How to use idioms in the IELTS Speaking test
Idiomatic language is important
We know it’s important because it’s mentioned in the examiners’ criteria.
It is clear that you need some idiomatic language to get a band score 7 for LR but that does not mean you need to go out of your way to use your favourite obscure idiom. If that’s your plan, you’re going to sound unnatural, and remember that the closer you are to a 9, the more natural your speaking is.
Instead of learning obscure idioms, my advice is that you should focus on learning simple ones, especially phrasal verbs.
An excellent source of natural English with simple idiomatic language
Everyday idioms is a great resource. Here’s a sample of the natural English found in that book.
You should be able to find it online. It looks like this:
The Cambridge Practice Test books
Another good resource is the Cambridge Practice Test books. In particular, check out the tape-scripts for the section 1 listening tests. Here’s a sample of one – from Cambridge 7, showing idiomatic language.
What you should do
Instead of trying to work out how to include it’s a piece of cake or it was raining cats and dogs in your answer, focus on easy to use, natural idiomatic language. Here are some examples of simple idioms that every candidate should know.
to get away with
How to use to get away with
Things that people get away with vary from the trivial to the very serious. Here are some examples
- if you didn't study for your exams and you passed anyway, you got away with it (not studying)
- if you exceed the speed limit or go through a red light and don't get stopped by the police, then you got away with it
- OJ Simpson, an American footballer, got away with murder. See here
Speaking part 2 - Talk about a success you've had
The success I’m going to talk about is passing my university entrance exams, which were 2 years ago. To be honest [discourse marker], I was rather lucky because I hadn’t really studied very hard, but I got away with it. At the time I was quite busy with other things , [mention your girlfriend/boyfriend family problems if you like] but in the end I was lucky – all the questions were easy and I passed with flying colours [idiomatic vocabulary] – I got 27 out of 30, which is a pretty good score.
out of the blue
How to use out of the blue
What sort of things typically happens unexpected in people's typical daily lives?
Easy things to talk about would be things like
- old friends getting in touch after a long period with no contact. This could a letter, or more likely a phone call, an email or a text message
- a promotion at work. Or perhaps getting fired
- receiving a gift. Perhaps from your partner or loved one, or perhaps from a secret admirer
Something that will not happen in the IELTS exam
The examiner will not ask you to talk about something that happened unexpectedly, unless you're dreaming. However, there are some questions that lend themselves [idiomic language] to using this idiom.
Speaking part 2 - Talk about an interesting conversation you had recently
The conversation I’m going to talk about is one I had yesterday with an old friend who I’d almost forgotten about. I hadn’t spoken to her for a couple of years, so her call was out of the blue. I mean - [paraphrase] it was totally unexpected. Anyway, [discourse marker] the reason she called me was to invite me to her wedding, [...]
Speaking part 2 - Talk about a gift you received
The gift I’m going to talk about is one received when I was still at school. Now,[discourse marker] normally we get presents at the time of the Tet holiday, or for our birthdays, but this one was just on a normal day, so it was quite out of the blue. Anyway, it's kind of sad really because what happened was that my uncle in America had died, and he left some money to all his nephews and nieces. I’m not sure if that counts as a gift, but anyway, it was the biggest present I’ve ever received.
Speaking part 2 - Talk about an event you attended
The event I’m going to talk about is the wedding of a friend of mine, which took place earlier this year. To be honest [discourse marker], we hadn’t seen much of each other in the last year or so because I’d been working out of town. In fact, I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend, so the invitation was completely out of the blue.
to put up with
How to use to put up with
What sort of thing do people have to put up with in their daily lives?
Generally speaking, we're talking about bad behaviour such as
- being impolite or rude
- being disrespectful of other people
- poor performance or being consistently late at work
As I said before, the examiner will not tee you up [golfing idiom] and ask you the perfect question to allow you to use this idiom. You'll have to anticipate opportunities and take them when they present themselves.
Speaking part 2 - the question could be talk about a family member / a friend / a person you know / talk about a time you did something wrong / talk about an event
The person I’m going to talk about is my uncle Galahad, who I lived with when I was at university, and who is usually quite a tolerant person. However, there are some things he won’t tolerate. For example, he doesn’t drink at all, so when he saw me a bit drunk after a friend’s wedding, he made it quite clear to me that this was totally unacceptable and that he wouldn't put up with it. I was grounded [idiomatic vocabulary] for a week. That meant I had to be home by 6pm every evening, so as you can imagine, [discourse marker] I learned my lesson [idiomatic vocabulary]