I am trying to cut down on my daily carb intake to lose some weight.
Endorphins (n) – natural hormones released during painful or stressful situations. They act like painkillers to mitigate the negative effects of such situations.
Pig out on – to eat something in great amount, especially because of stress or as part of binge eating.
Sedentary (adj) – characterised by low mobility and spending a lot of time sitting. His job is pretty sedentary – he sits at his desk and answers phone calls 10 hours a day.
Hunch over (phr v) – to sit with your head and neck extended forward relative to the rest of your body. If your eyesight is poor you tend to hunch over when working with computers.
Slouch (v) – to sit or lie with your back not firmly against the back of the chair or sofa. Leads to poor posture.
Strain (n) – pain or discomfort caused by overstretching or overuse of a muscle or tendon, such as during physical activity or sports.

General vocabulary

To start with – to begin with, in the first place. In order to be fired from work I would need to find one to start with.
Hind (adj) – (about limbs) relating to the back; rear. Hind legs of hares are extremely strong and allow quick locomotion by leaping over great distances.
Whimper (n) – a low high animals like dogs make when they are physically hurt or very upset. I could hear a dog whimper in a dark alley next to the park.
Immediate vicinity – very close or right next to something. There are no shops in the vicinity, we might have to walk a while to find one at this late hour.
A common sentiment – a popular idea held by many people. The common sentiment nowadays is that jobs related to programming might be taken over by the AI relatively soon.
Use it or lose it – an idiomatic expression that means if you don’t use something like a skill you tend to forget it or get worse at it.
Impose (v) – to introduce certain rules or limitations, especially if you have authority in the matter. The imposed sanctions hit the country’s economy rather hard.
Fight an uphill battle – to deal with a task or a problem that is especially difficult due to certain factors. Many countries fight an uphill battle to save the economy while keeping unemployment at an acceptably low level.
Sustainable (adj) – something that can be maintained for extended periods of time. Investing in sustainable sources of energy is a lucrative business and it is attractive ethically.
Alleviate (v) – to make something worse slightly better. Take the pill three times a day to alleviate pain.
Subsidy (n) – a financial initiative by some body such as the government to partially or fully cover the cost of something. Manufacturing subsidies help small businesses start making things without exposing themselves to much financial risks.
Incentivise (v) – to make something more attractive through various means. To incentivise getting better marks I take my kids to ice-cream parlour as long as their marks are good.
Look up to – to respect and try to learn something from people who are older or more experience/successful than you are.
Boundless (adj) – limitless, seemingly infinite. His boundless energy comes from enthusiasm and youthfulness.
Laud (v) – praise somebody. The committee lauded the girl for showing exemplary academic performance throughout the year.
Reap the benefits – to benefit from something that was done before by either you or somebody else. My children will hopefully get to reap the benefits of my investments.
Sweeping statement – a generalisation that due to its nature might be unfair or untrue for all cases. To say that all Asian students are great at Math is a sweeping statement.
Elevated (adj) – higher than usual, either literally or figuratively. Jose’s elevated mood was mostly because of his recent success with girls.
Prevalently (adv) – (here) mostly, predominantly. A prevalently middle-class neighbourhood.
Concur (v) – to agree, to have the same opinion.
To reflect on smth – (here) to think about something carefully, to analyse it. You should take your time and reflect on your achievements before moving forward.
Fleeting (adj) – passing, disappearing quickly. The fleeting sensation of grand celebration was gone shortly after the opening ceremony.
News feed – a list of news and events that gets updated in real time, usually as a part of interface in some app or piece of software.
Compelled (adj) – motivated, forced to do something.
Propagate (v) – to spread something, such as a belief or an idea.
Hold in high regard – to respect somebody or think highly of them. We should hold all of our teachers in high regard for the immense contribution to our lives.
To be the case – to be so, to be the way it is. Jane is usually the first to answer teacher’s question, but today wasn’t the case. Jason, the new students, was much quicker to find the right answer.
Resent (v) – to dislike something bitterly. I resent doing math homework because I hardly understand anything in it.
Vary (v) – to be different. Pronunciation is very similar to ‘very’. Watermelons can vary in shapes and sized depending on their variation.
Overlook (v) – to fail to notice something.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Technology and progress #3

IELTS Speaking topic - technology and progress 3 - sample questions with model answers and useful phrases. Downloadable as a PDF file.

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Talk about a gadget you used a lot when you were a child
You should say:

  • what the gadget was
  • how you got it
  • why you used it a lot

and say if your parents were happy about you using it a lot.

Model answer

My childhood memories are rather patchy, but one bright spot is a videogame device that I had. It was a handheld gaming console. It worked on two AA batteries and there was one simple game in which you control a spaceship and shoot asteroids. I got it as a gift from my mother for finishing my first year at school. The memory of unpacking the box, taking it out of the bubble wrap bag and putting the batteries in is something I can recall even today . I think it was so exciting I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on.

I think the main allure of it was that you could take it with you wherever you wanted. I would often have it in my backpack to play it during school lunch breaks. Some of the kids from school probably wanted to hang out with me just to get a peek at my cool console. Mind you, the game wasn’t anything fancy. My 7 year-year-old self was very impressionable at the time, and I’m sure that by today’s standards the game would seem rubbish. Back then however it didn’t take much to impress kids as we didn’t have access to the super capable gaming consoles that are on the market today.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Technology in our life

Has technology made people more productive? Why/why not?
It would be foolish to say that technology failed to make working environments more efficient. Modern computers are as fast as they have ever been, so all the inputs and calculations get processed almost instantly. This makes working with them both quicker and more pleasant. The reason I am singling out computers is that because most of work nowadays is done sitting in a comfy office chair in front of a screen. However, tech progress has improved overall productivity across the board – manufacturing, education, medicine, agriculture. It would be more difficult to name a sphere that didn’t benefit from technology progressing.

On the other hand, tech progress spawned the ultimate distraction – the smartphone. It doesn’t take an eagle eye to notice what has been happening over the last decade. People have been getting more and more absorbed in their phones. I can definitely understand the appeal – like watching bite-sized videos that the algorithm suggests to you based on what you like. However, constant exposure to this increases your dopamine tolerance and shortens your attention span. The former means that you are not as easily entertained and interested. The latter is more serious as you find it increasingly difficult to keep focused on something for longer periods of time. Some blame this on ADHD, but in many cases the phones are the culprit. The result of this is that people can’t be as productive as they used to be. They crave distraction constantly, maybe without even realising it.

Is there any danger in becoming too reliant on technology?
Yes, there definitely is. With the current state of tech, people no longer need to do or know things that were considered essential thirty years ago. For instance, they no longer have to know the city they live in. Their phones have detailed interactive maps that have all the shops and services listed and can navigate you there. I can see this especially prevalent with the younger people who don’t even know the name of the streets in the city they’ve been living in for many years. Another example is growing illiteracy. We type a lot nowadays, and most typing environments have the auto-correct function that fixes all the misspelled words, oftentimes without even notifying us.

A more recent threat is the appearance of AI. Among many of its uses is the infamous ability to produce extended texts that are virtually indistinguishable from those that people write. A short description that you feed to the AI can produce tens of pages of quality text that can pass as your own work. Many industrious students has used this shortcut to avoid writing their own reports and researches, choosing to delegate this laborious process to the prolific AI. They fail to understand that the purpose of these papers is to teach them how to research, reference and present information.

Progress and development

How has progress in technology affected the entertainment industry, such as music and films?
One notable example of this is CGI tech that pioneered in late nineties with the Toy Story cartoon. Instead of drawing the characters over and over again to create an illusion of movement and change, animators and graphic artists got a much more potent tool in their hands. Instead, they would design a three-dimensional model of each character and animate it using computing power. This created a unique art style that has been pretty popular for the last 25 years.

Music became much more accessible thanks to technology. Anybody with a computer can now try their hand at creating music. There is software that is widely available which can synthesize sounds, noises and various musical instruments. Without getting into much detail I can say that it allowed talented people with no means to make and publish their music become globally recognized musicians. Of course, coupled with the Internet, becoming popular is only a matter of time, provided that the music you create is good and stands out.

How has the Internet affected the way we access and share information? Are there any negative developments?
Since the inception of the Internet in the seventies it has been clear that eventually it will grow to be the biggest store of knowledge and information. It all started well – the Web was a place for professors, scientists and other intellectual elite something like an alternative library that you could access with a computer. As the Interned became more available to general masses, the overall focus shifted towards entertainment rather than information and education. Of course the information was still there, but there appeared an issue.

The problem is that the ease and facility of access to information comes at a cost. Because the web space is so vast, it is impossible to effectively fact-check and curate all the information that ends up there. As a result we can no longer be fully sure if what we watch or read on the Internet is real or factually true. A case in point is Wikipedia. Since it can be edited by anyone, the information there can be incomplete, subjective or outright wrong.

Has technological progress made our live simpler or more complicated?
I’d say it has made many things much easier. Most household chores have either been automated or made trivial. We now have robot vacuums that sweep the floor for us, dishwashers that take care of the washing-up, smart ovens that make sure your turkey is done to your liking. We even have fridges that order groceries online if they see you running low on something. Housekeepers have it easy nowadays, and that is a good thing.

It has also made difficult or unpleasant things more tolerable. Let’s take healthcare. Invention of safe anesthesia made surgeries and other painful procedures virtually pain-free. Additionally, more precise tools allowed less intrusive approaches to dealing with ailments. Dental treatments is no longer every child’s and grown-up’s nightmare. It is not a nuisance at most. Finally, advances in prosthetics allowed people with disabilities to have a much higher quality of life, replacing missing limbs with artificial counterparts.

Technology and progress vocabulary

Handheld gaming console – a portable gaming gadget with dedicated controls. Some notable examples are Nintendo Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
AA batteries – common batteries found in most electric devices like remote controls or computer mouses. Pronounced as “double A batteries”.
Process (v) – (about computers) to take some data and return a result. This newest model can process over 300 megabytes a second, this is a very impressive number.
Algorithm (n) – a special software that analyses and then suggests things like videos, ads or articles based on your search or view history. I have been watching some cat clips on YouTube and now the algorithm gives me nothing but pets videos!
ADHD – attention deficit human disorder, a mental conditions that makes you difficult to focus or stay focused on something for longer periods of time.
Interactive (adj) – if something is interactive it means it changes based on your inputs such as clicks, keystrokes, voice commands and other. Our interface is fully interactive and you can even customise the way it looks!
Illiteracy (n) – a state of being illiterate – not having basic knowledge of the matter. Often used to mean spelling or grammar illiteracy. Computer illiteracy is inexcusable in today’s world.
Feed to (v) – (about computers) to input some data in order for it to get processed. I feed this numbers to the system and it does all the calculations for me.
Delegate (v) – to assign a task, responsibility, or authority to another person or group of people (instead of yourself). I usually delegate all the simple accounting tasks to junior staff. It gives them the invaluable experience and lets me focus on the more complex things.
Prolific (adj) – able to produce large volumes of work. Prolific writers find sheer pleasure in sharing their stories with the world.
CGI – computer-generated imagery. Basically, computer graphics and special effects that get used in movies and cartoons to create different visuals.
Three-dimensional – also referred to as 3D, it means the standard dimensions of physical world, i.e. width, height and depth. 3D games were the most mind-blowing thing of early nineties.
Synthesize – to create something new through artificial means, especially through chemical processes. We can now synthesize this element and do not have to worry about finding an alternative.
Automated – done automatically, as opposed to being done manually (using hand labour). Most large-scale manufacturing in first-world countries is automated.
Artificial – man-made, the opposite of natural.

General vocabulary

Patchy (adj) – incomplete, fragmented. Her competence in this field is patchy at best.
Bubble wrap – a special synthetic material lines with tiny bubbles that prevents damage during transportation.
Allure (n) – powerful attraction to something. The allure of ski resorts is in its glamour, fresh air and relative danger.
Would do something – a structure like this is used to describe action that happened often in the past but do not happen nowadays. She would smoke a whole pack of cigarettes during her night shift. Then her doctor said she might get lung cancer, so she had to quit smoking.
Hang out – (informal) to spend time somewhere. To hand out with means to spend time with somebody.
Impressionable (adj) – easily impressed or influenced. It is only natural for the young to be impressionable. That’s much better than being jaded, that’s for sure.
Rubbish (adj) – (here) bad, low quality. This bike is rubbish, I wouldn’t take it even if it was given to me for free.
Single out (phr v) – (here) to focus on something in particular.
Across the board – something that is true or can be applied to all things in the group, with no exceptions. His marks improved across the board – physics, math, even PE – all because he now spends less time playing video games.
Distraction (n) – something that takes your attention away or prevents from focusing.
Bite-sized (adj) – used figuratively here to mean content that is small and requires no long commitment to go through it. Bite-sized texts are more likely to get attention from magazine readers.
Dopamine tolerance – dopamine is the hormone of happiness. It is produced when you do something you like, i.e. eat ice cream. If you produce more dopamine than you normally would, then tolerance builds up. It means that in order to get the ‘feel-good’ effect, you need expose yourself to more of it, like eating more ice cream in our example.
Attention span – how long one can stay focused on something. Short attention span can be a serious problem for students who have to spend considerable time studying new things.
Culprit (n) – a person, thing or situation responsible for something bad. The car wouldn’t start and the culprit turned out to be the empty gas tank.
Crave (v) – to want something very much.
Prevalent (adj) – happening more often that others; widespread. Tuberculosis is prevalent among people living in Far North, especially if they have no access to good healthcare.
Indistinguishable (adj) – difficult to tell apart from something else. The twins are almost indistinguishable apart from their hairstyle.
Pass as something – to pretend or to look as something, even though it isn’t. This fake ID I have just printed might pass as a genuine document.
Laborious (adj) – involving a lot of effort, especially physical.
Try your hand at something – try some new activity. We tried our hand at hiking and now I can’t wait to do it again.
Stand out (phr v) – to be different from something else because of its remarkable qualities. This pupil stands our in particular with his perfect attendance and great marks throughout the years.
Inception (n) – beginning or starting point of something, especially an activity or an institution.
Curate (v) – to select something to be used as a good example of it. This content is curated by experts in the field.
A case in point – a good example of something.
Outright (adv) – (here) completely, totally. After the bombing, the city was outright run to the ground.
Trivial (adj) – easy or simple to the point of being primitive. Giving our students these trivial tasks isn’t going to improve their problem-solving skills.
Run low on something – to have something in low supply. I’m running low on pencils, could you order some from our office supplier?
Tolerable – acceptable. Your academic performance is still tolerable, but I can see that you aren’t putting any effort in it.
Have smth easy – to have an easy time doing something. Students nowadays have it easy with access to the Internet where you can get any book you like, no matter how rare it is.
Ailments – diseases, poor health conditions.
Prosthetic (n) – an artificial limb.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Animals and pets #3

IELTS Speaking topic - animals and pets 3 - sample questions, model answers, useful phrases. Print-friendly PDF version available!

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Describe a pet you or somebody you know has
You should say:

  • what the pet is
  • how long you or somebody else have had it
  • if there is special about it

and say if owning this pet brings any inconvenience.

Model answer

My grandmother has two budgerigars – these are species of parrots, they are slightly bigger than sparrows and have very colourful plumage. A male and a female, they seem to be quite fond of one another. They can often be seen cleaning their feathers, chirping away. They get especially vocal in the morning as soon as the sun rises, so the cage they live in has to be covered with cloth, otherwise they get too excited in the morning. Grannie has had them for about seven years, and she had them since they were both babies. They say that in captivity they can live to be as old as fifteen years. Sometimes it makes me think that they might outlive my grandmother who is in her nineties now.

An interesting thing about these parrots is that one of them – the female – can talk. Over the years granny has managed to teach it some basic phrases that she exclaims from time to time. There is no telling when she will do that, it all seems very spontaneous. Sometimes she does that in the middle of the night – she seems to have irregular sleeping hours, even when we cover her cage with a blanket. This is quite a nuisance, when the quiet house is suddenly brought back to life because the parrot has one of her talkative sprees. But I guess the granny doesn’t mind this too much.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Animals and society

What impact do you think pets have on people’s mental health?
The impact has to be mostly positive. There ought to be at least a handful of scientific researches on the matter than prove therapeutic effects of having a pet. One interesting thing about animals in general and pets in particular is that they will very often love you unconditionally. I mean they just love you for who you are, not because you have money or social status. It is really heartwarming when you realise that. Secondly, pets can provide much needed emotional support just by hanging around you. Scientists also have reasons to think that pets help reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Another important thing is that one has to take care of pets – I guess it could feel like a lot of responsibility, so that might not be a necessarily positive influence on your mental welfare. However, I think it’s just a nice opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. Finally, when your pet does, the emotional toll it takes on you can be immeasurable. The owner always has to keep this in mind to better prepare for the moment their pet inevitably passes away.

What could be done to reduce conflicts between people and animals in urban areas?
In order to address the issue of such conflicts, we first of all have to understand their nature. One example is when people dispose of food waste improperly. Said waste often attracts stray and wild animals as some species can smell it from miles away. This can often lead to conflict as people might see this as invasion on private property. Another issue stemming from misunderstanding is general misconception about stray dogs posing danger to people and kids. It is almost never the case unless the animal is ill or when the dogs are in larger packs. As pack animals their instinct might kick in and they could exhibit overly aggressive behaviour.

People need to understand that animals are never hostile without a reason, and such reason could range from diseases like rabies, to being provoked or troubled past experience with humans. In order to address most of such issues, people need to get better education on how animals reason and how they are guided by instincts rather than mind and logic. I believe this is where biology or similar school subjects could fill students in.

Animals rights

What do you think are the main arguments for and against animal rights?
I can’t think of many arguments against animal rights. One that comes to mind that animal are not sentient, I mean they probably do not even realise they exist. For some this fact makes it ethically acceptable to subject animals to experiments and suffering in general. Similar reasoning leads people to believe that by experimenting on animals we don’t have to conduct such tests on people which is more humane. I believe such argument are rather weak, as no living thing deserves such fate, no matter how developed or intelligent they are.

To grant and uphold animal rights makes much more sense. I believe it is our duty and privilege to coexist peacefully with wild animals and ensure decent welfare for pets and other critters living in urban areas. One ought to keep in mind that they are an integral part of the biosphere. It is possible that many species predate humans, so we should be treating them with respect similarly to old people.

What is your opinion on using animals for entertainment purposes, such as in circuses or zoos?
Usage of animals for entertainment purposes has long been a controversial issue. For the past decade the matter has especially been in the public eye as various non-profit organisation were trying to draw attention to the matter. Nevertheless, people remain divided on the matter. Some argue that it provides education and enjoyment for people while others see it as unethical and cruel to keep animals in captivity and force them to perform.

In circuses, animals are often trained through harsh and inhumane methods. They are forced to perform tricks and routines that are far from natural – nothing the animal would do willingly. While in zoos no such things occur, they have their downsides as well – animals often live in very limited areas, which is especially true for bigger predators whose hunting range can span tens of kilometers. In both zoos and circuses animals can feel bored and isolated. Of course not all zoos and circuses are alike. Some offer only the best regarding feeding and living conditions. Unfortunately, such examples are quite rare.

Pets and animals vocabulary

Budgerigar (n) – a small parrot, also known as parakeet.
Sparrow (n) – a small bird with greyish-brown feathers, common to temperate climates and often found in towns and cities.
Plumage (n) – feathers and down that cover a bird’s body.
Chirping (n) – the pleasant sound that birds make which can be an indicator of their mood or when they try to attract female’s attention. Morning chirping in the nearby park never fails to cheer me up.
In captivity – if an animal is held in captivity it means that it is not in its natural habitat and is often there against their will.
Stray (adj) – (about an animal) without a particular place where it lives. Stray dogs are usually very thing and often rely on strangers’ goodwill as a source of food.
Rabies (n) – an infectious disease of animals that can be contracted by a person through bite. It makes the animal unreasonably aggressive to the point where it can become extremely dangerous.
Sentient (adj) – aware of one’s existence, able to understand the world. Crows are one of the few avian species that are fully sentient.
Subject (v) – to make somebody undergo something. It is not fair to subject students to tests every week as they hardly get to learn anything new over such brief period.
Humane (adj) – characterised by good qualities usually found in humans such as compassion and empathy. If the animal lived in more humane conditions it would undoubtedly feel much happier.
Coexist (v) – to live together, to share a habitat. Most primates can coexist peacefully provided they don’t have to compete for limited food or space.
Critter (n) – a creature,  an animal.
Hunting range – the area which predator considers its hunting grounds.

General vocabulary

Vocal (adj) – (here) loud or active with its voice (or song if referring to birds).
Outlive (v) – to live longer than somebody else. He managed to outlive most of his political opponents.
Irregular sleeping hours – an inconsistent sleeping schedule. With night shifts you are almost guaranteed to end up with irregular sleeping hours – this takes a serious toll on your health.
Spree (n) – a long period of some activity or series of actions. His success spree lasted throughout the year.
A handful of – some, a small amount of. A handful of people turned up for the event and I could barely recognise any of them.
Unconditionally (adv) – without asking or expecting anything in return. Our help was completely unconditional and we will not be demanding any payment for it.
Welfare (n) – (here) well-being. Your welfare ten years from now depends on the choices that you make now, so make them carefully.
Get out of one’s comfort zone – to do something you are not used to doing or do not like to do in order to strengthen your character.
Immeasurable (adj) – to big to measure or quantify. The immeasurable effort it took the firefighters to extinguish the flame.
Pass away (phr v) – to die.
Dispose of – to get rid of something. Dispose of your waste responsibly – sort paper, plastic and organic waste and put them in separate containers.
Stem from (v) – to originate or come from, to be the reason for something. Your insecurity seems to stem from some childhood trauma you might not remember. Maybe you forced yourself to forget about it as a coping technique.
The case (n) – if something is the case, it is the reason or a relevant example of something. Smoking killed many people, but it wasn’t the case for him as he died in a car accident.
Kick in (phr v) – (informal) take effect, come into action. As soon as the sleeping pills kick in I’m going to go straight to bed.
Overly (adv) – too much, more than needed. Maybe you were overly careful with your approach to research, that’s why the results are a bit underwhelming.
Reason (v) – to think, to make decisions, to analyse something.
Fill somebody in (phr v) – to give somebody information, especially one they need and do not have. Fill me in on the situation, I don’t have time to read the official report.
Uphold (v) – to follow and support a law, a regulation; to enforce.
Predate (v) – to appear sooner than something else. Steam and electric engines predate gasoline ones.
In the public eye – known to general public, having public attention. Politicians are always in the public way, that is exactly why they may come off as a bit insincere since they have to please everybody.
Divided on the matter – if people are divided on something, it means they have different opinion on it and cannot come to agree.
Willingly (adv) – on their own will rather than forced; consensually. Nobody in their right mind would willingly work for this little money.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Food and cuisine #3

IELTS Speaking topic - food and cuisine 3 - sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary. Available in PDF

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Talk about an eating habit you or somebody you know has
You should say:

  • what the habit is
  • how long they’ve had it
  • where they got it from

and explain how it affects their life.

Model answer

One friend of mine has got into a habit of eating nothing but street food. By that I mean food stalls, kebab shops, food vans and the like. He has been doing this for as long as I have known him – so almost two years running. He normally kicks his day off at an upmarket café like Starbucks with some donuts and a large cappuccino. Lunch for him has some variety, but it has to include lots of meat or something equally filling and savoury. In the evening he likes treating himself to some ice cream or other sugary dish like pudding.

I guess he took it up from the place he works at – a barber shop, that is. His colleagues are usually too busy to cook at home so they stuff their faces with street food whenever they get a chance. Admittedly, this lifestyle grew on me as well, although I do not indulge in food from street vendors nearly as often as he does. You see, he has become a living example of a binge eater. Maybe they add something to the food that makes you crave it all the time. I am ready to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s just incredibly tasty though. Oh, and another thing is the cost. It all adds up, and I’d wager he spends most of his salary to sustain this eating habits of his.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Food and the media

In your opinion, what role does the media have in shaping our diets?
I’d say it first of all affects the more impressionable part of our society – mostly youngsters who are eager to jump at anything new. If young viewers see their favourite movie character chug Coke days on end it makes them want it as well. Subconsciously they strive to resemble the hero they look up to and the easiest way there is to copy their consumption habits. This is not always a thing of concern though because the opposite can be true as well. They might choose to better themselves, abstain from junk food and generally follow a more wholesome life when it comes to food.

Cooking shows is another vivid example of media affecting our choice of food. Those mostly promote healthy eating, artistic approach to cooking and nurture a more conscious vision of what we eat. I’d imagine that somebody might get inspired to turn cooking into their profession and make a living from it. But either way, my point still stands – the media can definitely sway our opinion in whichever direction it wants to.

Should advertisements for unhealthy food be banned? Why or why not?
A lot of food sold today can be labeled as unhealthy. A more appropriate approach is to fully disclose how harmful certain foods can be. Maybe advertisers should take a hint from the practices some restaurants have where they list all the ingredients and highlight those that might cause an allergic reaction or be considered unhealthy by some customers. This way people who watch the ad will be fully aware of possible consequences before making a decision to buy it.

Ironically, even if the state wanted to ban junk food advertising, they would think twice before doing that. First of all, companies that make such foodstuffs have enormous profits and thus contribute greatly to state budget through taxes. Secondly, these companies have rather strong lobbies and thus have considerable leverage when it comes to legislation that can make or break their businesses. Finally, it would be possible for them to circumvent such bans by means of product placement, celebrity endorsements and other methods of guerilla marketing.

Do you think films and TV-series should promote healthy eating?
Yeah, I definitely think that way. As I have stated previously, people can be easily influenced to do one’s bidding. It is often the case that said people simply don’t know what’s better for them. They instead need role models on the blue screen to set an example that can be followed. Make TV characters eat more vegetables, have them give up fizzy drinks and alcohol, show their disdain for drugs and smoking and you end up with people following in their footsteps. With healthier population everybody wins – people have increased productivity, they create more value and pay more taxes and that in turn improves everyone’s welfare.

Eating habits

How have eating habits changed in comparison with the past?
Well, ‘past’ is a rather vague time period. If we look back  to fifty years ago, everybody will agree that food today has more chemicals and additives that it ever had. This hasn’t dissuaded people from eating more and more – or at least the obesity and body mass index charts seem to suggest.

If we look back at a relatively close past of five years ago, then I can safely say that we have been witnessing resurgence of home-made food. Cooking is once again becoming favourite pastime for many – unsurprisingly, as it is a fun, affordable activity that teaches you arguably one of the most important skills. It also helps you save money as you no longer have to splash out on ridiculously expensive family dinners at some pretentious restaurant. Finally, cooking is a great conversation topic that brings people of all walks of life together.

Some people choose not to eat meat. Do you think it can have any effects on their health?
This has been a controversial point among evangelists of vegetarianism and dietologists all over the world. Meat is the prime source of affordable protein, and for long it has been a point of great debate. While it might be true, there are still reliable ways to make your meat-free diet rich in protein. Food like nuts, legumes and soy can more than make up for exclusion of meat-based dishes. Some scientists say that plant-based diet can have its health benefits, namely lower risk of heart disease, obesity and even certain types of cancer. Bottom line is, vegan-based diet can be as healthy and nutritious as any other. However, it requires extra effort to plan it carefully and it is likely to be more costly.

How has the concept of healthy eating changed over the years?
It is quite interesting to look at the idea of healthy diets in retrospect. Back then it meant showing restraint – in other words, not eating too much – and that was pretty much it. Nowadays it is a much more elaborate idea that can even be hard to keep track of. Eating healthily todays means no fast food, only gluten-free products, fresh produce, keeping your meat intake to a minimum and many other restrictions. One might feel like a world-class athlete who has to give up almost everything in order to prepare for a competition. Except your preparation is life-long, and there is no competition other than the life completely void of self-indulgence. Maybe it is a good thing that standards of healthy diets are so high now, but I doubt few people are up to them.

Food and cuisine vocabulary

Street food – a general term for food sold on the streets. Kebabs, doners and shawerma, hotdogs and burritos as well as many other dishes fall into this category.
Food stall – a small structure built temporarily to sell food. It is usually open from one side so one can buy from it without having to go inside.
Food van – a mobile vehicle converted to cook food to be sold right from inside of it. The beach was dotted with food vans selling popular items of mexican cuisine.
Upmarket (adj) – more expensive and high quality than average. Upmarket shops of central New York is one of the many attractions this city has to offer.
Filling (adj) – (about food) satiating your hunger effectively, rich in nutrients. A filling breakfast is a key to success in business life as you need a lot of energy to carry you through the day.
Savoury (adj) – having spicy or salty spacy as opposed to sweet foods. Some cooks are strongly against mixing sweet and savoury together – a great example of that is a Hawaiian pizza which has pineapples in it.
Stuff your face with – to eat a lot of something.
Indulge in – to let yourself have or do something you want very much that might not be good for you.
Binge eater – a person who can’t stop eating (with all the negative consequences of that).
Crave (v) – to desire something very much. Pregnant women often crave various food they couldn’t stand before.
Chug (v) – to drink something in big gulps, greedily. Can also be used as a noun. He took a couple of big, satisfying chugs from the milk carton.
Abstain from – to choose not to do some activity because you believe it is bad for you. Abstaining from alcohol might be the only thing that could get his life back on track.
Foodstuffs (n) – another word for the variety of food and ingredients. If you want to have better choice of foodstuffs you might want to go to a bigger shop like Walmart.
Fizzy drinks – carbonated sparkly drinks like Coke or Fanta. Some dietologists believe fizzy drinks to be a gateway to soft alcohol drinks like beer and cider.
Gluten-free – not containing any gluten. For most people, gluten is not inherently bad or harmful to health. However, some people are sensitive to gluten or certain health conditions that can cause their body to react negatively to it.
Produce (n) – a collective word for agricultural food – fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is easier to get early in the morning.
Intake (n) – consumption of something. His daily caffeine intake can’t be healthy – he has at least four cups of coffee a day.
Self-indulgence (n) – the process of indulging in something – allowing yourself to do or have something you want very much but that might not be good for you.

General vocabulary

Get into the habit of – to start doing something regularly. I got into the habit of sleeping till noon and it didn’t take much time to understand that it took a toll on my productivity levels.
And the like – a phrase that means “and others/something else like that”. This place attracts artists, designers and the like.
Two years running – two years in a row.
Kick something off – (informal) to start something with a certain action, usually in an energetic and resolute way. My boss believes that kicking the week off with two hours of overtime is good business practice.
Take something up – to start doing something as a habit. Don’t take up smoking – you won’t be able to quit it as easily.
Grow on somebody – if something grows on you it means you start liking it, especially if you didn’t like it previously. Watching westerns really grew on me over the years.
Give something/somebody the benefit of the doubt – to believe that something is true out of kindness, even though you are not sure if it is the case.
Sustain (v) – (here) to make something last, to carry on with something.
Impressionable (adj) – easily impressed, surprised. Can also mean that one can have their beliefs or opinions changed easily. I hope you don’t think that you are good with convincing people – she is just young and impressionable, that’s all.
To jump at something – to start doing something immediately and with enthusiasm.
Days on end – many days in a row.
Subconsciously (adv) – without realising. Subconsciously I suspected that Sally might not be telling the whole story, given her secretive nature and history of lying in the past.
A thing of concern – something that makes you doubt or worry about something.
Sway somebody’s opinion – to affect somebody opinion or belief in a certain manner.
Disclose (v) – to make something clear and known, especially if it was previously unavailable to public knowledge. At long last, the secret documents of national intelligence service have been disclosed.
Take a hint from – follow somebody’s example. Take a hint from Roger’s habit of brushing teeth twice a day, why don’t you?
Leverage (n) – if have leverage it means you can influence something or somebody. I have no leverage in this situation because I am no longer a part of the company.
Make or break – to be decisive, vital, extremely important. Quality of customer relations department will often make or break a company.
Circumvent – (here) to go around some limitation or restriction.
Celebrity endorsement – a programme of promoting something with the help of well-known people.
Guerilla marketing – advertising something through unconventional, usually creative means like graffiti or flash mobs.
Do one’s bidding – to do what others want you to do. You will either do my bidding with no questions asked or our business here is over.
Disdain (n) – to have disdain for something or somebody means to have no respect for it or to be repulsed by it.
Dissuade somebody from something – to make somebody not do something.
Resurgence (n) – a repeated rise in popularity. Resurgence of disco music was a pleasant surprise.
Pastime (n) – a hobby, especially one that is popular throughout the nation. Knitting is considered to be a pastime for old ladies.
Splash out on – to spend a considerable amount of money on something. Let’s splash out on a holiday on a luxurious hotel – after all one ought to treat himself every so often!
Pretentious (adj) – try to appear more important or impressive than it actually is.
Walks of life – used to talk about people of different social status. People of all walks of life come to this place – factory workers, entrepreneurs, artists and others.
Evangelist (n) – a person who strongly advocates for a certain cause. Jogging evangelists preaching about the merits of running early in the morning.
Make up for something – to compensate for something lost, for caused damage or something else that is negative. I decided to make up for being late and invited her to a fancy café that she likes so much.
Restraint (n) – the quality of keeping yourself under control, the opposite of indulgence.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Holidays and celebrations #3

IELTS Speaking topic - holidays celebrations 3 - sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary, available in PDF

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Talk about a celebration that is associated with a particular season
You should say:

  • what the celebration is
  • when it takes place
  • how it is celebrated

and say if it is celebrated in other countries.

Model answer

To tell the truth, there are many celebrations that are season-related, but one stands out in particular. It takes place on June 21st and it celebrates summer solstice.  Basically, it is the day when we get the most daylight in a year and the night is the shortest. Older people believe this night to have some kind of mystic significance, that spirits of the past come to life and all and any kind of magic can happen. Younger folks enjoy the more pragmatic aspects of the day, like how the daylight lasts almost till midnight. Everyone seems to find something enjoyable about this day. By the way, it is not a state holiday – I mean, we don’t get a day off on this occasion. However, sometimes it coincides with the weekend and that’s when it gets particularly enjoyable.

While other countries naturally have summer solstices on the same day, I am not sure if it widely recognised as a holiday. It has more to do with nature rather than some national achievement, so I doubt it really caught on around the world. I honestly have never given it much thought – I am sure that some people are aware of the solstice and maybe even have their own small celebrations. In any case, I think this is a great reason to spend some time with your family, hang out with friends and loved ones.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Celebrations and traditions

What role do traditions play in modern celebrations and events?

I’d say that traditions provide a sense of continuity and connection to the past and create a shared cultural heritage that brings people together. In other words, they give us an idea where we are now and in what direction we are heading, culturally speaking. Traditions also help people understand who they are and find their place in the world.

During modern celebrations and events, traditions often serve as a unifying force, creating a sense of community and belonging. They engage people in meaningful rituals that have been passed down through generations, often reinforcing important values and beliefs. For instance, Christmas traditional activities like caroling, gift-giving, and the lighting of the tree make for a happy and festive atmosphere.

Finally, upholding traditions make people feel more comfortable at an event. One example is weddings, which consists of a series of certain acts and ceremonies. They give the participants a general idea of what is going to happen next, who has to take part in it, what kind of presents they should be giving – things like that.

Should cultural traditions be preserved? Why or why not?

There are strong arguments for preserving traditions. One that comes to mind right away is that traditions bring people together. A very basic example is a family dinner that takes place once in a while and serves as a great reason for members of extended family to come together. This is especially true today, when people are too busy and going somewhere takes more time and money than it did in the past.

Another reason to nurture traditions is the ever-increasing problem of identity. We live in troubling times of globalisation, which has both good and bad sides to it. One of the worrying things is how it makes everything more or less the same. One of the things likely to fall victim to it is cultural identity. People with no respect to culture of their ancestors might feel lost in terms of where they truly belong. Respecting traditions helps prevent that, or at least should be the most effective way of battling against it.

National holidays

Do you think national holidays unite people from diverse cultures and backgrounds? Why or why not?

I believe that such holidays can  indeed bring people from different cultures together as they share a common celebration of their country and its history. People born and raised in the country get to enjoy the long-held traditions while those who have moved there from elsewhere get to learn more about it and to seamlessly integrate into the society. Holidays can serve as a symbol of national pride, providing an opportunity for people to come together and connect over shared values and traditions.

National holidays can also promote a sense of belonging and inclusivity, as diverse communities celebrate their shared history and commemorate important events. Nobody feels left out as during such festivities everybody tends to feel more welcoming and charitable. All in all, celebrations of that kind serve to improve social cohesion and help bridge cultural gaps.

What would happen if a country didn’t have any national holidays?

The consequences would be numerous and all of them quite negative. Firstly, there would be no designated days off for people to rest, celebrate or engage in cultural or religious traditions. This could lead to increased stress, burnout, and skew the overall work-life balance – this alone impacts the society greatly nowadays.

Moreover, without national celebrations there may be a loss of national unity, as holidays often serve as a way to honor the history, culture, and values of a country. Without national holidays, there may be a decreased sense of shared history and community. Finally, no national holidays mean negative consequences for the economy, as holidays often stimulate consumer spending and tourism. Without additional days off, there may be a decrease in consumer spending and travel, harming certain industries and businesses.

Holidays and celebrations vocabulary

Coincide (v) – (in relation to holidays or celebrations) – to happen on the same day or to move to a special day that holds some significance.
Cultural heritage – customs and traditions that we received from the past generations. Preserving cultural heritage is one of the prime aims of future generations.
Belonging (n) – (here) sense of being a part of something else, not being an alien. Jim had travelled across the entire country until he finally found a town he could truly feel he belonged to.
Pass down through generations – to give something either tangible (i.e. inheritance) or intangible (knowledge, traditions) to the youth. This mansion and the surrounding estate had been passed down to generations for centuries.
Caroling (n) – an act of group of people singing Christmas songs door-to-door or in public places. The purpose of caroling is to spread joy and cheer during the holiday season. In some cases, carolers may also collect donations for charities or non-profit organizations.
Festive (adj) – characterised by holiday spirit and and general uplift. In anticipation for holiday season festive atmosphere spread throughout the city.
Uphold (v) – to follow, support or maintain some practice or tradition.
Ancestors (n) – either direct or indirect relatives that lived before your time.
Bring together (v) – (here) unite people, either literally (physically) or figuratively (in what they think or believe in). The traditional holiday movie-watching marathons would normally bring our entire family together.
Integrate (v) – to make something a natural part of something bigger. He succeeded in integrating western business practices into his own family enterprise.
Commemorate (v) – to remember and honor a significant person or event by doing something special or creating a permanent marker like a monument or a plaque. It is a way to keep the memory alive for future generations.
Left out (adj) – if somebody feels left out, they can’t feel like a part of something they would have liked to be. We know that Chris is not fond of big parties, but if we hadn’t invited him, he would’ve felt left out.
Charitable (adj) – feeling or being especially generous either with or without a reason.
Work-life balance – having equal amounts of fun and productivity. My work-life balance doesn’t seem to have much ‘life’ in it nowadays.

General vocabulary

Stand out (phr v) – to be noticeable because it is different from everything else. My memory of the event is hazy but one moment stands out – the evening fireworks by the pier.
Pragmatic (adj) – concerned with practical matters rather than theory. Seth’s pragmatic approach to problem-solving has saved us many hours of brainstorming.
Have something to do with – connected to something. Her interest in finance has little to do with materialism – she is not interested in money itself but rather how it works and affects the society.
Catch on (phr v) – to become popular or fashionable. Touchscreen technologies hadn’t really caught on until the first iPhone model got released.
Continuity (n) – (here) something that keeps being done in the same manner it did in the past. There has to be some continuity in client relations – we don’t want to treat them differently depending on which manager deals with them.
Make for – create something or help something take place, facilitate something. TV-series usually make for a nice conversation topic.
Extended family – family members beyond the nuclear family, which includes parents, children, and siblings. Extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.
Nurture (v) – to support, to help something stay and keep growing.
Fall victim to something – to suffer from something or to be fooled by something/somebody (literally or figuratively). Many men fell victim to her attractive looks.
Battle (against) something – to fight or resist something. After battling lung cancer for three years he miraculously managed to beat it.
Seamlessly (adv) – in a smooth, natural manner. His speech seamlessly transitioned from family to politics and then back to family values.
Inclusivity (n) – practice of including things, topics or people that would normally be not a part of it (i.e. a group). Inclusivity in the movies helped many black American actors to truly shine.
Social cohesion – connection within a community.
To bridge cultural gaps – to make cultural differences less noticeable or to overcome them. Bridging cultural gaps is one of the steps of peaceful coexistence in multicultural societies.
Designated – made or chosen for a certain purpose. There is a designated trash disposal area in every district of the city.
Skew (v) – incorrect due to being affected by some external factor.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Weather and climate #3

IELTS Speaking topic - weather and climate 3 - sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary in PDF

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Describe a climate in a country you would like to visit.
You should say:

  • what this country is
  • what kind of climate it has
  • how this climate might affect life in that country

and explain why you want to visit it.

Model answer

Like most people aspiring to master English, the country I would very much like to see is England. Its climate is somewhat of a cultural thing, and a point of controversy. We are warned against discussing weather with the English – some say they would just rather not talk about it altogether. Or they would, out of politeness they are well-known for. Proximity to Gulf steam brings moist and mild air, making summers gentle and winters a bit chilly. The Englishmen themselves prefer spending their vacation on the sunny beaches of Spain because they are not very fond of the frequent precipitation back home. Whether any of this is true is unknown to me, and that is one of the reasons I want to go there so badly.

Just like its climate, denizens of the UK are rather sparing when it comes to emotions. They are not easy to be amused nor quick to lose their temper. Reserved and balanced, just like the seasonal changes with temperate summers and mild winters, they are the mirrored image of their nature. And this is the prime reason I would very much like to see all of it in person. I want to know first-hand whether it is the case or it’s all a figment of somebody’s imagination, a joke blown out of proportion.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Climate and people

How can the climate people live in affect their character?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that colder climate makes people living in it more introverted. Most Nordic countries as well as Finland and the UK are living examples of that – nobody would argue with that. They are not in a hurry to make friends, most of them prefer the quiet of solitude, they have predisposition to rumination. Of course it would be foolish to assume that weather is the only factor, but it definitely contributes to that.

Conversely, people living in hotter climate zones are more jovial and extroverted. Spain and Portugal are known for their hospitality, loud parties and festivals. I guess when it’s boiling hot outside people want to escape the stifling indoors and go to the beach. All in all, it is easy to see certain correlation between temperature and temperament. The numerous examples suggest that it is not a coincidence or a statistical mistake.

Do you believe that climate change will affect people’s way of life? If so, how?
The effects of climate change impact on people’s lives are already visible, and frighteningly so. Rising temperatures, changing weather patterns and sea-level rise are causing significant social, economic, and environmental effects. For instance, both floods and droughts cause huge problems with irrigation, and it is usually the consumer who has to pay the price. They say Venice might end up underwater within our lifetime – a truly frightening prospect and a sign of things to come. Unless the current trend reverses, people living in the lowlands all over the world could be forced to leave their homes and move somewhere higher.

How do you think climate change might impact the global economy?
It can affect it on two levels – personal and global. Here’s one of the former: an eco-conscious consumer nowadays favours recyclable and biodegradable products. They are ready to pay extra to make sure their purchase doesn’t contribute to the problem. At the same time, the same consumer is likely to use things much longer – for all the same reason of saving the environment. For some it is a genuine desire of preventing global warming, others just feel good about being a part of a good cause.

A more global economic shift lies within increasing temperatures. Some scientists have a rather pessimistic outlook on the temperature trajectory. Specifically, they say that within the next century areas near the equator will have mean temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius. This will lead to forced migration further north, which in turn will inevitably create house market deficit, driving prices up.

Climate change

How has climate change affected the weather in your country?
It would probably be unfair to talk about the country as a whole, but I’d be happy to share what has been happening in the city I live in. Over the past fifteen years summers have become noticeably warmer, with less precipitation and more sunny days. The warm season now spans almost five months – mid-April to late October. May to early September are especially hot nowadays, with almost half of the period well into thirty degrees Celsius.

However, winters haven’t become warmer – in fact, they are markedly colder than they used to be. We get more snow and the wind year-over-year seems to be getting stronger. All in all, the seasons seem to have become more pronounced. So while climate change is definitely there, I can’t say that global warming has hit us hard, especially taking chilly winters into account.

Has climate change has affected biodiversity? If so, how?
The biggest issue on everybody’s mind nowadays is loss of habitat. The first species that immediately comes to mind is the polar bear. As the ice capes in the Arctic grow thinner, polar bears find themselves in increasingly higher temperatures. This of course affects all species singular to that region, which in turn ruins the food chain and leads to starvation, biodiversity collapsing like a house of cards. With so little food to spare, polar bears no longer produce offspring, leading to rapid decline of their population.

Similarly, the melting of sea ice is causing other ripple effects in the Arctic ecosystem. One case of that is how plankton and other microorganisms, that were once trapped in sea ice are now being released into the water, attracting a variety of new species to the region. However, as these new species move into the Arctic, they may compete with existing species for food and resources, ultimately leading to population decline. All of the above aggravates the dire situation.

Weather and climate vocabulary

Precipitation (n) – a general term for rain, snow, sleet, hail or any other form of water coming from the sky as a weather phenomenon. This summer has had unprecedented levels of precipitation.
Seasonal changes – changes in temperature, wind and other aspects characteristic to a particular season.
Temperate (adj) – (relating to weather or climate) not too extreme, either pleasantly warm or cool. Living in temperate climates for most of their lives, Europeans might find African dry, hot air rather oppressing.
Boiling hot – extremely hot to the point of being unbearable. The city was boiling hot all July, roads felt like molten concrete, with no people outside.
Stifling (adj) – hot and humid to such extent that it makes it difficult to breathe. These rooms get stifling hot if air conditioning gets switched off.
Irrigation (n) – man-controlled process of providing water to crops, trees and flowers. Modern irrigation techniques allow one man to oversee the process across thousands of acres.
Lowlands (n) – areas located at or below the sea levels.
Eco-conscious (adj) – aware of and concerned with the problems of ecology and the environment. To make youth more eco-conscious means to have more chance of having a brighter, greener future for everyone.
Mean temperature – temperature average over a certain period, i.e. 24 hours, a week, a season and so on.
Chilly (adj) – so cold that it makes you feel uncomfortable, as opposed to cool – pleasantly cold. It was getting quite chilly in late October so I wouldn’t normally leave the house without a hat.
Loss of habitat – situation when living creatures like animals, fish or insects can no longer live where they are used to because of changing conditions. It can be caused by change in temperature, deforestation, lack of food or prey and many other factors.
Ripple effects – a mistake, irregularity or disturbance in some balanced system that provokes chain reaction and leads to further destabilisation.

General vocabulary

Aspiring (adj) – trying your best to achieve something. Aspiring students from all over the world came to Houston today to take part in a Science Fair.
Point of controversy – a divisive matter, a thing that people have several opinions about and can’t agree on. Employers’ unwillingness to hire older staff nowadays is a big point of controversy.
Warn somebody against something – to tell somebody that doing something is a bad or dangerous idea. Mother has always warned me against hanging out with kids who smoke even though they are in their early teens.
Denizens – people (or animals) that live in a particular area. Denizens of Rome have a great sense of fashion, but they rarely admit it.
Sparing (adj) – to be very careful or frugal with something, only using or giving very small amounts of it. When I was in school most teachers were pretty sparing with compliments and punishments alike.
Lose one’s temper – to get angry. Jack is quick to lose his temper, especially if he gets into an argument he can’t win.
Figment of imagination – an imaginary thing or situation, not real or true.
Anecdotal evidence – evidence based on personal experience or stories rather than scientific research or official data.
Solitude (n) – state of not having anyone else close to you. Not to be confused with loneliness when you feel the need for company. Solitude is usually voluntary and generally used in the positive sense.
Predisposition (n) – tendency to do something because of your preferences or character or qualities. She has predisposition to catching cold because of her weak immune system.
Rumination (n) – state of thinking or considering something thoroughly or carefully. I entered the room only to see Barbara in a deep state of rumination, so I promptly left not to disturb her.
Jovial (n) – friendly, full of life and cheerful. Her jovial manner won many friends for her during college years.
Prospect (n) – possibility or likelihood of something. I wasn’t too keen about the prospect of having to get another part-time job to cover my expenses.
Sign of things to come – something that points at or indicates about something that is likely to happen in the future. If we look back to the invention of the first iPhone it was a real sign of things to come, namely wide adoption of mobile Internet and general shift from desktops to mobile devices.
Outlook on something – (here) an expected results or what people think might happen regarding it. His outlook on life is very positive – after finishing university he has a couple of cushy jobs lined up.
In excess of – more than. Last month the company had revenue in excess of 8 million.
Span (v) – (here) to take, last or cover a certain amount of time. This academic course spans two semesters and by the end of it will give you basic understanding of medieval history.
Markedly (adv) – noticeably, considerably.
Pronounced (adj) – (here) very noticeable.
Singular to – unique to. They say that tortoiseshell pattern is singular to female cats. Although male cats can very rarely have it, they are sterile from birth.
Offspring (n) – children of either people or animals. Due to particularly warm and gentle summers, the volume of foxes offspring has risen considerably.

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IELTS Speaking topic – City and the country #3

IELTS Speaking topic - city and the country 3 sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Describe a notable building or house in your city.
You should say:

  • where it is located
  • what it is
  • what is notable about it

and say how well-known it is outside of your city.

Model answer

I am from a fairly small non-descript town, so honestly we don’t have too many buildings worth noting. One that comes to mind is the one currently used as a museum of contemporary art. The building itself was erected in the middle of last century. It stands three storeys high in the historical part of our town, with beautifully-laid brickwork that has really stood the test of time. The real beauty of this building is that it blends in nicely with the rest of the street, discreet and dignified.

It usually hosts exhibitions, mostly by local artists. Admission is always free so anyone is welcome to come look at the exhibits of representative art. Normally we don’t get any big names coming and hence not many people outside of our town know about the museum. It’s a shame really because it really deserves more exposure and coverage by the media. However, maybe it is better to keep it the way it is, a hidden gem. It might help preserve the special charm it has now.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

City and the country

In your opinion, what are the differences between people living in cities and in the countryside?

The differences are glaringly evident from the get-go. Urbanites are much more approachable as they are always surrounded by others. When you have people around you all the time it is easier to establish new social connections. Rural folks live in more secluded communities so a new person for them is a rare sight. Naturally, they might feel apprehensive towards newcomers. However, their bond and friendship seems to be much stronger because of the general sense of community. Conversely, connection of people in the city is more superficial because of its fleeting nature. They might not feel inclined to stay in touch with somebody because there are many other people around, so friendship might be seen as something disposable.

Another important point to make is the difference in life experience. Rural folks have more practical skills and knowledge – because they have to do most things themselves. They can  fix a roof, milk a cow and raise crops. Most citizens’ skills are focused around their profession, so they have a very limited array of them. All this means is that the countryside people are more adaptable in the hunter-gatherer sense.

What challenges might people living in the countryside face?

The problem of infrastructure is likely to be the biggest concern of living in the countryside. In the past, smaller villages didn’t even have grocery shops so if you wanted to get anything you would have no choice but to drive to the nearest town. While it is no longer the case in my country, the problem persists elsewhere, albeit at a lesser scale. For instance, young families have kids who need to be taken to kindergartens and schools. Both can be either too far away or simply too full to take new children. Then there is the issue of understaffed hospitals that can also be too remote to reach easily. The list goes on and on.

Of course, the most obvious challenge is employment. Finding a job in sparsely-populated area such as a small town or a village is a disheartening task. Low population means low demand for goods and services, so there jobs are few and poorly paid. That is why many choose to focus on farming and agriculture to provide for themselves and sell any surplus.

Cities and nature

What can be done to make people living in cities feel more in touch with the nature?

People have to go back to basics to reclaim the sense of belonging, being one with the nature. One way to do so is to give up cars and walk and cycle to places. It helps get the feeling of scale, understand how huge modern cities are and how much time it really takes to get anywhere. It also makes you appreciate what little of nature modern cities still have – trees, bushes, birds. This should in turn encourage you to be more nature-conscious to preserve the remainder of urban wildlife.

This might seem a bit too far-fetched for some. A more down-to-earth approach is to adopt a pet. When you have a cat meowing next to you it serves as a living reminder of beautiful things in our lives. Caring for an animal brings you closer to nature and creates a sense of purpose. On a side note, it also makes you feel less lonely in the concrete jungle of modern cities.

In your opinion, what is the most effective way to reduce pollution in cities?

To tackle the issue of urban areas pollution we might want to rethink how cities work. The majority of air pollution comes from cars – that is a well-known fact. So one can either reduce the amount of cars on the roads or shorten the distance they have to cover. The former can be achieved by evenly spreading the traffic load over wider range of vehicles – buses, trams, bicycles. Carpooling is a great option too, but not many might be down to that. The latter – shorter commutes, that is – is more difficult to implement as it would mean forcing people to live closer to their place of work or study. This is a rather extreme regulation, but it can be slowly enacted nonetheless.

Finally, the state could impose carbon offset fees for those unable to give up on driving a car. They could pay for the pollution they generate and the money could then be used for funding environmental projects. Overall, the matter of city pollution is not an easy one and compromises are inevitable. Everyone has to work together to resolve this crisis that is getting more serious.

What measures can be taken to stop deforestation and protect urban forests?

Stopping deforestation within city limits seems like a noble pursuit – and it is. However, it is almost impossible due to one fact of life – city land is expensive. Construction companies fight tooth and nail for every inch of space within city limits to build apartment complexes. This often happens at the expense of trees that might be on the land that is meant for erecting new buildings. The trees end up uprooted and either thrown away or moved outside of the city in question.

One realistic solution to this should come from the state. Stricter regulations could be introduced which would oblige the building companies to dedicate certain percentage of land to natural vegetation. The effort could be taken further by planting more trees in place of old buildings that are due to be demolished. Such proactive approach would undoubtedly help cities look more cheerful and make the air cleaner.

City and the country vocabulary

Erect (v) – to build something. Local council erected a monument to commemorate the historic event.
Stands three storeys high – is three storeys high. Used to talk about height of structures, people or other living things. There he stood, almost seven feet high.
Brickwork (n) – the way bricks are laid. Exposed brickwork has been a popular design direction since 1960s.
Blend in (phr v) – to fit in, to look like an organic part of something. To blend in with the crowd I had to wear a raincoat that seemed to be very popular with the locals.
Urbanite (n) – a person living in an urban area as opposed to people living in small towns or villages.
Approachable (adj) – easy to talk to, welcoming. Teacher has to be approachable among other things so that students wouldn’t feel shy about asking a question.
Secluded (adj) – located far away from other places or people, private. The park had a secluded valley not many people knew about.
Sense of community – a state of trust, friendliness and cooperation within a group of people. Most major cities are unlikely to have any sense of community even among people living in the same apartment complex.
Infrastructure (n) – all the services that are essential to high quality of life – shops, hospitals, schools and so on. Newer district in the city already come with all the necessary infrastructure prebuilt.
Remote (n) – very similar to secluded – far away from everything else. Unlike ‘secluded’, does not have the ‘private’ aspect. A remote village cut away from civilisation.
Concrete jungle – a figurative phrase that compares cities with the jungle, both equally cruel and dangerous in their own ways.
Carpooling (n) – the practice of sharing a private car to commute together in order to save on gas and reduce environmental impact. I have been carpooling with Jack and Victoria for six months now and so far it’s been going great.
Impose (v) – to introduce some restrictions or regulations, usually by a governing body such as the state.
Carbon offset fees – payments made by companies or individuals to make up for the environmental damage they have caused.

General vocabulary

Non-descript (adj) – not worth attention, uninteresting. A non-descript person approached us and said that he is our tour guide.
Contemporary art – art that was produced relatively recently, i.e. in 20th and 21st century. Contemporary art is easier to understand than art of the renaissance age because it is not so removed form us in terms of time.
Stand the test of time – remain relevant in terms of idea, style or other aspects despite being made or having begun a long time ago. We had many differences, but despite that our friendship stood the test of time indeed.
Discreet (adj) – (here) not easily seen, careful and tactful. Her discreet appearance was very pleasing to the eye and didn’t clash with the overall theme of the party.
Dignified (adj) – with sense of self-worth. Members of the royal family always have to act in a very dignified way not to lose face.
Admission (n) – payment to be a part of something (or lack thereof). Admission fee can range from $5 all the way to $100 for priority tours.
Hence (adv) – therefore, this is why, as a consequence. You have missed most of my classes hence your low mark for the semester.
A hidden gem – something like a book, movie or any other form of media that is good but unknown to most people.
Glaringly (adv) – in an obvious way, clear and easy to see.
From the get-go (informal) – from the very beginning. It became clear from the get-go that Clarisse was one of the brightest students in her class.
Bond (n) – a connection such as friendship, love or shared interests that unite people. Bond among students was getting stronger with every year.
Apprehensive (adj) – having doubts and concerns about something, especially something new or unknown.
Conversely (adv) – on the other hand, contrastingly. Used to introduce an opposite idea or point of view.
Superficial (adj) – shallow, lacking depth, or simply concerned with appearance rather than substance. Her understanding of the subject was superficial – she would use terms without even understanding what they really mean.
Fleeting (adj) – passing, disappearing quickly. The fleeting youth came and gone, leaving nothing but memories and regrets.
Disposable (adj) – something that is not essential, replaceable. Also something that you can use without worrying about it. My disposable income went to buying skiing equipment and saving for a vacation and a mountain ski resort.
Raise crops – to grow edible cultures such as wheat or rice.
Array (n) – a range or selection of something, usually used positively. She had an array of impressive talents. She could play most instruments, speak three languages and even ride a horse!
Hunter-gatherer sense – if you refer to somebody in this sense you mean their general survival skills and how ready they are to deal with basic problems of life such as finding food, shelter and dealing with danger.
No longer the case – not anymore, no longer so. She used to live with her parents, but unfortunately that is no longer the case. After high school she had to move out.
Albeit (adv) – although, however.
Understaffed (adj) – not having enough workers. The kitchen is understaffed today because Bella has called in sick. Be ready to work harder, people!
Sparsely (adv) – small number of something spread over large area. The garden had some flowers sparsely planted along the fence.
Disheartening (adj) – something that is so difficult that is discourages you from attempting to try it because there is no hope of succeeding. Lisa’s failure to enter the college so disheartening that I decided not to try it myself.
Surplus (n) – an extra amount of something doesn’t get used. Any surplus clothing here is usually given away for charity.
Reclaim (v) – to get back something that you previously had, especially if it was rightfully yours in the first place.
Remainder (n) – something remaining of the whole; the rest of. For the remainder of the party we just stood at the balcony chain smoking and peering into the dark streets below us.
Far-fetched (adj) – unlikely, not realistic. Her expectations of the trainee becoming a competent professional within six months are way too far-fetched.
Down-to-earth (adj) – practical and reasonable.
A living reminder – something that is a real life examples that serves to make you remember something. My older cousin is a living reminder that having no full-time job does not work out well for most of people.
Tackle the issue – to take care of the problem, to solve it.
Be down to something – (informal) to agree to do or take part in something. Surprisingly, she is down to partying with us.
That is – a phrase to explain or clarify something, usually with a comma before it.
Enact (v) – to make something a law. Enacting a six-day working week might benefit the economy but will definitely disgruntle most employed people.
A noble pursuit – an aim worth fighting for because it represents human ideals.
Fight tooth and nail – to fight hard for something (figuratively or literally) because it is desirable.
Proactive (adj) – taking action before negative consequences happen.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Travelling #3

IELTS Speaking topic - travelling 3 sample questions with answers and useful vocabulary, available as PDF

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Describe a trip that presented a challenge to you.
You should say:

  • where you were going to
  • what kind of challenge it was
  • how you dealt with it

and say if you believe there was a better way of dealing with it.

Model answer

Last year my family decided to drive to the Mediterranean for a brief seaside vacation. We had been planning the trip all winter, so we thought of every possible eventuality and went prepared. We loaded the car with our bags, a spare tyre, some tools in case the car broke down and set off.

Two hundred miles into the journey, our car developed a strange knocking noise that we couldn’t really figure out. We pulled over at the nearest service station to have it inspected by a mechanic. It turned out my father had forgotten to tighten nuts on one of the wheels! It was a miracle that the wheel didn’t come off. The mechanic took care of that, made sure that the rest of the car is in working order and wished us good luck.

Eventually we made it to our destination in one piece. Looking back at what happened I think we should have done due diligence and had a more thorough look at the car. Ironically, my father is a big fan of “safety first” approach given that this oversight on his part could have costed us our lives. At the end of the day we learned a valuable lesson, came unscathed and had a great trip.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Travelling in different times

Was it easier or more difficult to travel in the past?

It is safe to say that moving around nowadays is way easier than it used to be. First of all, there were fewer transportation options available. One was pretty much limited to either walking  or horseback riding. It really depends on how far back in time we go though. Eventually railroad network connected most major cities and that is when travelling became much quicker, safer and more comfortable. When we talk about intercontinental transit, then boats were the only option for the most part of human history. Going from Europe to the Americas would take months.

With the invention of civic aviation even the longest flight only takes half a day at most. The only aspect that became more complicated is all the papers one has to have on them, such as passports, visas, and more recently – vaccination certificates. All in all people in the past had a much, much harder time going from A to B.

In your opinion, what invention changed the way we travel the most?

The invention and subsequent wide adoption of cars has pretty much revolutionised travelling. The biggest impact it made was in the way we commute – which is still travelling, but in a broader sense of the word. They say that 8 out of 10 commuters in the US choose to do so by car. While not the most efficient way to do so, it is preferred by most for its comfort, convenience and flexibility.

Cars have also enabled people to have short and long journeys alike whenever and wherever. Hop behind the wheel and in three hour’s time you find yourself in another city one hundred miles away. Personal vehicles made long-distance travelling a common thing as well. Despite statistics saying otherwise, many believe cars to be much safer than trains and airplanes. To sum up, it is difficult to imagine what the travelling industry would have looked like had the cars been not invented (or made available to general public).

How can we expect travelling to change in the future?

There are two realistic scenarios here, both hanging on whether we learn how to deal with the ever-increasing carbon footprint. If we manage to harness cleaner form of energy then we might see a new era of carbon-neutral personal transportation. New sources of renewable, clean energy might not be cheap at first so only the select few are likely to afford it, but eventually it is likely to become accessible to most. Resources previously used to offset environmental damage could then be funneled into upgrading infrastructure for the new types of vehicles, further improving experience of travelling.

The second, more likely scenario is that humanity remains dependent on fossil-based fuels. This will entail stricter regulations and penalties for using cars, making personal transportation financially unviable for the majority. This is likely to lead in shift towards public transportation for most, an alternative many are unlikely to be happy with. Long-haul flights might seize to be an option for many for the same reason – carbon fees.

Travelling for different reasons

How the purpose of the trip changes the way you prepare for it?

We’d have to define the main reasons why one chooses to travel first. I guess it can be business-related, a leisure trip or a trip with no particular purpose in mind, something like a self-discovery journey. Embarking on a business trip you have to do your research about the customs and traditions of the destination country. You will most likely have to deal with your local counterparts and it is important not to come off as disrespectful.

When you travel for fun, then all you have to do is take it easy. Pack a change of clothing or two, pick a fun book with you and make sure to have enough money for all the souvenirs. I guess having an emergency fund is always a good idea when on a trip, regardless of its purpose. You can never know what kind of situation you might end up in. Oh, and finally if you go somewhere with no particular aim in mind, then no additional preparation is needed. Just make sure you have all your papers in order and enjoy the experience, I guess.

Some people believe that travelling without a good reason is irresponsible because of carbon footprint. Do you agree? Why/why not?

I think these people are right, and justifiably so. It is no wonder that the vast majority of travellers use form of transportation that is not very eco-friendly. Let’s face it – nobody travels between cities or countries on a bike. Most choose cars or planes for their convenience. As a result, travelling for joy generates CO emissions that could have easily beeen avoided. However, I don’t believe people should be blamed for doing things they like. Human life is essentially a never-ending series of concessions and compromises. Maybe one day a travelling scientist gets inspired to create a more eco-friendly mode of transport and it will all be worth it? You just never know.

Travelling vocabulary

Set off (phr v) – to start a journey, to get on the way. We set off in the morning because we had a 14 hour drive ahead of us and we wanted to reach our destination before it got dark.
Two hundred miles into the journey – a construction like *number* + “into” is used to show how much of something was covered/done etc. Two hours into the meeting we came to the conclusion that sales managers will never accept our terms.
Pull over (phr v) – to move to the side of the road to make a stop. Jamie had to pull over because the road was too slippery.
To make somewhere in one piece – to arrive somewhere safely, without accidents.
Intercontinental transit – a way to go from one continent to another. Business people who have foreign partners overseas have to use various means of intercontinental transit.
Civic aviation – commercial and state aircrafts that are used to transport people (civilians) as opposed to military aviation.
Commute (v) – to go to and from work or place of study regularly. If you work from home you don’t have to commute – and that is one of the big advantages.
Carbon-neutral (adj) – producing no harmful gases. Carbon-neutral society is every environmentalist’s dream.
Renewable (adj) – (usually about a resource) something that is infinite, as opposed to finite, i.e. something that can run out. Some examples of renewable energy sources are wind, solar and tidal energies.
Fossil-based fuels – fuels such as petrol, diesel and others that are made of oil. Fossil fuels are likely to run out during our lifetimes and we will witness the drastic consequences of this fundamental change.
Long-haul flights – flights that take a lot of time, such as intercontinental ones. One way to overcome the sheer boredom of long-haul flights is to take some sleeping pills.
Self-discovery – process or activity of “finding yourself” – that is, understanding what you are and what you want to do with your life.
Embark (v) – very similar to ‘set off’. To start something, a journey or an activity. Sarah embarked on her quest of becoming a self-employed specialist.
Emergency fund – an amount of money you save and only use when something unexpected happens, i.e. you need to pay for an unplanned surgery.
CO emissions – emissions of carbon monoxide – a gas that is produced by humans and their actions and which contributes to global warming.

General vocabulary

Eventuality (n) – something that can possibly happen, usually in the negative meaning. It’s impossible to plan for every single eventuality.
Spare (adj) – additional. Have some spare change on you in case we have to tip somebody.
Nut (n) – (here) a part that is screwed onto bolt to hold something in place, in this case a wheel.
In working order – functioning properly, without malfunctions. To make sure that my laptop was in full working order I took it to a service shop to have in cleaned and inspected.
Do due diligence – to thoroughly research, investigate and analyze something or someone before making an important decision. When buying a flat it is worth doing due diligence about the building, area it is in and even your prospective neighbours.
Oversight (n) – a situation when some flaw or mistake goes unnoticed or when somebody fails to do what they should have done. Due to severe security oversight an armed man managed to get onboard of the plane.
Come unscathed – to come unharmed out of a dangerous situation
Subsequent (adj) – following, something that comes next. The subsequent questions only proved my suspicion that they had no idea what they were talking about.
Adoption (n) – (here) acceptance of something by people in general. Adoption of mobile internet changed the way we communicate forever.
Harness (v) – to gain control of something, to use something to your advantage. Harnessing the power of atom, humanity managed to gain access to clean and relatively safe source of energy.
Select (adj) – the best of something or somebody. These select individuals will be representing our school at the Math contest next month.
Offset (v) – to undo harm caused by something. In order to offset our losses this quarter we had to fire several people.
Funnel (v) – to focus something such as resources or effort on a particular thing. Since the beginning of fiscal year most of our funding has been funneled into clean energy projects.
Unviable (adj) – not able to succeed, survive or be useful. The strategy you have suggested is unviable because we simply don’t have the resources to spend the next 12 months without seeing any profits.
Counterpart (n) – (here) a person or a thing that has the same function, but in a different place, company or country.
Come off as – to create an impression of having a certain quality or trait of character. He might come off as intelligent, but in fact he is anything but that. He’s quite dull, between you and me.
Justifiably – acceptable or right because it is reasonable in the current situation. Justifiably, Jane shouted at her assistant because he was simply unable to perform even the basic of duties.
Concession – an act of giving something up in order to make a compromise possible.

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IELTS Speaking topic – Studying #3

IELTS Speaking topic - studying sample questions with model answers and useful vocabulary

This is a sample response for IELTS Speaking Part 2 and 3. In addition to the model answer there are highlighted words and phrases. Teal is for vocabulary relating to this topic, yellow is for generally useful words and phrases.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

Talk about a teacher who has had a significant impact on your life
You should say:

  • what was the teacher like
  • what subject they taught
  • how they had an impact on you

and say if you are still in touch with the teacher

Model answer

The teacher that has definitely shaped and formed my career is Mrs Blackpool, who taught us Physics and Math at school. She was highly-qualified as a professional and a patient, understanding person. These qualities made her one of the most pleasant people to interact with.

One memory in particular stands out. A student in our class was really struggling with even most basic calculations, lagging behind and dragging the rest of the class down with him. Mrs Blackpool found a real-life example the student could relate to and within minutes he got the hang of the calculation. The genius of the teacher was in understanding that the student in question had difficulties with abstract thinking. Realising this, she gave him something more tangible to work with.

Unfortunately she passed away last year. Prior to that we would often visit her to keep her company. Even though she lived well into her nineties, she remained as bright as ever and her mind stayed sharp and inquisitive.

IELTS Speaking Part 3

Ways of studying

What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying abroad?

One clear disadvantage that has to be mentioned right off the bat is the price. Studying abroad is prohibitively expensive for several reasons – costs of accommodation, tuition as well as all the associated moving expenses. With that in mind, education provided abroad has a number of advantages to offer. One less obvious one is that the student gets to experience life on their own with no overprotective parents around. Such exposure to life is as good of a lesson as the classes the student will be having.

Secondly, studying in another country is a unique chance to get a different angle on academic things. No matter how good your teachers are, they will have their own approach to science, and this is going to be greatly influenced by where they are from. All in all, the advantages are obvious so if money is no issue then one should definitely go for it.

Is it likely that online courses might replace traditional classroom learning in the future?
This scenario is very plausible. In fact, it is already the case with some spheres. Websites like Codecademy have been providing coding courses to total beginners since 2012. The ambitious idea of the website is to shape an individual with no relevant coding skills into an employable professional – all through online learning. I guess at the end of the day it makes sense to study a computer-related field using your computer. But what about other spheres? I believe that while online courses can complement the conventional studying, they cannot fully substitute it. Most professions still require hands-on experience, especially those where mistakes can lead to serious consequences. So the answer is simply – it is possible, but not probable.

Would you say that homeschooling is a good alternative to traditional classes?
It is definitely a viable alternative. However, it has its limitations. I believe that one of the core purposes of school is to integrate the child into society. Learning skills like interacting with their peers, conflict management, making friends are all integral to a well-adjusted individual. This is where homeschooling falls short as by definition a homeschooled child has no other kids in their environment. It does have its merits though. Tutors make homeschooling curriculum tailored to fit the student, his learning aptitude and interests. This is very conducive to efficient education process.

Studying and skills

Are exams an accurate reflection of a student’s knowledge and skills? If not, how can they be made more accurate?
I’d say that lumping all exams together is a very bad generalisation that does no justice to most exams. A well-designed test system checks how well-informed you are on the subject and how effectively you can apply the knowledge you have. In some schools we can see situations where the teachers would focus on the questions in the exam rather than the subject itself. This stems from the fact that the school is assessed on the exam performance of its students. Therefore a well-designed exam should cover a scope of tasks and questions wide enough to warrant comprehensive knowledge of the subject.

Does t learning a second language have practical benefits in today’s globalized world?
A good point to start is that the only realistic excuse not to learn a second language is if you are an English native speaker. The rationale behind this is fairly simple – it is the lingua franca, it has been for many decades now. And even if that is the case, there is at least one aspect you should consider. There are benefits even outside purely practical reasons. It is a well-established fact that learning and using a foreign language makes one’s mind much sharper and more resistant to age-related mental conditions. Finally, when you know a language other than your own you simply feel better about yourself. It gives you a nice sense of achievement and a confidence boost.

What do you think are the key elements of a successful learning environment?
One key aspect of an environment conducive to learning is class composition based on merit and ability. Students of equal talent and learning aptitude make for a much more efficient learning experience. This is true for both the teacher and the students. When there is no lagging behind nor getting bored the education process stays dynamic and keeps students on their toes. Another important factor is up-to-date textbooks and supplementary materials. These ensure that relevant data is used in the classes. This can be a problem with some schools that keep using books from last decade, where some of the information might have already become useless or even misleading.

Studying vocabulary

Lag behind – to be to slow either literally (for example when running) or figuratively (when learning something new in a group). Charlie kept lagging behind in his Math class until parents decided to get a private tutor for him.
Drag somebody down – to affect somebody else negatively. Ben’s poor performance at work drags everyone in the sales department down so their overall productivity is much lower because of him.
Get the hang of something – to learn or understand how to do something through practice. Don’t worry if it looks too difficult now – once you have done that yourself a couple of time you will get the hang of it quickly.
Inquisitive (adj) – eager to learn more, usually by asking questions (inquiring). Inquisitive students tend to stay after classes to get a chance of asking a question to the professor.
Tuition (n) – education. Usually used in relation to tuition fees – the payment for receiving education.
Overprotective (adj) – too worried about something to the point of not giving them enough freedom or independence. His overprotective mother wouldn’t let Barry hang out with other kids fearing that they would be bad influence on him.
Employable professional – one who has enough knowledge, experience and qualifications to get a job.
Hands-on experience – experience in a pragmatic way, i.e. of doing something yourself rather than seeing somebody else do it or reading about it. The hands-on experience you will get through this internship programme is going to be invaluable in your further career
Peers (n) – people of the same age you are. Peers tend to have more in common in term of interests so they are more likely to be friends, as opposed to people of different age groups.
Well-adjusted (adj) – someone who is able to cope and adapt in various situations, and maintain positive mental health and emotional stability. They are self-aware and have a good understanding of their emotions and thoughts.
Learning aptitude – how easy it is for one to learn something new. Different students based on their level of learning aptitude can find the same subject to be either quite easy or extremely challenging.
Conducive (adj) – making it easy, more efficient or comfortable to do something. Quiet, well-lit rooms are conducive to studying.
Comprehensive (adj) – complete, trying to cover all of the topic in question. A comprehensive list of notable authors of the 19th century.
Merit (n) – ability and achievement in a particular career. His merit in this field is unquestionable and people recongise him as one of the most prominent scientists of today.
Keep somebody on their toes – to have somebody busy with something challenging and difficult to achieve in order to keep them from getting bored or idle.

General vocabulary

Shape and form – to influence somebody in such a way that it changes it (or them). Hemingway’s books shaped and formed my attitude to language. Now I firmly believe that one’s language should be concise and efficient.
Stand out – to be remarkable because it is different from everything (or everyone) else. One particular pupil that stood out was Stanley because he was the only one always eager to answer teacher’s questions.
Relate to something or somebody – to understand it because you’ve had a similar situation or experience. I really can’t relate to Marta’s problems with exams because I’ve always been very diligent when it came to preparations.
Tangible (adj) – (here) something that you can touch, something concrete, physical rather than abstract.
Well into – (here, about a number) considerably more than. His inheritance money is well into hundreds thousands of dollars.
Right off the bat – (informal) right away, at once. When the new boss was officially appointed he fired two people right off the bat. He had known them for a while and strongly believed that they were a liability to the company.
Prohibitively expensive – something that costs so much that hardly anyone can afford it. Real estate has been prohibitively expensive for over a decade now.
Get a different angle on something – to look at something from a different perspective, consider something in a different way. Having spent two years in an impoverished country I got a different angle on how they could be helped.
No issue – if something is no issue, it is not difficult to have or get it. Talented professionals have never been an issue in this company, fortunately.
Plausible (adj) – possible, likely. One plausible explanation of his absence is that he is stuck in traffic and his cellphone has died.
Complement (v) – to complete something or be a good addition to it. White wine usually complements dishes made of fish nicely.
Substitute (v) – to replace. If you fire Ed there are no people with enough experience in his field to substitute him, therefore I would advice you against doing that.
Viable (adj) – possible, likely or fitting. A viable solution to the crisis is to ask the government to give most businesses a tax break.
Core (adj) – main, fundamental.
Fall short – if somebody or something falls short of something, they fail to achieve that. I am afraid to say that your school falls short of the bold claims you have made on your website.
Lump together – to group something or somebody despite their difference in nature or quality. Usually used negatively. Lumping all students together in one huge class is going to lower their performance considerably.
Do no justice to – fail to highlight how good something or somebody is.
Warrant (v) – to to make something necessary, needed or required. Expelling the student can’t be warranted by two missed classes.
Rationale behind something – reasoning or explanation of something. The rationale behind new education program was that the old one failed to address the needs of foreign students.
Supplementary (adj) – additional. Students should buy all the supplementary materials themselves because the university does not provide them.
Misleading (adj) – giving wrong or confusing information. Footnotes and commentaries in this book are misleading rather that useful.

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