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March 02, 2019


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Putting some words in 'interesting' theme.
.spectacular image
.the trailers were eye-catching
.incredibly beautiful images
.stunning photography
.interesting creatures
.hidden wonders of our planet.

'Introductory episode'
.the DVD box set
.it was broadcast/it was aired (means 'it was shown on TV')
.the voice of the narrator
.each episode featured.
.global scope

Mr Simon

"that examiners don't expect most candidates to use": how are we expected to know what examiners expect? We are not mind-readers. There must be some more objective measure available.

Mr Simon

The public writing criteria for Band 7 state:"uses less common lexical items with some awareness of style and collocation". There are three critical points here:

1) It is not about individual words: it is about 'lexical items' which is defined on Wikipedia as "a single word, a part of a word, or a chain of words that forms the basic elements of a language's vocabulary. Examples are cat, traffic light, take care of, by the way, and it's raining cats and dogs. "

2) Style is to be appropriate: here I suggest that, by and large, whatever crops up on Google Books is prima facie suitable (in a similar context), as books are professionally edited to standard similar to IELTS, and the corpus is largely appropriate.

3) Collocations are important. This is where the 'less common' aspect comes in. For instance, the single word 'images' is relatively common on Google Books, 'beautiful images' far less so. And 'incredibly beautiful images' does not crop up at all, although 'hauntingly beautiful images', and 'strikingly beautiful images' do, as the link below demonstrates. Thus 'less common' refers to collocations and the naturalness of phrases, far more that to individual word choice.


Of course, Google Books is about writing, so is not necessarily a valid criterion for the speaking test.

4) I would also submit that where there is obvious topic vocabulary that is missing or paraphrased, then this would affect the assessment of the vocabulary score. For example, if a student fails to use 'curriculum' but paraphrases round it, the examiner is left wondering whether there is a gap in the student's vocabulary on this topic.


These phrases are clearly 'natural' but a hundred times 'less common' than 'difficult' words such as 'prestigious', or 'status quo'.

Dear Oleg,
Can you say what do we learn from google books/ngrams? what does the graph actually show?


See Simon's comments here:

I don't find any answer for my question from the link you provided.Clarify me.

It is really cool! I did not see these words until I summerized from your example. I found many useful and wonderful phases and topic vocabulary in our expmle, and I reall appreciate for your hard work.

Then comes the question. I am happy to see that I learned more good phases from your writing, but when I tried to make these words into my sentences, I got a little problem. I am not sure if I used it right or wrong. As your topic is aobut the nature, I found you use a lot of 'impressive words' such as stunning, spectacular, was amazed at and so on. If I would like to describe an English teaching programme for example, I want to say it impressed me a lot. I wonder if I can use your 'impressive words' into my topic. It seemed those words are more aobut nature, but I am not sure if they have the topic scope.

So, this is part of my problem in the IELTS. I learned the words from the article, but then I am not sure how to use them in my own sentence.
Or do you suggest that I try to use words in the related subjects first?

I am so confused of these. I am looking forward to your answer.



If you look at the following link, and click on "Search lots of books", you will see that "Clarify me" does not come up on Google Books, whereas "Please clarify" and "Please explain" do.


The rule of thumb is that if the phrase is not on Google Books, it is probably not a good idea to use it in writing. Phrases that do crop up are 'natural English' Band 9, if used in the same context. The phrases in Simon's model answers almost always come up on Google Books. It is possible to check your own answers to some extent using Google Books.

It is not so much about the trends on the graph, more about whether a particular phrase is there at all. You can, however, see that "Please clarify" is far 'less common', but it is still there as a natural phrase.

Ok thanks.

Dear Sue

These days I am reading less and listening more. Reading is useful for acquiring vocabulary, but listening sticks in my head better. Mind you, I keep listening to the same tracks and articles over and over again until the phrases just pop into my head automatically. That's actually how children learn language, and our brains seem to be pre-programmed this way. At least mine is. Helps with the pronunciation too. Cheers !

Thanks Gabi. Maybe I can have a try.

What kind of articles do you usually listen to? How do you know the phrases pop into your head? I mean, for example, you listened to a story three times and can easily remember all the phrases. But three days later, may forget again. So, I wonder how do you know that you memorize all the useful vocabulary and use them in the right way?

Actually, audio-books; and twenty or thirty times over a period of months. But any material where you have both the audio and the script is really useful: TED talks, BBC news, whatever. At first you many only understand odd words or get the general gist, but keep at it and in the end you will hear every word and phrase. Persistence is the key.

Hi, Gabi,
I am really greateful to your help. Actually I tried listen to some materials three or four times and write down what I heard. Now what you said gave me new ideas, I can repeat the materials several times in a month not just in a day. That is very helpful. Thanks again.

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