By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
My vacation was good. I had a good lunch. My friend feels good now. The trip to the dentist was not good. Have you ever heard yourself saying the same words or phrases again and again? It’s easy to fall into this habit. You repeat yourself, even though you know there’s better vocabulary to use. As you see in the example above, “good” has different meanings in different sentences. And when you read or listen to these sentences, it’s boring and lacks detail. Good is overused. So, let’s imagine saying this instead: My vacation was multicultural and exhilarating. Lunch was filling. My friend is back in good health and fully recovered from his injury. And the trip to the dentist was like a scary movie!
I’m guessing you understand the point of this blog. Language is much more effective if you use a variety of precise vocabulary to express yourself. Repeating the same old boring words again and again will not improve your English. It’s important to challenge yourself. Find better, more accurate terms to describe what you want to say.
Using more precise vocabulary not only improves how well you communicate, but it also improves your IELTS score. If you want to rate above a 6 on IELTS, you need to speak precisely. If you want an IELTS 8 or 9, you need to do this well. My IELTS students certainly understand this point. Those habits of repeating the same old boring words aren’t easy break. Here are three of my best tips to help you start speaking more precisely for that IELTS exam.
1. Make a Conscious Effort to Use New Words
The word “conscious” means to think. It means to be awake and aware of what you are thinking. So, let’s apply this to our language. When you’re speaking English, make an effort to think about the words you use. Do you repeat yourself with those boring old words you learned in elementary school? Are you using vocabulary that is not specific? Are the words you’re using correct? Before you speak, really think on this. Say to yourself, “I’m thinking carefully about the words I use, and I’ll try to use accurate ones.” With continued practice, you’ll soon find your fluent vocabulary expanding and improving.
2. Regularly use Thesaurus and Synonym Tools
Thesauruses are like dictionaries, but instead of giving you definitions, they give you similar words or phrases. You can find thesauruses and synonym tools on any search engine like Google or Baidu. Almost every writing app like MS Word also has them. So how do they work? If you enter a word “beautiful”, a thesaurus might suggest words like pretty, nice, attractive, appealing, sexy, and good-looking. The apps can also suggest phrases like pleasing to the eyes, or dressed to kill. Most of these tools provide antonyms as well. They’ll give you the opposite meanings like ugly, nasty, disgusting, and hard on the eyes.
The most important tip I can give when using these synonym apps is to check the definitions before using the word. Sometimes my students use a thesaurus, but choose a word that is a poor fit. For example, a lower-level student once made a very funny mistake. He wanted to improve the sentence That tree is beautiful, so used a thesaurus for the word “beautiful”. The sentence he then wrote was That tree is sexy. This is very strange language! He didn’t mean to say sexy. However, he didn’t check the meaning of sexy. So, before you use any word, make sure it is the right one with a dictionary check.
3. Finding the Perfect Word with Games
Any expert writer or expert speaker will tell you word games are great for improving your vocabulary use. Crosswords force you to find the perfect word in order to solve the puzzle. Oftentimes, crossword clues will be definitions, synonyms, rhymes, or sentence completions. A well-written crossword at a challenging level can be a great way to exercise your vocabulary. Other games like lexicons and word searches can give you a vocabulary workout and are usually easier to play than crosswords. If you are competitive and like to involve friends, try the classic board game of Scrabble – this is one of the most popular vocabulary games in modern English-language history. For a trendier online game, check out Wordle. This was very big during the Covid pandemic and really challenged even the most intelligent English speakers in the world.
There are many more ways to exercise your vocabulary skills to speak & write more precisely. What’s important is that you keep challenging yourself. Find a practice technique that works for you, then go for it! Remember, achieving a B7 or B8 in IELTS takes 1000s of hours, but you can do it with a good study plan and perseverance. Best of luck on test day!