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Many English learners believe that in order to speak and write in English properly, all they need is an extensive vocabulary and correct grammar: first they learn the words, then they use grammar to form sentences using those words. That’s it! Well, not exactly.

While these two aspects of the English language are essential, grammar and vocabulary alone are simply not enough to master the language. Take, for example, the following response to a sample Part 1 question of the IELTS Speaking test:

Examiner: “Tell me about the kind of accommodation you live in.”

Candidate: “I live in an apartment. I really like my apartment. It’s modern. It’s conveniently located. The apartment is in the city center. It’s close to my school. It only takes me 10 minutes to walk to school. The apartment is a bit small. I’d like to find a bigger one in the future.”

Even though the candidate used correct grammar and vocabulary, while reading the response, you probably got a feeling that something was missing. What’s missing is called ‘cohesion’.

What is cohesion and why is it important?

Cohesion is the “glue” the holds your ideas together and allows them to flow smoothly. Good cohesion means that what you’re saying or writing is organized, thus making it easier for your listeners or readers to understand. Linking words or phrases, also known as linkers, are important features of cohesion that help you connect your ideas in a logical way. Examples of linkers include: because, and, but, so and many, many more.

Like grammar and vocabulary, cohesion and coherence (how much a text makes sense) are part of the assessment criteria for the Speaking and Writing modules of the IELTS. This means that for you to achieve a higher band on your IELTS, your response must be easy to follow and understand and should have appropriate use of cohesive features.

A closer look at linkers

Linking words and phrases can be used to add ideas together, to contrast them, or to show reasons, results or examples. Below are a few more commonly used linkers: Although cohesion is an important feature of both speaking and writing, the use of linkers differs between the two. Speakers generally use simpler, and often informal, linking words and phrases. Writers, on the other hand, tend to use a variety of cohesive features, including more formal linkers, to organize their information and ideas. This is especially true when writing longer pieces of writing such as the discursive essay in Writing Task 2.

To manage cohesion effectively, make sure you can determine what you want to do with your ideas (i.e. are you adding to an idea, contrasting ideas, giving an example, etc.) to be able to pick an appropriate linker to do the job. Also, keep in mind that over-using linkers can become confusing or annoying for your audience, so avoid using too many. 

Now, thinking back to the candidate at the beginning of this post, you may still be wondering how they could’ve used linkers to give a more cohesive response. While there’s a number of different ways to achieve this, the following is an easy-to-follow response with a variety of linkers, which connect the speaker’s ideas effectively:

Examiner: “Tell me about the kind of accommodation you live in.”

Candidate: “I live in an apartment. I really like my apartment because it’s modern and is conveniently located in the city center. It’s also close to my school, so it only takes me 10 minutes to walk to school. However, the apartment is a bit small, which is why I’d like to find a bigger one in the future.”

Improving your cohesion

Just as with any skill, acquiring the ability to effectively use a range of cohesive devices requires study and practice. One of the best ways to understand linkers and how to use them is through reading and listening. During your IELTS preparation period, you're likely to be exposed to a number of high-quality textbooks, articles, blog posts, videos, etc. Use these texts to note how linkers are used.

As you practice writing essays, review your writing and underline the linking words and phrases you used. If you’re not showing variety, think about how you could use different linkers to avoid repetition. You can also practice, review and reflect on your spoken use of cohesive features by using a recorder.