Category Archives: Speaking

Idioms Explained

Idioms in English can be hard to figure out. Translating them into to your own language is not going to help. But, native speakers throw them into to conversations whenever they feel like it! How can you get your head around them? It’s a tough one we know. Here in our English academies in Madrid we’re always trying to think of ways to help our students remember these useful phrases, be it for exam preparation like Aptis or FCE or just to sound more fluent in everyday conversation.

A good way to learn new idioms is to use images which illustrate their meaning. This post is trying to do just that. We hope it helps!

Back to square one

Having to go back to square one means you have to start whatever process you were doing over again. It’s usually negative since it implies you didn’t make much progress the first time.

The big cheese

Someone who is a big cheese is an important or knowledgeable person in their field. It’s quite an informal expression and means they hold some influence.

A birdseye view

This one is perhaps more literal. It means you have a view of something from a high point…just like a bird would.

To bite your tongue

 

 

To bite your tongue means to keep yourself from critizising or insulting someone even if you want to. Someone says something stupid and instead of highlighting it, you say nothing and maybe even smile at them.

To be on cloud nine

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, if you are on cloud nine, you are really happy about something. We hope you are too having learnt some new English idioms!

 

Aptis Speaking Parts 3 & 4

Today at The language corner we’re going to look at the second part of the Aptis Speaking test, with tips and sample answers to give you an idea of what is needed in this relatively new exam by The British Council.  Of course, here in our English academies, you can prepare for the Aptis as well as The Cambridge exams with our native teachers.

Part 3

In this part of the exam, you will be shown two pictures and asked to compare them. This is quite similar to the FCE or CAE and finding examples from those exams will help immensely. Again, there are 3 questions which each have a 45 second limit for answering.

 

  1. Compare the two pictures. (45sec)
  2. Why might people choose each type of holiday?  (45sec)
  3. Which of these types of holidays are better for you?  (45sec)

As we saw in our previous post when describing photos we usually use modals of deduction to say what we suppose is happening in the pictures. Let’s have a go at answering these ones 🙂

  1. In the first picture on the left, a couple can be seen relaxing in deck chairs at the beach. I imagine they are a couple as they are holding hands and the woman seems to be gazing at her partner. There is a bag hanging off one deckchair and a hat hanging off the other. It looks idyllic if I’m honest.  In the second picture, we can see a group, with backpacks on hiking through the mountains. They appear to be following a trail and are properly prepared for the terrain. It reminds me of going trekking with my friends in the mountains outside my city.
  2. I reckon people choose beach holidays to get away from the hustle bustle of the city and to completely switch off. Not only do they get to relax on what seems like a paradise island but they also don’t have to worry about the stresses of their daily life. On the other hand, this type of trip can seem utterly boring to some people which is why they might prefer to do something more active. They also want to escape the fast-paced way of things in the city by getting fresh air in a pristine landscape but obviously lying on the beach for days would just bore them to tears.
  3. Both types of holiday have their benefits. Relaxing on a beautiful beach for a week might do somebody who has a high-stress job or day to day life the world of good as they can just switch off and forget about everything for the time being. However, the hiking holiday is obviously more active and in that way, it’s physically better for you. I suppose it all depends on whether you want to do something active or would benefit just as much from simply taking a break from your daily routine.

Part 4

The last part of the Speaking test for Aptis, you are once again given a photo with three questions. This time, however, you’ll have one minute to prepare your ideas and two minutes to cover all three questions.

 

  1. Tell me about the first thing you bought online.
  2. How did you feel about the purchasing?
  3. Would you recommend online shopping?

For this question, since you have a minute to prepare it’s a good idea to jot down the points you want to mention without writing full sentences. Be careful not to describe the photo given as this is not the task in this question. The questions are more abstract (e.g a feeling). Make sure you answer all three questions and stay on topic. Doing otherwise will lose you valuable points. You are free to glance at your notes while you speak so it’s really important to practise brainstorming and making the most of this.

Here is an example of how you can brainstorm some ideas in one minute. Notice that as well as answering the questions I’ve also included short structures to include in my answer. This final part of the Aptis speaking exam is aimed at the higher levels so it’s important to incorporate advanced structures into your answer. Think about inversions (not only but also, only if/when), passives, conditionals etc. It’s also good to use any related vocabulary you can think of. Having said that, we also recommend you stick to what you know in the exam. Practise these structures before the exam so you are confident using them. Don’t try to wing it in the exam by throwing in structures you half know and are likely to get wrong. Accuracy is of vital importance in any speaking exam and the Aptis is no different.

Let’s have a go at answering this one:

If I recall correctly, the first thing I bought online was a necklace from eBay. It was being auctioned on the site and I thought it was really beautiful. I remember feeling excited by the bidding process. I would place a bid and wait to see if someone outbid me for the item. In the end, mine was the highest bid and I won the auction. I also remember feeling quite nervous however because of the payment method. Only by giving the website my credit card details could I proceed. I was also worried it wouldn’t arrive even after paying for it. I decided I’d have to take the chance and thankfully my necklace arrived shortly after.

I would definitely recommend shopping online nowadays. There are so many shops and you can buy virtually anything delivered to your doorstep. It’s really handy for people who work a lot or simply don’t enjoy going shopping on the high street, especially around the holidays or sales when bricks and mortar shops are packed. Not only is shopping online faster and more efficient but it’s also cheaper than the high street stores a lot of the time.

As you can see, I used the notes from the spider diagram to shape my answer but also added more information as I thought of it. I hope this helps. Don’t forget you can prepare for the Aptis exam in Madrid in our English academies in Madrid in both La Elipa and Garcia Noblejas. All of our native teachers at our language academies are familiar with not only the Aptis but also all of the Cambridge exams. So if you are looking to prepare for the FCE in Madrid or the CAE in Madrid, make sure you stop by our English academies in Madrid in La Elipa and La Almudena. Looking forward to meeting you!

 

Aptis Speaking Test Part 1 & 2

The Aptis by British Council is a relatively new exam but it is quickly gaining popularity among English language learners. This is due to it becoming more widely accepted both here in Spain and around the world, it being cheaper than other exams like Cambridge, and being able to get the results more quickly.

Knowing exactly what an exam entails is half the battle when preparing for it. Today we’re going to look at the Speaking exam. The entire exam is done on a computer, so for the speaking part, you have to record your answers within a given time limit. This means preparation is key. Knowing what to expect and being ready to show off your language skills will help achieve your goal.

Part One

In the first part, you have to answer questions about yourself. There are three questions and you must talk for thirty seconds for each question. Possible topics you could talk about include Family, Your Job, Hobbies and Interests, Future Plans, Films and Books, The Weather, Daily Routine etc. This means four or five clear sentences. If for example you are asked, “What’s the weather like today?” You might think it impossible to have your answer last a full thirty seconds. This is why it’s important to brainstorm things related to the weather. What do you like to do when it’s hot outside? What clothes are you wearing for the current season? Is it typical weather for this time of year? Is it unusually hot or cold? So a typical answer to “What’s the weather like today?” doesn’t have to be difficult to elaborate on. Instead of just replying “It’s cold but sunny” you can add “but this is normal for Madrid in winter. People usually wear hats, scarves, winter coats and boots to stay warm. A typical winter snack is roasted chestnuts which you can buy from street vendors.” Instead of talking solely about the weather, we can incorporate other related vocabulary like in this instance; clothes. But we could also talk about what people generally do in when the weather is hot/cold etc. The questions in part one of the Aptis lend themselves to elaboration. You should keep talking, adding relevant sentences until your time is up.

Part Two

In the second part of the Aptis speaking exam, you are given a picture which you have forty-five seconds to describe. You then have to answer to related questions with a limit of forty-five seconds for each.

A typical example of this could be the picture on the left.

  1. Describe the picture.
  2. Do you often have to work in a team in work or university?
  3. Why is teamwork important?

 

Describing a photo is a question that comes up in many exams. With this type of question, you should take as much time as possible to gather your thoughts. Then use all of the time given to talk about it.  Below are some useful phrases to describe the position of things within a picture.

When talking about what people are doing or wearing in a photo we must use the present continuous. Subject + is/are + verb in ING It is also important to speculate about what the subjects of the picture might be doing using expressions like:

It seems as if…

They might/may/could be …

It makes me think of …

I think …

Let’s try to answer the questions above. Remember you have 45 seconds for each answer which should be approximately 5 to 7 clear sentences.

  1. In this photo, I can see a group of people sitting around a table. In the background, there is a large window and the room is bright. There are posters on the wall behind them. They seem to be working on something together.  In the middle of the table, there is a model of something which they are pointing to and discussing. Maybe it’s a building. They might be doing a project together for a university class. Maybe they are engineering students and they are doing a project on town planning.
  2. When I was at university, I often had to give presentations with other students. We would be given a project to discuss and research and would have to present it together in front of the rest of our class. I enjoyed working with my classmates on these projects as it gave me a different perspective on the topic. However, I also got very nervous having to speak in front of so many people. I used to practise as much as I could beforehand to feel more relaxed about it.
  3. Teamwork is very important, not only in university but also in the working world. As I mentioned before, having more than one person working on a project allows for more input and different points of view to be considered. Being able to work in a team is beneficial as it reduces the workload for everyone involved and means projects can be finished more efficiently.

As you can see, each answer has clear, concise sentences. I hope this helps you in your preparation for Aptis or indeed any English exam in which you are asked to describe a picture. In the next part of this series, we will look at parts 3 and 4 of the Aptis speaking exam. Don’t forget to check back soon.

In our English academies in La Elipa and Garcia Noblejas, you can prepare for Aptis as well as the Cambridge First Certificate and Advanced.