The University Timesで好評連載中の「IELTSテストのコツ」。こちらはBritish Councilの人気講師が毎回執筆しています。「英語版で読んでみたい!」という声にお応えして、英語版をシリーズで公開します。
今回はThe University TimesのVol.27で掲載された、「Reading」に関して【Tips for IELTS】です。
Test takers often find the reading part of the IELTS exam quite tiring. The ‘Academic’ version of the reading test consists of three long authentic texts taken from books, journals, magazines and newspapers, while the ‘General Training’ version of the test requires candidates to read the kind of texts they will come across on a daily basis, such as extracts from articles and advertisements, or pages from instruction manuals or books.
Concentrating hard on reading for an hour is very demanding, especially as the questions become increasing challenging. In previous articles (vol.22, vol.26) you have looked at specific reading question types and thought about the importance of reading skills. Students who take the ‘Academic’ version of the IELTS exam often find that they run out of time, and so many textbooks and exam courses therefore focus on useful reading techniques, such as reading for ‘gist’ (to get a general understanding of the text – often known as ‘skimming’) and reading for detailed or specific information (usually referred to as ‘scanning’).
These techniques can help examinees to locate the information they need to answer the different types of questions more efficiently and thus save time. However, perhaps one of the biggest challenges non-native speakers face when working with a text is the amount of vocabulary, often more formal, that they need to know, or be familiar with, in order to answer the questions quickly and confidently. What kind of ‘vocabulary skills’ should test takers use to help them deal with the reading section of the IELTS exam?
Let us consider the importance of ‘synonyms’ in reading English. If you look back at the first paragraph of this article you will see that I have used a variety of different words to refer to people who are taking the IELTS exam. I opened the paragraph by talking about ‘test takers’, then used the words ‘candidates’, ‘students’, ‘examinees’, ‘non-native speakers’ and finished by using the original expression I started the paragraph with. Language learners often mistakenly think that new words or phrases always refer to new ideas or examples, rather than simply referring back to something already mentioned. The more synonyms (words of similar meaning) a text contains, the more difficult it can become.
This why you should think not just about underlining the key words in the various reading questions of the exam but also think about their synonyms as you search for the information that you need from the text.
For example, a reading question might ask:
‘Which was the most popular place among foreign tourists who travelled to the UK last year?’
However, in the text you may not find these same words, but alternatives such as ‘holidaymakers’ used to describe ‘foreign tourists’, or words and phrases such as ‘destination’ or ‘the top holiday spot’, referring to ‘the most popular place’. Here we can see that synonyms can be phrases as well as single words and this can really stretch learners’ language abilities and exam skills.
So, how should students prepare themselves to deal with synonyms? If you have used the English versions of the most popular word processing applications perhaps you have already used a kind of synonym dictionary known as a Thesaurus. A right click of the mouse often opens a pop up window with a list of common synonyms. Native speakers often use this feature, especially when writing articles, in order to help them avoid repetition, and thus make their writing sound more interesting or memorable. But be careful. Computers programmes are not yet truly intelligent and many of the alternative words or phrases may not be appropriate because of the many different contexts and meanings of language. This is why a learner dictionary, designed for students, is necessary to help you more clearly understand the differences between synonyms and their most appropriate uses.
A good example of this more varied writing style is journalism. If you want to build up your vocabulary while improving your ability to recognise synonyms then reading more articles in the mass media is often a good place to start, especially as these kinds of texts frequently feature in the exam, as I explained at the beginning. The more serious newspapers are often the best to read because they use less highly informal or very idiomatic language, and have fewer confusing cultural references than the less serious ‘tabloid’ newspapers, which tend to focus on the same kind of sensational stories. There are also many specialist textbooks available now which focus on increasing your vocabulary for the IELTS exam.
However, learning and remembering new language is a process which does take time and trying to memorise long lists of words is neither easy nor always helpful. Many teachers now talk to their students about the importance of ‘extensive reading’ and encourage their learners to regularly use ‘graded readers’ of various levels to help them retain the language they have already studied. Such ‘reading for pleasure’ at a comfortable and motivating level can be a good way to build up more confidence for the IELTS reading test.
In contrast to this, when reading more intensively, looking at newspaper articles, there can be a lot of new, and often, less common vocabulary. When reading newspaper or magazine stories, try to identify the most common synonyms, for example, those repeated most often. You do not have to understand the all details of a long article about gun control to identify ‘gun’, ‘firearm’ and ‘weapon’ which are much more common, and therefore more useful words, than ‘revolver’, ‘pistol’ or ‘rifle’. Advanced learner dictionaries are again good for this kind of work as they often provide additional information on the frequency or formality of words. On the other hand, intermediate learner dictionaries focus on a few thousand of the most common words which account for a very large percentage of everyday English which is essential for IELTS.
Another important skill to remember when learning and recording synonyms in vocabulary notebooks is selecting common antonyms (words of opposite meaning) from the reading texts you practise with. IELTS reading texts often describe social issues or problems such as unemployment. When we think about unemployment other words or phrasal verbs such as ‘joblessness’ and ‘being laid off’ come to mind. Newspapers are of course, a great source of examples of this kind of language. As you read about these issues in various articles you may find other expressions such as ‘a large number of young people are now out of work’. The opposite of ‘being out of work’ is ‘being in work’, or in other words, having a job. An IELTS reading question might therefore ask:
‘Where is unemployment highest?’
However, the answer may be harder to find if the text refers only to ‘inner city centres where few young people are in work’.
Improving your vocabulary is a long term project, but I hope some the ideas above will help to raise your awareness of the importance of recognising language of similar or opposite meaning. Think of the words you already know and try linking them to new synonyms and antonyms. Try to get into the habit of reading on a regular basis, for pleasure as well as exam practice, but do not overload yourself with new vocabulary. It is better to pick up just one or two useful new words from an article in a few minutes, than to spend hours checking the meaning of every new word, then looking up a large number of alternative expressions. The synonyms and antonyms you discover from your reading will also be extremely valuable in the other three parts of the IELTS test. So think of reading and practising exam reading questions as a really good investment of your time and energy which could also help to raise your overall performance and score.
By David Parry