Imagine that you are in the IELTS speaking exam. You’ve just finished part 1 and the examiner has given you the task for part 2. You know you only have 1 minute to prepare. The clock’s ticking. You have no time to waste. You must decide what to talk about now. 30 seconds have passed already. You can’t think what to say. The clock is still ticking. You just need to get started. There’s not much time left for planning. What are you going to say? You need to get band (X) and you need to get a good band in the speaking. You know you can do it. But your mind is still blank …
OK … enough … stop! That’s enough of that!
Most people have experienced, or can imagine, this happening. It doesn’t just happen to IELTS candidates in the speaking exam. It can happen when you have to give a presentation or you meet somebody new for the first time or you have to come up with a good excuse for something. The more pressure you feel, the harder it is to get started. It’s as if you have to get over a brick wall. It happens in writing as well. People often call this ‘writer’s block’. When it comes to speaking, maybe we should call this ‘speaker’s block’.
So, you need to find away of beating this block … and the kind of unblocking that you can see in this picture doesn’t work – for speaking or writing blocks.
Instead, we’re going to go back to the image of the brick wall because, believe it or not, that is also the answer. I’m not going to ask you to get over the wall or round the wall or through the wall. Instead, I want you to look at the wall. (And just to clarify, the ‘wall’ is the task. I’m not suggesting you stare at the wall in the exam room).
Back in the 1970s, Rober Pirsig wrote a famous book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the book, the main character, Phaedrus, talks about the problem experienced by many students of not being able to think of anything to say.
In the book, one of Phadrus’s students is trying to write an essay about the United States, but she can’t think of anything to say. So, Phaedrus tells her to narrow her topic and write about her town. Again, she can’t think of anything to say, so he tells her to write about the main street in the town. When she still can’t think of anything to say, he tells her to describe the upper left-hand brick of one of the buildings in the town. Suddenly, she finds that she has a lot to say and completes the assignment easily.
So, how can you apply this to part 2 of the speaking exam?
Well, let’s imagine that this is the brick wall … or task … that you have been given.
Describe a wedding that you attended recently.
You should say:
- whose wedding it was
- when the wedding was held
- where the wedding was held
- what happened at the wedding
and say what you enjoyed most about that wedding.
It is all too easy to say:
“I went to my best friend’s wedding last week. It was held in a hotel. There was wonderful food, a live band, and lots of dancing. The best thing about the wedding, though, was seeing my friend looking so happy.”
This answers all of the points, but it’s only 12 seconds long.
It’s time to focus on the bricks. You don’t only have to stick to the bullet points. This task is asking you to describe an experience. Try to describe it in so much detail that the examiner can ‘see’ the wedding. Let’s look at how we could do this with just one small brick: the wedding dress.
“I met my best friend in my first year at university. We had a lot of classes together and even shared a house in our final year. In all that time, I never saw her wearing a skirt – not once. She always wore jeans and a t-shirt – typical student clothing. But of course, she couldn’t wear jeans when she was getting married, especially because her mum wanted her to have a big traditional wedding. I tried to imagine what she would look like on her wedding day, but I just couldn’t. The first time I saw the dress was the morning of the wedding. I was a bridesmaid so I was helping her to get ready. When she put it on, my first thought was that she looked as though she had come out of a fairy tale. The dress was pure white and strapless with a long full skirt. She wore white lace gloves and also had a beautiful white silk flower in her hair which looked really amazing. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her in amazement. I could hardly believe that the beautiful bride standing in front of me was really my friend. She looked so elegant and grown up. People always say that brides look beautiful, but she really did. Maybe it was the dress, or maybe it was because she was so happy …”
So … this is just one small brick, and already it is over one minute long. Imagine if you described the whole wedding in that much detail.
Rather than not having enough to say, you’ll find that by focusing on the bricks, the smaller parts which make up the whole, you’ll have too much to say. Speaker’s block just won’t be a problem for you.Image: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net