So I was talking to Jen -a Filipina -about her IELTS Writing, and I realized that she had no idea about how to write an IELTS band 7.
First, a bit of background.
Jen had trained as a nurse and was planning on working in Canada – Alberta. However, CARNA (which is the College of Regulations of Registered Nurses of Alberta) requires everyone to have the following IELTS scores:
The thing is, apart from writing, the other scores were generally no problem for her.
But for Jen, writing was difficult.
She usually achieved a 6.0 or a 6.5 in her IELTS Writing. However, after a few weeks, we managed to improve her writing to a 7.0.
This is how I solved Jen’s writing problem.
First of all, Jen sent me a couple of examples of her IELTS writing, and I immediately saw that there were 3 major problems with her Task 2 IELTS essay.
The first problem was that she had no idea how to go about answering the question DIRECTLY.
Instead, Jen would often write “about the topic” – sort of. In other words, if the question was about the environment, she would write something about the environment, but she would often miss the point of the essay, and sometimes she would include ideas that didn’t really fit the topic.
Together, she and I worked through my FTQ (Follow the Question) strategy. This helped her with planning, paragraphing, and overall her TR (Task Response). I also taught her the 2-Sentence Introduction, the 2-Sentence Conclusion, and the core topic sentences for paragraphs. Together, these strategies meant that she was nearly always on-topic.
The second problem was that while her paragraphing and support ideas were often logical, her ideas DID NOT FLOW naturally. In other words, although she had Linkers like “First, …” “As a result …” it was nowhere near as coherent as it should have been.
I talked to her about it, and I realized that she usually only practiced her language one sentence at a time. Or, she wrote complete paragraphs or essays.
The problem was that she wasn’t practicing writing Sentence Blocks.
(What are Sentence Blocks? These are one of the IELTS Writing Techniques I have developed!)
So, we practiced developing complete ideas, and linking them naturally in blocks – and her linking became less robotic and much more natural.
However, the third and final problem was the biggest challenge – her language.
Here is the situation. Jen was a Filipina and she typically used Pinoy English to communicate in her daily life.
Now, there is nothing wrong with this when you are surrounded by friends and colleagues in your country. However, it causes problems when you are writing in an IELTS exam!
The thing is Jen didn’t realize what sorts of mistakes she was making because they were normal within her context. In other words, everyone else did the same thing, so her fellow IELTS students (and teacher?) didn’t really notice the problem.
So, the first step was to work out what kind of errors in lexis (vocabulary) and in grammar she often made.
Jen’s Pinoy (Philippine English) errors:
Here is a list of some of the mistakes that Jen typically made, along with an example of sentence and what it should have been. (I have tidied up the sentences a little bit.)
It is really important to get prepositions more right that wrong. Getting them often wrong will pull you LR (Lexical Resource) or “Vocabulary” score down to a 6.
(1) Cigarette smoking result to more cancer.
(2) These health problem point of the need of more government spending.
(3) We are in search for a better solution.
(4) I believe the government is committed in this idea.
(1) Cigarette smoking results in more cancer.
(2) These health problem point to the need for more government spending.
(3) We are in search of a better solution.
(4) I believe the government is committed to this idea.
2. Subject – Verb Agreement
This is a really common problem for many non-native speakers. Subject –
Verb agreement means that you use the correct Singular or Plural form of the Verb so that it “agrees with” the noun it points to. It can be very easy to get this wrong with complex sentences. (Some of these examples are the same as those above)
(1) Cigarette smoking result in more cancer.
(2) Our country seem to need help with this.
(3) Things seems to be getting worse every year.
(4) A number of activities needs to be done.
(5) The new public schools, which allows more students to enroll, will save money.
(6) Each one of these college can be improved.
(1) Cigarette smoking results in more cancer.
(2) Our country seems to need help with this.
(3) Things seem to be getting worse every year.
(4) A number of activities need to be done (OR need doing).
(5) The new public schools, which allow more students to enroll, will save money.
(6) Each one of these colleges can be improved.
4. Tense changes
There seem to be two general issues:
(1) Using past tense with state verbs like “believe” to talk about the present
(2) Using present continuous (v-ing) with state verbs
(1) I believed that this is best solution.
(2) The problem is students are not understanding the books.
(1) I believe that this is best solution.
(2) The problem is students do not understand the books.
5. Other examples of odd phrasing
Just about every country has their own versions of common phrases. But this is a problem when these are no longer “standard” International English. For example:
(1) 5 to 10 years old consumed the fewest calories.
(2) One option is to enjoin people to consume less.
(3) However, if worse comes to worst, they can always get a loan.
(4) The amount of money rose substantively.
(5) For my opinion, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
(1) 5-to-10-year-olds OR 5-to-10-year-old children consumed the fewest calories.
(2) One option is to encourage people to consume less..
(3) However, if worse comes to worse, they can always get a loan.
(4) The amount of money rose substantially.
(5) In my opinion, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Getting Jen to a 7.0 in IELTS Task 2 Writing
So, she and I worked through the skills I mentioned above (the FTQ strategy, the 2-Sentence Introduction, the 2-Sentence Conclusion, and of course we practiced sentence blocks on various types of paragraphs, all while focusing on the 5 general types of errors above.
And what was the result? Well, after about of month of working on her Philippine English / Pinoy English errors, Jen’s accuracy improved and she finally got her 7.0 in Writing has satisfied the English requirements for CARNA!
So, what can YOU take away from this? What can YOU do to avoid these problems?
Well, to start with you need to find out if have similar language issues.
You can also improve your approach to IELTS Task 2 Writing by:
- Learning the 2-Sentence Introduction
- Learning the 2-Sentence Conclusion
- Using the FTQ (Follow the Question) Strategy
- Writing in Sentence Blocks
There are also many things you can do to improve your grammar and sentence patterns. However, the first step is to find out what problems you have. Do the test below and find out!
Do you make similar errors?
Are you from the Philippines? Do you make these kinds of Pinoy English mistakes?
Find out by doing the test!
Of, if you are from another country, what kinds of mistakes do YOU make? Say where you are from what kinds of mistakes you make below!
Download the test, answer the questions. Write your score in the comments below!