Tim Wilson shares some of his 30 years experience teaching English, in this enjoyable conversation you will learn:
- How to write about subjects you have NO INTEREST IN (e.g traffic control, crime..)
- How to write an essay….
- Why you should consider your conclusion first.
- How you can make your words count, rather than count your words.
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You are now listening to the IELTS Podcast.
Ben: Hi there. If you want to listen to the episode with the ex-IELTS examiners and in the end I interviewed about two or three ex-IELTS examiners. Go over to dichvugiadinh.info and there you can download that specific episode. It’s in the pack of the 27 episodes so go over there if you want to listen to how she marked students down, why she failed some students, what students should do, the attitude that they should have, and generally just how to improve your score and how to get the IELTS so you can move on and get it all out of the way and get to the university or get to the country that you’re aiming for, get the job you’re aiming for. So go over to dichvugiadinh.info and check that out. And of course enjoy this episode.
Tim, could you tell us about yourself please and how you study and how you know how to teach essay writing and your experience and just a brief overview, if that’s all right?
Tim: Well, I’ve been teaching for I think 30 years. I started teaching when I was still studying at university, because I ran out of money and I started teaching very, very small children. So, particularly five-year-olds, and so on. And I’ve been teaching the whole range from very small right the way up to university students and I fell into teaching English as a foreign language really by being abroad.
Tim: And needing something to do and listening to this sort of nonsense that many English teachers are actually giving out to the students. And I think I also got head-hunted and for my voice. Some people wanted me to do voice recording and I was only too happy to do it.
Ben: I see.
Tim: And that was very useful. Also I illustrate. I do drawings and I worked for a short while making animated films, of course some quite, quite famous films actually. And I still do this now. I do it with my own company, and one thing that I could do now is to combine all these various skills and make films for YouTube about teaching and I throw in a little bit of animation, to try and speed up the information.
Ben: I see.
Tim: While I’m talking I can have some text animating behind my head or if I feel like getting particularly boring I can replace myself with a chicken, which can say this on things, but it will be more memorable, the meaning.
Ben: Yeah, because that’s how I found you. I was looking through YouTube and then I found this. I think it’s one of the best videos out there, you know, because it’s entertaining and the information there is like gold which is why I got in contact. I was like wow! This needs to be explained, it needs to be flushed out a bit and you know so I’ll put the video on with the post.
Tim: Please do. I’m determined actually to make something similar which is some, which is directed absolutely at the IELTS audience. The audience of the students who are trying to do English foreign language, because the feedback I’ve had from that video has partly come from students in university who are native speakers, who are struggling with having to write university essays or school essays. That’s one half and then I can guarantee about 50% of the comments that I get are from people who are doing English as a foreign language.
Tim: And the question and the formula which is this five-paragraph thing.
Ben: Yes, yes.
Tim: It’s the main thing whether you are a native speaker or doing English as a foreign language. But it need a little bit more clarification if you’re doing English as a foreign language, because you just need to simplify it a bit and there’s a second half to that essay writing video which is about how to use a quotation and I think that’s not really valuable to the international audience.
Ben: No, no I don’t think the quotes is not the most – no, usually when it’s the IELTS essay, it’s 250 words and it would be extremely difficult I think to incorporate the quotes into that.
Tim: Yeah. Actually, you know, I’ve taught IELTS and I understand it. I don’t like the exam because it’s an exam which, and I don’t know whether you need to keep this in your interview, but quite honestly, it’s an exam which is based on failure, because you can never really succeed at IELTS. You’re always going to be less than perfect. You either going to get a7 or you’re going to get a 6 or you’re going to get in 7.5 or something. So it’s always a little bit disappointing, I think.
Ben: I see. I’ve never seen it like that. I was explaining it to one student and he saw it as an advantage, because he was like it’s impossible to fail. Because if you like the first, the Cambridge first, and you don’t get the sufficient thing, you —
Tim: Oh! Cambridge, first. Absolutely.
Tim: But you know there’s something you – there’s a particular goal. If you can get that goal, you’ve scored, you’ve got. You got the Cambridge first.
Ben: Yes, yes.
Tim: Similarly with the proficiency, with the IELTS, you’re going to come out with a score, whatever it is. It may be good, it may not be so good. All the exams, what’s fascinating, I’ve taught them all. All of the exams are essentially the same. They’re based on the idea that I mean, students will come and say, “Oh my reading is not good or my listening is not good or my writing is not good.” Nine times out of ten the problem is that they aren’t reading anything themselves in their own free time. If you’re going to score highly, if you’re going to get a high score in IELTS you have to read. That’s the first thing.
Tim: It’s the reading which is letting people down. And all these exams work on the same principle. They give you slightly too much to do in a period of time, because they don’t want you to be thinking in your native language.
Tim: So, the more you’re thinking in English and not translating, the quicker you’re going to be. And that requires practice and that requires reading, in order to get to that point. You will never get a good score on IELTS if you are translating in your head.
Ben: Of course. Of course, yeah. That’s true.
Tim: For the student translating the higher your score is going to be and the proficiency is the same thing. It gives slightly too much to do, to try to measure how much you’re doing in that time.
Tim: But then on top of that all these exams, because they are getting out all over the world, they try very hard not to be controversial. So, inevitably, they’re incredibly boring. All the topics they get you to write about, are the topics that frankly you just want to knock your head against the wall.
Tim: I have no interest in traffic control, right?
Ben: I know. Everybody says the same. They say, “How am I expected to write an essay about Youth Detention Centres and Crime in the Western World? And I have absolutely no interest, none of my… I don’t know anybody who’s a criminal. I’ve never been to jail. How would I… What am I supposed to do? And you’re supposed to write t250 words, put in my own opinion. Come on, you know. Give us a break.
Tim: Let’s just take one or two of those examples, like youth delinquency or jail. I mean, would you like to go to jail?
Ben: Not again, not again.
Tim: There Are You Are. We wouldn’t like to go. We all have an opinion in fact, on subjects that we have no interest in.
Tim: In the IELTS exam, because it’s an exam, because we’ve been told or as a student we might have been told, that we have to say something significant or we have to cover the subject. We think, “I know nothing about this.” In fact if you stop and calm down —
Tim: It’s an opinion and that’s what we’re looking for. These subjects are really like a springboard to give us an opportunity to judge your English, not your ability to talk about crime.
Ben: Too true. Yes. Very true.
Tim: So it’s not to articulate a decent argument about your opinions on this subject which you have and there’s no question about it. Then you can get a good mark. The next thing is to try and find out how to do it in a logical and ordered way and that involves planning. And that’s what my essay writing talk is about. It’s about sitting down and planning the essay. Resist the temptation to start writing the moment you see the essay title. With IELTS testing, I think even spend certainly more time. Spend five minutes planning. Write down all your thoughts about well, actually all the thoughts in your head even the stuff about shopping you’ve still got to do. Just get it out of your head and get it on paper. Get it out of the way. And then once you’ve written these things down, you will see the things which are relevant and the things which you can use and then just put them in order one, two, three, four. And that’s the key to writing an IELTS essay.
Ben: Okay so, I’ll just go over that. So we see this question, this crazy question about the topic that we have very little interest and we don’t usually think about. We just relax, put first our opinion and start writing everything down, but not in essay form, just in like short hand, for example.
Tim: Short hand, just short notes. Just get everything out of your head. Just put it on paper very, very quickly. It doesn’t need to be in any order and then try and relax as you’re doing it. Do breathing exercises and stop panicking.
Tim: And as you’re writing, think about what your basic opinion is on the subject. It’s really good when you’re writing an essay at whatever level, if you think of your conclusion.
Ben: Jump to the conclusion first.
Tim: Jump to your conclusion first and that would really give you an idea of what you’re going to say. Your conclusion shouldn’t be a surprise to you. It should be a surprise to the reader, not to you. It’s like you’re a magician. You can’t be a magician unless you actually know how to do the trick. The trick should not be a surprise to you. The trick is a surprise to the audience, not to you. So you need to know where you’re going. You need to know that you’ve got an opinion and then with the IELTS essay, let’s say you’re doing a boring essay about criminal detention or something, all right. I don’t know traffic.
Ben: Okay traffic, yes.
Tim: You need to know what your final opinion is going to be.
Ben: Yes, and then work backwards.
Tim: And then work backwards. So, that means you’ve got your conclusion. Your conclusion should be no more than one sentence long. Do use paragraphs and even in an IELTS essay, even in 250 words, you can still use a paragraph or two.
Tim: That will help structure something. It will help to give it the impression that it’s logical and logic is the essence of essay writing. Each paragraph is an individual idea.
Tim: It’s not a semi sentence. A sentence is a grammatical structure. But a paragraph is an idea. It’s a contained thought.
Tim: And then when that thought is finished you move on to another paragraph. With the five-paragraph essay, with the academic essay, your introduction, you have a conclusion. And in between those, sandwiched between those, you have two or three paragraphs. Those two or three we’ll take this. The first paragraph, let’s say paragraph two and paragraph three are there simply to reassure the reader that you know what you’re talking about.
Tim: So in IELTS, look at your essay title. Most essay titles can be reduced to an argument, for and against. So I think of arguments for, driving on the left hand side of the road and think of the arguments against driving on the left hand side, driving on the right hand side of the road. And then also as you’re thinking about this, as you write them down, is there one argument that really sticks out? Hold back on that because that’s your next paragraph. That’s the paragraph of a person where you’ve smacked the guy, the reader in between the eyes. You say ha, ha, ha, you see I really knew what I was doing. And that’s that you can have energy about and that’s your essay. People say, “I’m going to do an American accent on it.” You’re not. And people say “Oh! How do I get the attention of the reader? Do I have to say really something exciting in the introduction”? No! What you do in the introduction is, is you say what you understand by the question. You reassure. You don’t need fireworks in the introduction. Your fireworks occur towards the end of the essay.
Ben: I see. Yes.
Tim: Now in that bit which becomes personal. Maybe you’ve got a story to tell. That’s your personal bit. Maybe your story will bring to life this final point and the conclusion follows automatically from that.
Ben: I see. I see. So we’re getting basically trying to pick up the main chunk of punch in the paragraph. The introduction is just that, just to show the examiner in this case that this is what I had understood and this where we’re going. Just a rough idea, just a rough demonstration.
Tim: No, you don’t need to. Particularly an IELTS essay you don’t need to specify exactly what you’re going to do. But the important thing is try and get it out of your head that the introduction is place where you attack.
Tim: Pin your identity to the wall. The problem with that, with that approach is that the chances are that you’re going to fizzle out before you get to the end of the essay. And this is where the plan is. The plan is that you do your fizzling in the paragraph just before you finish in the few sentences before you finish the essay. You want to finish on a high. You want to go back to our image of the magician doing a magic trick. You want the audience to be clapping by the time your curtain comes down. You don’t want the audience to be booing and ohh. No, you get cheers. You don’t want to be looking at your watch. If you find you’re looking at your watch while you’re writing, if you find you’re not enjoying it, then the reader is going to enjoy either. So that’s where the plan is. The plan is to find that one thing that could really excite you about this incredibly boring subject.
Ben: I see.
Tim: There will be something that will excite you.
Ben: I see. I understand.
Tim: Just look at the question. Look at the question and the introduction is there to analyse the question. So there will always be a keyword or two in the introduction which you can question, which you can think ah this is really exciting. And that you might play around with that word. You might question whether that word is valuable or whatever. You’ll find something to do with them.
Ben: I see.
Tim: So absolutely essential is as you’re writing, when you’ve been writing for about 10 minutes or 15 minutes, go back and check. Check your writing about the question. Just go back and check the question, because there’s every chance, if you follow this technique that you get so excited by that one point that you’ve gone off the question, and you’re not answering the question anymore. So just make sure you are answering the question. But you need to find something that’s going to energize you.
Ben: I see, just to keep it going. Just to keep motivated. Just to make this, just to show it in your writing. Sorry.
Tim: Absolutely. The other thing is that don’t be afraid in IELTS particularly to be personal. Tell me a story. Storytelling is the basis of all communication. So again we come back to this thing. You don’t need to prove that you know everything about traffic control or you know everything about criminal detention or corporal punishment or whatever the other dull subjects are. You’re not going to know very much about these subjects or electricity.
You know, but, you can have an opinion and you can have a personal story to tell. Everybody’s got a personal story to tell about electricity. I mean, once, when I wanted to stop my brother using his record player and I thought and I took out the fuse from the plug and that didn’t seem to stop him. He found the fuse and put it in another one. I’m really going to do it now and I only about 10. And I unscrewed the socket from the wall and there were these two big wires facing me and I thought, “Oh those are bit too close together.” So I took and I put my hand on one and I put my hand on the other one and I shot across the room. That was an enormous electric shock. That is the introduction to electricity. So the story would be interesting, that I would be excited to read.
Ben: Well, what I was going to ask you next was, well, a lot of students have difficulty writing enough words and during the essay, they would start counting the words and then just start putting in, like those horrible words or horrible chunks of words. Instead of saying “because”, they’ll say, “this is the reason why”, you know and it turns from making their words count, which they should do, to counting the words which is what happens but it’s a totally natural process if you’re not one hundred percent confident. Is there a way or could you give us an advice to that?
Tim: Yes. There’s two things. First of all stop counting words. Practice. So you have a visual of how big a 250-word essay would be. And you start to fill it. Ah, I’m getting up to 250 words. So do it enough, so you’re familiar with the length of essay that you should be writing. That’s the first thing. Second thing is, if you want to increase your word count, stop using abbreviations like they’re, don’t, aren’t. You should be using are not, do not, they are. As a matter of fact you should be doing that.
Ben: Of course, yes, yes. formal lessons.
Tim: So that’s one way you’re going to push your essay count up by ten words, simply by doing that as a matter of routine.
Ben: Yes. And what happens if you’ve ran out of ideas during the essay and you’ve said everything that you thought that you want to say or what you can say?
Tim: If you plan, you’re generally going to have more ideas other than you can possibly write.
Tim: So the reason you’ve ran out of ideas is because you haven’t planned, and you started off with a fizzle and so bang and then you fizzled out. You have run out of ideas. Now what happens is, in order to increase that word count, people inevitably start adding sentences which are complete waffle at the end.
Ben: This is it. This is what needs to be eliminated.
Tim: So this is my advice. If you have to add waffle, please add in the middle of the essay, near the beginning because the examiner, despite what you think, the examiner isn’t going to stop reading your essay because it’s boring at the beginning. The examiner is going to stop reading your essay because it’s boring at the end. If you’re going to be boring, if you’re going waffle, waffle at the beginning.
Ben: Right, I see.
Tim: [inaudible 22:10] Now the next thing is if you want to decorate your essay, I mean this is all sort of seat of the pants desperate remedies for somebody who already has run out of ideas, okay. If you want to decorate your essay, start using adjectives.
Ben: Fill it up.
Tim: Fill it up with adjectives. Adjectives are always lovely. And once you start putting in adjectives you might find little adjectival phrases that come to your mind. The best of all solutions to a lack of words is a story.
Ben: I see. And just tell a little bit of a story during the essay.
Tim: Give me an example of something.
Ben: I see, yes of course.
Tim: It’s got an example. Write what you can and then go back and throw in a really good example of something. Tell a story. Tell me a story about you. It doesn’t have to be about something important. It can be a story about you. You are always important. Your life is not my life, therefore I’m interested in it.
Tim: It’s not I have lived and you know you may have skills that I have no idea about. I’m a boring examiner sitting in Cambridge or wherever a structure. But yes, that their life doesn’t really exist in practice I think.
Ben: I see.
Tim: Tell me, tell me stories. Everybody has a story to tell. What’s extraordinary is the moment the IELTS exam finishes and you’ve got all these students sweating and terrified and very silent, they run out and they start talking two to the dozen.
Tim: Stay when they stop writing, so bring that energy into the exam and all your stories are valuable and you will find a story that will fill up those extra words. But ideally, stop counting words all together.
Ben: I see. Yeah.
Tim: So the other thing is use adjectives. Adjectives are always your friend. Adjectives are always your best friend, because they’re always exciting friends.
Ben: You got it.
Tim: Try not to use adverbs. An adverb generally means that you got the wrong verb.
Ben: I see. And you just need to modify it a little bit, just put an after thought.
Tim: Yes, so it’s not going to be like, he was running slowly. No he wasn’t he was walking. He was walking very fast. No, he was running. If you feel the desire to put in an adverb to spice up your sentence you’ve got the wrong verb. But an adjective is always useful. You cannot go wrong with a good adjective. Now what else? And another way you can increase your word count is to make sure that your sentences are joining each other, logically.
Tim: Your speaking will improve. People who say, “Oh there are three points here which are significant. One” and then they talk about something for about 10 minutes. “Two”, and you think, “Oh my goodness” you did that order. It’s the trick. And the more and “thirdly and finally” or “three…”
Ben: Yeah I find it is — oh sorry go on.
Tim: No, the more you practice the more it will come naturally.
Ben: Yes, yes and having a good control of writing usually, well with native speakers, it’s often the case. A good control of writing, usually transfers into a good control of speaking and thinking and more clarity. However, with second language students, it’s not always the case. They can write sometimes really well but it often doesn’t transfer into a similar ability with the speaking.
Hello there guys. I cut this interview up because we – me and Tim, we were speaking for about two hours and at this point in the interview we just jumped to another subject. So I decided to cut it off there. The next episode, the next part of the interview will be out probably next week, so keep an eye after that and Tim is just going to give us more of valuable advice and I just wanted to say that I would strongly recommend you sign up at the email list because there’s plenty of offers on there and students send me emails asking me for tips, for help and to be honest I put the best stuff on that email list.
There we cover a lot of materials. So remember to sign up there, and one last favour. If you could I’d really appreciate it but I’m trying to get 50 podcasts reviews, ITunes reviews for this, for this year. So if you can, I’d really appreciate it if you could go and give us a five-star iTunes review. That would absolutely fantastic. Okay, thanks very much.
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