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Preparing for IELTS: Part I

Preparing specifically for the IELTS can be useful, but it is no substitute for improving your general English. Begin with reading to build your vocabulary and listening to improve your understanding.

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Charles Cornelius is an English language teacher from the UK. He taught IELTS at the British Council in Bangkok for several years. He now teaches IELTS online and provides online courses and preparation materials for IELTS students through his website at You can see his introductory article here:

Preparing for IELTS: Part I

Charles Cornelius

In my previous article, I wrote some facts about the IELTS test. But how do you prepare yourself for the IELTS test?
One of the biggest mistakes made by IELTS candidates is this: they spend lots of time preparing for the IELTS test and no time improving their general English. But you must have good English to do well on the IELTS test; good exam techniques plus lots of 'tips and tricks' are not enough.
In this article I will write about some of the most effective ways to help you improve your English. I've written this with IELTS candidates in mind, but anyone learning English can use these methods.
The Golden Rule: Use English

First, do not 'study' English. English is not a thing to be studied, it is a tool to be used. You will not learn English effectively If you spend lots of time learning grammatical 'rules' and memorising lists of words. You learn English by using it.
Note: it is a good idea to enrol on an English language course at a language school. But this is not the only thing you should do. In fact, I think that you should do 80% of your learning at home and all of the following ideas can be done at home.
1. Grow your vocabulary by reading
The single, most important part of learning English is building a large vocabulary. A large vocabulary will help you to write and speak English, and it will help you listen to and read English. In fact, a large vocabulary is far more important than good grammar: without words, you can never be understood; without grammar, you can usually be understood. So put your grammar books away, and get something to read.
The best way to grow your vocabulary is by reading a lot of material in English. This is because you can see the words and phrases being used, in context. This means you are more likely to remember these words and phrases, and you will have a better understanding of how these words and phrases are actually used.
The Internet is a great place to find lots of free reading materials. Computers also have tools to help you understand a text. For example, Google Chrome has a Google Translate extension; if you find a word you do not understand, you can click on the word and the extension will quickly translate the word into Thai.

Google Translate is a useful and speedy tool, but it is far from perfect. It is still learning about the Thai language and it will sometimes give you the wrong translation. If you are not sure, check a dictionary.

Choose reading material that interests you, not because it is going to come up in the IELTS test. If you are interested in cooking, read articles about cooking in English. if you are interested in football, read about that.
So read, read, read. At this stage, it is important to remember that you are reading in order to learn new vocabulary, not just to understand the text. People sometimes get frustrated at this stage because they don't understand what they are reading; just remember, your goal at this stage is about learning new vocabulary.
2. Record vocabulary on flash cards
It's also a good idea to write down these new words and phrases. Some people create a vocabulary booklet, but an even better way is to create some vocabulary flash cards. A flash card is a two-sided piece of card. On one side, write the English word or phrase, on the other side wrote down the Thai equivalent or a picture. Then you can use these cards to help you remember these words and phrases by testing yourself.
You can also use technology to make flash cards. You can use flash-card-style apps and websites like Anki/ and Memrise/ to make digital flashcards. This way, you can learn English on your phone while standing in a queue or waiting for a bus.
As you start to grow your vocabulary, you will find that reading becomes easier every day. You will learn more and more words and phrases and you will see how they are used. You will also start to understand texts more easily as well, so reading will become more interesting. You will also see how sentences are constructed, so you will see grammar in action. This will help you understand grammar, without looking at a grammar book.
Reading will also help you to improve your writing. When you read, you see how English should be written (not how you think it should be written). One of the biggest mistakes of IELTS candidates is using 'advanced' words, found in a dictionary, in the wrong way; this makes the essay sound very unnatural. To learn how to write English normally, read normal English.
3. Watch English movies and TV shows with English subtitles
One of the best ways to listen to English is by watching movies or TV. This way you can learn lots of everyday English. It's a good idea to use English subtitles, because then you can see the words people are speaking.
Here are some websites where you can find subtitles for lots of movies and TV shows:
Some people also like to listen to songs in English. Personally, I think that watching movies is better, because the language in movies is more natural than the language found in songs. But if you're a music lover, then listen to lots of songs in English. If you're not a music fan, then stick to movies and TV.
Reading and listening is really important for learning English. Basically, doing lots of reading and listening gives you a 'feel' for English and an understanding of how it is spoken and written. So do it a lot. Stop studying grammar and doing practice tests, and do more reading and listening!