In IELTS speaking, you might be asked to talk about festivals. This could occur in any of the three parts of the test, but today we will look at part two, and in particular a cue card that says “describe an important festival in your country.”
In this lesson, I will show you how to analyse the cue card, think of ideas, structure your answer, pick the right vocabulary, and then I will give you my own sample answer to this question.
The Cue Card – Describe an Important Festival in your Country
First of all, let’s look at the cue card. It is important to note that it is impossible to predict cue cards, but we can look at old ones in order to understand what is required and what you might need to do in your next test.
Describe an important festival in your country.
You should say:
– what it is
– what the significance of it is
– how people celebrate this festival
and describe why this is an important festival in your country.
This is the cue card that we will use today, but remember that there are others. It might say “describe an international festival” or “describe a festival from a foreign country.” You must read it carefully before answering.
Analyse the Cue Card
When you first look at a cue card like this, you need to pay attention to the first line and identify the most important words. Here, the most important word is “festival” and then the next most important are “important” and “your country.” These two give you the specific details.
But what does “festival” mean exactly?
The Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary gives two meanings. The first is related to putting on a performance:
a series of special events, performances, etc that often takes place over several days
The second is more traditional and religious:
a special day or period when people celebrate something, especially a religious event
As you can see, there are two aspects to consider. However, you just need to pick one thing and it should fall into either of these categories.
Here are some ideas:
This ppt was one that I used with my students when I taught at a university in China. 😄 Don’t you love recycling?
How to Generate Ideas for IELTS Speaking
Once you have understood the question, you should very quickly make a choice. This is because you have just one minute to plan your answer and you should talk for up to two minutes.
For me, I would choose the Edinburgh Festival, which is a big festival in my country, Scotland. I actually don’t know much about it because I have never been! However, it is the biggest and most famous one, so I think it would be possible to talk about it.
When it comes to generating ideas for IELTS, you should spend some time thinking carefully in the writing test… but speaking doesn’t afford such luxuries. You have to be quick. Once you have chosen, you need to think about what you will say. Partly this will be free-form when you start talking, but a little advanced planning can help you.
I always tell my IELTS students not to make many notes for speaking part 2. This is because you simply don’t have time to write much down. You should only write down a few significant words. For example, words you might want to remember, important ideas, the order of things you will discuss… These can all really help you to talk more easily.
I might write something like:
- hard to define
- biggest arts festival
- different venues
- unpleasantly crowded
These words mean little to most people but they could help me to structure my answer. I could also just follow the structure on the cue card, but sometimes that can result in a slightly unnatural order, with awkward transitions between different parts.
Remember: You are not actually required to talk about everything on the cue card. These are just ideas that you can include. However, I do think it’s a good idea to try and follow it as a loose guide.
Language for Describing Festivals
As I have said many times before, it’s a little difficult to teach certain vocabulary because your answer will totally change the required words. For example, I am going to talk about the Edinburgh Festival, which means I’ll talk about stand-up comedy, street performers, and people travelling from around the world to see this arts festival.
If you are talking about a religious festival, you might need to talk about worshippers, sacred objects, family traditions, beliefs, and whatnot. This would require very different language from my festival, which is secular.
However, it is important think about grammar. You will most likely talk in the present simple tense because this is what we use for general truths and repeated actions. This is the right tense for festivals:
- People travel from all over the world to see these performers.
- Families gather and pay their respects.
- It is normal to stay up all night and watch the sunrise.
Don’t forget that you can make these descriptions more vivid with the careful use of adjectives and adverbs. Picture a scene in your head and then use these descriptive words to bring out the details. Talk about:
All of this can bring more depth to your answer and show the examiner your range of vocabulary.
Here’s how I would answer this cue card:
The most important festival in Scotland is the Edinburgh Festival, which is held each year in the summer months. It is actually quite a hard festival to define because it is an arts festival with no entry criteria, and it changes in length and content each year. However, I think this is apt because art should not be strictly defined and regulated.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and this festival is its biggest event. In fact, it is the biggest arts festival in the world and the third biggest ticketed event on the planet, after the World Cup and the Olympics. This has brought great attention to Scotland and has been a huge contributor to the culture and economy of the country.
The festival is a collection of performances that take place in different venues across the city. These could be almost any style of art, but stand-up comedy is probably the most common one. You also see a lot of musicians, dancers, and other performers.
People travel from all across the world to watch or participate, and many great performers used this platform to launch their career. As such, it is a very famous and respected festival. However, among local people it is actually considered a good time to leave the city as it can become unpleasantly crowded.
My answer here has mostly covered the topics on the cue card but I have tried to structure it a little more naturally. My language is quite simple, but I have used appropriate words and phrases.
Note my introductory phrase:
- The most important festival in ___ is ____, which is held each year in ___.
You could easily use this as a model for beginning this sort of answer, filling it in with the appropriate details for your chosen festival.