[IELTS Speaking] Describe a Famous Person

In part two of the IELTS speaking exam you may be asked to describe a famous person. You will of course be given a minute to think about your answer and make some notes. Then you have two minutes to talk. But what things should you say? How should go attempt to describe a famous person?

Reading the Question

You will be given a cue card with information that you must address in your speech. Before attempting to answer, you must make sure you fully understand the question and all the things you have to talk about. Don’t rush in and start speaking about any famous person. (Check out our lesson on describing a sportsperson.)

Here are some of the variations on the topic of describing famous people:

  • Describe a famous person in your country.
  • ……………………………………. you’d like to meet.
  • ……………………………………. you admire.
  • ……………………………………. you are interested in.

There are plenty of other options. Make sure you pay attention to the second part and make reference to it, and of course talk about all the points you are required to mention. To do this successfully, you must make appropriate notes.

How to Make Notes

In the IELTS speaking test part 2 you don’t have much time to make notes, so you must do it efficiently. Don’t attempt to write any full sentences. Just note down ideas and vocabulary. These should help you to structure your talk and remember any important words. Don’t write down anything unnecessary or it will just cost you valuable time.

Note-taking is quite a personal process and you should do whatever works best for you. This might mean doing a mind-map, or perhaps writing an ordered list. Maybe you like to sketch ideas or associate words. Whatever helps you remember is fine. Just be sure to write quickly as you only have one minute.

Once your notes are written, you should be ready to talk. Work through your notes slowly and calmly, elaborating on each point slightly. You only have to talk for 1-2 minutes, so don’t worry. The biggest mistake students make at this point is talking too fast and finishing in less than a minute. Practice speaking from notes at home to counteract this stress.

Answering the Question

By now you should have chosen a person you wish to describe, analyzed the question to decide what you need to say, and written some appropriate notes. Therefore, it is now time to start speaking. Here’s an example question and answer to help you:

Question

Tell us about a famous person you would like to meet.

You should say:

  • who is he/ she
  • why do you want to meet him/ her
  • why he/she is famous

and explain what would you do if you meet him/ her.

Answer

A famous person I’d like to meet is Bryan Cranston. He’s an American actor who is best-known for his role as Walter White in the famous TV show, Breaking Bad. Actually, Bryan Cranston has appeared in many TV shows and movies, including a really funny show that he did before Breaking Bad called Malcolm in the Middle. However, I think for most people he’s always going to be identified with the character of Walter White, the chemistry teacher who turned into a drug dealer. His performance in that show was so iconic that he will forever be remembered not just by fans but anyone who knows anything about American TV.

I want to meet him not just because he’s a great actor but also because I’ve heard him give so many interviews and he seems like a really great guy. He has amazingly funny stories to tell and he always gives so much of his time and energy to his fans. I don’t really know what I’d do if I met Bryan Cranston because I’ve never actually met a famous person before. However, I’d probably shake his hand and tell him I really admire his work on screen and on stage. If he was willing to talk, I’d ask him about making Breaking Bad and I’m sure he’d have some wonderful stories to tell me.

Notes

Structure

In the above speech I’ve addressed all the points from the cue card, although not necessarily in order. I first said who Bryan Cranston is and then explained why he is famous, before moving on to why I want to meet him and what I would do in that situation. This seemed to me a more natural structure and easier to talk about. If you talk randomly on different points without connecting it in your head, you will find it harder to talk for a long time.

Language

I’ve highlighted some useful language in bold, which I will explain below:

  • “who is best known for” – this is a great way to explain the greatest accomplishment of a famous person
    • eg “who is best known for her hit song, ‘Shake it Off'”
    • eg “who is best known for his masterpiece, ‘Animal Farm'”
  • “iconic” – essentially, this just means very famous – ie a person who has become an icon
  • “not just because…. but also” – this structure is a good way to introduce multiple reasons for something
    • eg “I like him not just because he’s a good guy but because he seems really interesting.”

Review

It’s really important in the IELTS speaking test part 2 that you prepare your answer. You should make some useful notes to help you talk, and then speak slowly and calmly, elaborating upon your notes as you speak. When describing famous people for IELTS, remember to include some appropriate adjectives and adverbs for descriptive purposes, and always give reasons and examples to justify your statements. This will boost your IELTS speaking score significantly.

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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