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 look forward to
Assuming that you understand the meaning, [look it up here], how are you going to use it in the exam?
If you want to say – I look forward to seeing you again, I’m going to ask you how you’re going to use that in the exam.
Examples you can use in the real exam
Speaking Part 2 question – Talk about a place
The place I’m going to talk about is […], and I had been really looking forward to going there because my friends had told me all about it.
You can use similar phrases for any book or film or even a person that you met.
Speaking Part 2 question – A question about national holidays / culture / favourite time of year
Like most Vietnamese people, I always look forward to the lunar new year, which we call the Tet holiday. The reason I look forward to it so much is that it’s the time of year when the whole family gets together, and apart from that [linking phrase], I get lucky money.
to take something for granted
Here's another extremely natural and useful idiom, to take something or someone for granted- [look it up]
It means to not appreciate somebody or something, to expect someone or something to be always available, or to value someone or something too lightly. If you do someone a favour [idiom] once, they will appreciate it; but if you do it every day, sooner or later, you'll be taken for granted.
For example, your mother might complain to you that you don’t appreciate all the hard work she does – she thinks you take her for granted.
How to use to take something for granted
You can use it to talk about any aspect of technology. The question could be about any almost any aspect of modern life.
Speaking part 2 Are mobile phones popular in your country? [or the Q could be about computers, the internet, online shopping etc]
Of course they are. As you know, [discourse marker], almost everyone has a smartphone these days, and they’re so popular that most people couldn’t imagine a day without them. I mean [discourse marker], mobiles are one aspect of daily life that most people completely take for granted. We never stop to think how lucky we are to have them.
As I said before, for every idiom you hope to use, you need to visualise using it. Just knowing the meaning is not enough to enable you to use it in the exam.
Practice by using to take something for granted when you’re talking about these topics:
- The internet
- Online shopping
- Your favourite food
- Your father / best friend / favourite teacher
For every idiom you hope to use, you need to visualise using it. Just knowing the meaning is not enough to enable you to use it in the exam.
If you're serious about succeeding in IELTS, work out a context for every idiom you hope to use in the speaking test, and add them to Anki to guarantee that you remember them forever.
For more about idioms for IELTS, see here
To see collocations for IELTS, see here