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IELTS preparation: step-by-step guide to improving English language skills


In our rapidly globalising world, mastering the English language has transitioned from being a mere advantage to an almost essential skill. Companies with global aspirations often seek employees proficient in English, a large portion of content on the internet is in English, and the most-visited tourist destinations have English as a primary or secondary mode of communication. This shift is exemplified by the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which presents a globally recognised benchmark for English proficiency.

Improving your command of the English language, however, will take a lot of work. English pronunciation can, for instance, be challenging due to its non-phonetic elements. The language is peppered with exceptions in grammar rules, irregular verbs, and unpredictable spellings, adding layers of complexity. Further posing hurdles for non-native speakers are idioms and phrasal verbs, which often have literal meanings that starkly differ from their actual implications.

Yet, once mastered, English proficiency can be your passport to a world of opportunities. If you’re gearing up for IELTS, this guide will provide a roadmap on how to learn and master English step by step.

Understand what advanced English mastery entails

To achieve advanced mastery in English, it's not just about improving your vocabulary or speaking skills; it's about diving deeper into its complexities. When benchmarking your progress in learning English, here's a breakdown of how advanced proficiency will look like:

1. Grammar

For starters, you can effortlessly navigate the complexities of the English language, handling complex structures such as conditional sentences, relative clauses, and the nuanced use of modal verbs. Your sentences are sophisticated and error-free, effectively employing advanced grammar to convey thoughts with depth and precision.

2. Listening

You are able to comprehend varied global accents, discern subtle emotional tones, and grasp underlying meanings or implications during conversations. Your advanced listening skills empower you to decode the context, cultural nuances, and unspoken sentiments in discussions.

3. Reading

You are able to critically analyse and derive insights from an extensive range of texts. Whether interpreting the layered symbolism in classic literature, extracting key data from dense academic papers, or discerning the tone in journalistic pieces, your advanced reading skills ensure comprehensive understanding.

4. Writing

You are able to produce coherent, well-structured, and impactful written content across multiple genres. Your academic essays are compelling and evidence-based, business correspondences are clear and effective, and creative pieces captivate with originality and eloquence. Precision in language use and versatility are hallmarks of your writing.

5. Speaking and presentation

You are able to articulate thoughts with clarity and confidence. Casual conversations exhibit your fluency and vocabulary range, while formal presentations and speeches highlight your prowess in organising ideas, employing rhetorical techniques, and engaging audiences. Your vocal modulation and pacing cater to the context and listeners.

6. Cultural nuances and context

You are able to seamlessly integrate cultural awareness into your communication. You’re adept at pinpointing literary references, interpreting idioms in their native context, and understanding historical or societal backdrops of certain expressions. This cultural depth enriches your interactions and bridges gaps, fostering genuine connections with diverse audiences.

Developing strategies: Practice and consistency

Wondering how to learn English better? Mastering the English language hinges on two key principles: practice and consistency. Practising without consistency can lead to forgotten skills, while being consistent without varied practice can result in stagnation. However, when both are integrated seamlessly into your learning regimen, they can foster an environment where your grasp of English deepens, broadens, and becomes second nature.

Achieve this by:

1. Maintaining a regular practice routine

Incorporating English into your daily routine is like flexing a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Consider setting aside dedicated time each day for different aspects of the language. One day might be reserved for reading, where you delve into articles, books, or journals. Another could be focused on listening, tuning into English podcasts or news broadcasts. This routine ensures holistic exposure and keeps the language fresh in your mind.

But it's not just about passive intake. Actively using the language, such as writing a daily journal, engaging in speaking exercises, or playing word-based games, can amplify retention. Over time, these daily encounters transform into habits, making English an integral part of your life.

2. Setting goals and tracking progress

Any journey without a destination can feel aimless. That's why setting tangible goals is vital. But what do these goals look like? For some, it’s about improving English speaking skills within a timeframe, like becoming conversational in six months. For others, it could be tied to external exams, such as getting started in IELTS online courses.

Once these goals are set, the next step is to break them down into manageable milestones. This could be as simple as learning ten new words a day or mastering a complex grammatical structure in a week. As you chart your progress against these milestones, not only do they serve as markers of your growth but also as motivators, pushing you to stay on track.

Equally important is revisiting and adjusting these goals. Perhaps you've reached a milestone quicker than anticipated, or maybe you've hit a plateau in a particular area. Regularly evaluating your progress and recalibrating your goals ensures you're always moving forward, optimising your learning trajectory.

Increase exposure

Having planned your goals, it’s time to start exploring more ways to immerse yourself in the English language and enrich your learning. When it comes to improving English speaking skills, one dynamic avenue is joining English-speaking groups or clubs.

These platforms foster authentic interactions, where you can participate in live conversations. It could be a club focused on literature, where members delve into English classics or a debate group that discusses global affairs in English. These groups offer a space to listen, understand, and respond in real time, which can significantly boost your conversational confidence and competence.

On the other hand, interactive learning through media offers a well-rounded approach to language immersion. Check out the following:

1. Movies

Movies provide a visual context, making the absorption of language organic. Turn on the subtitles, and they become interactive textbooks, marrying words with visual contexts. The backdrop of a busy New York street, a serene English countryside, or an intense boardroom meeting not only portrays the scene but also places vocabulary and grammar in relevant settings.

2. Music

English songs, often brimming with catchy hooks and poetic verses, can effortlessly embed phrases into your memory and contribute to improving your English vocabulary. The rhythm and melody act as mnemonic devices, aiding retention. Furthermore, dissecting song lyrics can provide insights into colloquial language, metaphors, and cultural references, adding depth to your linguistic understanding.

3. Podcasts

Whether you're indulging in a fictional thriller, a historical deep dive, or a spirited discussion on contemporary issues, podcasts cater to every imaginable interest. The auditory nature of podcasts can sharpen your listening skills, training the ear to discern different accents, catch idiomatic expressions, and adapt to various speaking speeds. Moreover, many podcasts come with transcripts, helping you to follow along, bridging the gap between hearing and understanding.

Preparing for IELTS

Finally, when you’re confident in your English abilities, you can also put yourself to the test and validate those skills formally. There are numerous English language proficiency tests that come with certifications to vouch for your capability to excel in English-centric environments.

When selecting which English proficiency test, you might consider the most established and recognised test system, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which comes in two versions – Academic and General Training. While the Academic test is for those seeking higher education, the General Training test is for non-academic purposes like immigration.

If the IELTS test is on your radar, thorough preparation will help you achieve your best score. Here’s a deeper dive into a few strategies that can bolster your readiness:

  • Consider an online preparation course: IELTS preparation courses can give direction to your efforts, ensuring they're channelled effectively.

  • Attempt mock tests: These IELTS free online tests, mirroring the exact format of the actual exam, can help you gauge your readiness.

  • Leverage resources: You can find a wide range of IELTS preparation materials online to support your learning. Make the most of them.

  • Stay informed: IELTS often includes current topics. A basic awareness of global events can provide an edge in discussions or essays.

For more tips, you can check out our guide on how to prepare for the IELTS test. If you’re ready to launch out, book your IELTS test today!