I spoke to an IELTS student yesterday whose exam will be in 10 days. He took his last IELTS exam a few months ago. I asked him what preparation he was doing and he told me that he had just started preparing this week as the exam was coming soon and prior to that he hadn’t don’t anything since the last exam. This is not the way to learn or improve a language; you cannot just cram for a week and hope that things will improve. Language learning is NOT about learning facts; it’s about honing a skill.
There is a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill based on 3 hours practice a day. So to become fluent in all aspects of English (based on this theory) you would need to spend (and make sure you do all 4 skills each day) around 10 years! Of course this isn’t the whole story – some people have a talent for languages and a good ear and this speeds things up. Another factor is age, the younger you begin the easier it is. You need also to add in how much English you learned in school – but the fact of the matter is that you do need a very high level of skill to get band 7 and 8 in IELTS.
I have said this before – it takes 7 years to learn your native language and that is before you begin to read and write. This is not a skill that you can ‘fast track’. Going to ‘cram school’ will help you to understand the exam and the techniques for the exam but if your English is at band 6 and you want band 8 it won’t help you achieve that score – what you need is time, practice and patience to improve your English skills.
Solution One to Fantastic English Skills
Go and live in an English speaking country and both work and socialise with native speakers. This does actually work BUT you have to use English for most of your day. I know this because a lot of students I meet rarely speak to native speakers outside work (and sometimes never, if they are not currently working) and this is such a great waste of a chance to really get great language skills and an easy route to a band 7/8 in IELTS.
The reason I stress both work and socialise is that work-related language is generally restricted to a fairly narrow range of language which is related to the particular field of work. I have been an English language teacher for 40 years and I know that those students who ‘spread themselves around’ socialised with their colleagues at breaks and lunch and had native speaker friends improved their English far more that those who just went to work and then just came home and spoke their native language with family. This approach may not be your ‘cup of tea’ but you need to ask yourself how much do you really want to get your IELTS result?
This method of learning is the very best. I have seen it work over and over with the most amazing and quite fast results. It is exactly how I learned Bahasa Indonesia when I went to live in Indonesia and later when I had taken a little coaching in more formal Indonesian I ended up delivering lectures to students (in the Music Department) at the University completely in Indonesian. Even so to get to this level it took around 4 years.
Solution Two to fantastic English Skills
If you don’t have the chance to live and work in an English speaking country then you have to find an alternative way of immersing yourself in English and making sure you get a lot of exposure as well as doing a lot of practice.
The three-hour rule mentioned above would be a good thing to aim for – that is a lot of study but you can break it up so that not everything you do is IELTS and book-work.
We learn our own language by listening and copying so this is something you can do in English – listen to lots of English and today it is so easy to do with the internet. If you hear words or sentences you would like to use then write them down or just try them out – learning a language is about mimicking.
Speaking is critical so make sure that you speak some English every day. Find friends or colleagues or join an online group and practise as often as possible. This practice does not have to be IELTS – just discuss, chat and share ideas – the more you speak the better you will become.
Read, anything and everything, books, magazines, newspapers, comic books – anything that is in English will help improve your reading skill. Do some every day but don’t try to do too much 20 minutes if you can’t stand any more than this. If you enjoy reading then do as much as you want. The best reading scores in my experience come from avid readers.
Writing is a tough one. This cannot really be done so easily except as part of study. Having said that we all text, email and send messages all the time so writing is far more common today than it was 20 years ago. Why not have a time each day where you message all in English and get your friends to check your language and give you feedback.
If you combine all these activities regularly with your dedicated IELTS study you will soon find that you will improve more quickly.
Finally, the Fastest way to get to a high band in IELTS
There is no doubt that one of the quickest ways to learn anything is by having an expert show you. If you drive you use a driving instructor – otherwise it will take too long to understand what to do and also could be dangerous. If you want to study a musical instrument or learn to fix a car or use a machine the quickest and most effective way is for someone who knows how to do this to show you.
It stands to reason therefore that the quickest way to improve your skills and get the IELTS band you want is to work with a qualified, trained teacher (and if they are a native speaker so much the better). Yet, the vast majority of IELTS students refuse to do this. I don’t understand why. You seem to want to continue to struggle, to keep taking the exam and failing to get your band and to keep postponing your chance for the future you are seeking.
I speak to many of you every day about getting help to firstly make sure you can actually achieve the score that you want and secondly that you can achieve it within a reasonable time. I hear comments like:
- I am confident that I will get it next time -how do you know that if you have got exactly the same score for the last 3 tests – what evidence do you have it will change?
- I don’t have any money for English – OK but if you have already paid a lot for your PR visa, your consultant, your medical training, your flights etc. and the ONLY thing that is stopping you and will continue to stop you for more months if not years is IELTS then it seems illogical NOT to pay a teacher to help you otherwise all the other payments you have made will be wasted.
- If I don’t get it next time then I’ll hire a teacher: I refer to point 1 above and you know that this will cost you at least $400 for the two tests and another delay of weeks or months. Also if you have a sharp deadline and don’t get the score then you either have to give up, which would be tragic, or start the whole process again which would mean spending even more money.
That said, it makes absolute sense to see your IELTS training as an investment in your future overseas just like your job training was an investment. Without it you absolutely cannot progress – so stop being a DIY IELTS student and start to think seriously about your future plans and allow some investment for your IELTS – it’s THE deal breaker in moving to another country and it really deserves more attention!!
In summary, to get IELTS band 7 and 8 in your sleep you have to focus fully on your English for quite a long time. However, it doesn’t have to be a chore, there are plenty of relaxing and fun things you can do in English which are helpful and which you will enjoy. Make your IELTS training part of your budget when you first start the process of moving overseas – otherwise it may become a steel wall. If it’s speed you need then hire a good teacher, if you have plenty of time then invest in a good online course – don’t just dabble in free websites – these are great for information and advice but you need something practical and focused that will move you level by level through your English to reach your desired band.
If you need help with IELTS then complete this questionnaire and we can talk on Skype.