Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Today you’ll find out when to clarify meaning for the examiner on your IELTS Speaking Exam.

Recently, in a Facebook Live broadcast, an IELTS candidate asked an interesting question.

He asked if it was OK to explain the definition of a word after saying it, and he used the example of the word “netiquette“, following that usage by saying, “meaning behaving politely while being online.”

In general, you should assume that the examiners will know the meaning of the words you use, be they extremely high-level or even rare.

Explaining the definition is, therefore, unnecessary.

In fact, it may actually seem condescending, as if you are assuming the examiner does not have a vocabulary large enough to comprehend your meaning.

To some students, it may seem like an opportunity to paraphrase, but that is not the “paraphrasing” the examiner is looking for to award high scores.

The paraphrasing skill the examiner is listening for is when you can describe a situation or context even if you don’t have the exact word for it.


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For instance, you could say, “I recently decided to take a little vacation from work, but this is an option for my job, as I’m a professor. We are encouraged to take a year off from time to time to explore our discipline in a free way, while not being required to teach classes or publish anything.”

The word that would sum that situation up is “sabbatical“, but, not having the word, that description is apt and explains the meaning perfectly.

Now, if you are using a relatively new word, like “netiquette“, or a slang word that is particular to the English-speaking region you are living in, you may explain it.

That is because clarification is appropriate for clear communication in this context, as it is not guaranteed that the examiner would know the word.

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