Many students have difficulties with writing, and the writing section of the IELTS exam can be the most daunting for students. Don’t worry though if your writing is weaker than your other skills: writing, like all other skills, will improve with work and effort.
The first step to better writing is, of course, better reading. Reading regularly and at a level slightly more difficult/higher than your current level will keep you strectched and developing your abilities.
As the author Stephen King says ‘“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
So, lots of reading is needed to improve your writing, the next question is: -
What to read?
It’s best to choose something which interests you, and which makes you want to read more. Everyone is interested in something, whether it’s human relationships, nanotechnology, ghost stories or ancient mythology. If you’re studying in a certain academic field, reading articles and books related to this is also a good idea.
Graded reading books can be very useful as they provide a consistent level of difficulty. They can also provide a break from your studies by introducing a different type of format such as fantasy novels, adventure stories and classic fiction.
How do you know if a text is at the right level for you?
Reading something too difficult can be demotivating and counterproductive. If you need to look in a dictionary for every other word and are still unsure of what the text is saying, then look for something easier. Reading something which is too easy is also unhelpful. It may be relaxing to read a comic, but it won’t improve you reading skill much. Research has shown that for a text to be understood, the reader must know at least 90% of the words on the page. So, if you are reading something and can understand at least 80% of it, but not 100%, this is a good indication that you are are reading at a good difficulty level.
If you are not 100% sure what a particular word in the text means, look it up. You can even incorporate new vocabulary into your writing- for example by trying to use the new word in 10 of your own sentences. These words can also be added to your word list, making sure that you have practiced and used them enough to know exactly where and how to use them. Lack of accuracy and precision costs marks in the IELTS exam, and using a word you know incorrectly, for example using it out of context, using the wrong form of the word, using it to convey a slightly different meaning from the one intended etc. will keep your scores down. For this reason it is absolutely vital that you know exactly how to use a word AND how not to use it before you incorporate it into your working English vocabulary.
Guessing from context is a useful skill, but it goes hand in hand with continually expanding and improving your vocabulary. Keep a dictionary handy and make notes of any words you don’t know.
English and Thai
As you’ll know, English and Thai languages and thought are very different. To reach the higher band levels of IELTS requires that you are able to clearly understand the meanings and use of English syntax and grammar; basically you have to be able to think and express your thoughts and ideas in English, like an English speaker would. This will often require a lot of work learning to comprehend the different thought processes, sentence structure and vocabulary. Often, learning what a particular word means in Thai is not enough; you will need to know what the word means in itself.
This is also related to a form of language learning which children use: they hear how to express themselves and how to use words simply by watching other people do it, and gain confidence until they feel comfortable enough to try it themselves. This constant exposure to the language gives them enough input material to eventually become fluent in the language without reference to any other languages.
The benefits of this way of learning can also be helpful to adults learning a new language. For example, simple nouns can usually be learned from a dictionary without difficulty, but more complex words often have very specific meanings, attached to the culture they came from.
An example of this would be the Thai use of ‘bored’. Some students will say ‘I’m bored with my job’, meaning ‘I’m tired of my job’. The difference in meaning between ‘bored’ and ‘tired of’ is significant, and the two words communicate two very different feelings; but if a student has looked at ‘เบื่อ’ in their Thai-English dictionary and sees only ‘bored’ as a translation, then they have missed a vital part of this English knowledge and will keep using ‘bored’ incorrectly.
Or how about a student learning to speak Thai. They could look up ‘cat’ in their dictionary and see ‘แมว’ and be able to use it accurately most of the time. But what if they hear a friend describe something as ‘เกรงใจ’? They could check their dictionary and it might give a meaning in English as ‘consideration for others’. But this would not be enough knowledge for the student to start using this word; they would need to see it used many times, and understand its cultural reference and significance before they could begin to start trying to use it themselves.
Like ‘เกรงใจ’, there are thousands of words and ideas which are complex and more difficult to learn and understand in another language. As English and Thai are so different, the amount of these words and ideas is very large, and they must be studied.
There is no way to predict what type of language will be used in the test, but if you’ve spent enough time reading, you’ll understand the text a lot better and be able to approach it with confidence.
Remember, learning to read is an active process. By continually working and pushing yourself to understand the text each and every time you read something, you are actively improving your English skills. As your vocabulary and understanding improves, so will your confidence.