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Top tips to improve your English skills

Last updated on: November 28, 2012 15:37 IST

Trying to learn the language by the book is one of the biggest blunders in English communication. Instead, we must try and understand the language better through regular reading, writing and speaking, says Sarah Deverall, Director of Exams and Customer Services, South Asia, British Council.

Designed to assess the English language ability of those who need to study, work or live in an English speaking environment, the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) makes a holistic assessment of a person's ability to understand and use the language.

This covers all the four language skills -- listening, reading, writing and speaking.

The IELTS is the only test of this type which has a face-to-face speaking test, which enables test-takers to show their skills in real-life interactions

So, how can you prepare for the test and also improve your language skills?

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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Say no to learning by rote

Often there are perfect bits of writing, which test-takers have memorised, and very incorrect bits which are clearly the test-takers' true level, making it very obvious to the examiner.

This is a serious mistake that can backfire because examiners are trained to look for memorised essays or scripts.

When an individual memorises chunks of language without a context, there is very little flexibility to fit new or unfamiliar situations.

To learn a language really well, it would be ideal to have as much exposure to it as possible.

So, a word of advice would be to read and listen to English as much as possible as this will also help with the skills of writing and speaking.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

How to improve your listening and reading skills

Read questions carefully first, underline keywords and then answer.

While listening, make a note of answers on the question paper.

Read, write and listen at the same time.

Often the speaker will give you an answer, then correct themselves -- watch out for this.

If you think the topic is difficult or the speaker is too fast, relax and tune in.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

How to improve your writing skills

Highlight/circle keywords in the questions.

Plan your answer before you write.

Stick to the topic.

One paragraph = one idea.

Make sure you write at least the minimum number of words required.

Make sure there is time to check spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

How to improve your speaking skills

Try to relax, listen carefully to the examiner's questions and instructions.

Give full answers to the questions.

Aim to speak more than the examiner.

Use the preparation time to plan your talk.

Before the test, practise speaking for full two minutes and try to use all of this time in your turn.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

More expert tips...

Spelling is important.

Use of informal language, abbreviations and slang is NOT acceptable.

Don't leave blank answers -- you do not lose marks for wrong answers, but you will if you do not try at all.

Whatever happens, don't panic. Keep calm and do your best.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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