Just last month, Cambridge IELTS 17 was released and it contains a range of real IELTS questions that you can practise with to prepare for your next test. Today, I’m going to show you how to answer one of the questions in this book, which requires you to describe the neighbourhood you lived in when you were a child. We’ll look at some useful language and structures to help talk about this topic.
Analysing the Cue Card
Here’s our cue card for today:
Describe the neighbourhood you lived in when you were a child.
You should say:
– where in your town/city the neighbourhood was
– what kind of people lived there
– what it was like in this neighbourhood
and explain whether you would like to live in this neighbourhood in the future.
There is nothing hugely difficult about this but of course you do need to know the meaning of the word “neighbourhood.” Cambridge Dictionary defines this as:
the area of a town that surrounds someone’s home
Other dictionaries point out that it is a part of a town or city. Indeed, you can see in the first bullet point that it asks you to describe where in that town or city is located.
This raises an interesting question… What if you don’t come from a town or city?!
In fact, I grew up in a village, so I’m not from a neighbourhood in a town or city. So how would I answer this question?
The important thing about IELTS speaking is that they are just trying to gauge your English level. They aren’t testing your general knowledge or life experiences, and they certainly don’t care whether you grew up in an urban or rural environment.
If you were born in a village, just tell the examiner this fact. Use this apparent “problem” as a way to introduce more communication.
Vocabulary about Neighbourhoods
As always, the vocabulary you will need to talk about your neighbourhood will depend entirely on where you come from! For example, my little village in Scotland would be described in different terms from a Beijing hutong or a district in Mumbai.
Let’s look at the bullet points, then, for guides to what we might need to say:
where in your town/city the neighbourhood was
For this, you need to be able to describe location. For example:
- My neighbourhood was in the west of Shanghai.
- I grew up in a neighbourhood on the south side of the Seine.
- The neighbourhood I grew up in is right on the edge of a little town in Yorkshire.
You can be specific here, using place names and directions. You can also be descriptive, using this part to talk about geographical features, like mountains, rivers, seas, valleys, forests, and so on. You can learn how to describe locations here.
what kind of people lived there
This requires quite different language and it’s important to note at this stage that “neighbourhood,” whilst most commonly referring to a place, can also mean the people who live there. This may also be referred to as a community.
- In my neighbourhood, most people were farmers because we lived in the countryside.
- It seemed like almost everyone in my neighbourhood worked in the tech industry.
- Growing up, everyone around me did different things.
Of course, I’ve mostly focused on occupation here. That’s because it can be a little harder to generalise about the kind of people in a place, but you may want to do that as well if people shared some sort of personality or ethic. For example:
- People there were hardworking and reliable.
- These were mostly honest folk with good intentions.
what it was like in this neighbourhood
This is much broader and in this part you can basically say what you like about your neighbourhood. It’s going to really depend on the place where you lived. For example:
- This was a tough part of town with a lot of violence.
- It was a really beautiful little area overlooking the sea.
- I was lucky to grow up in a good neighbourhood with honest people.
Again, your answer will totally depend on your life experiences here, so think hard about where you lived and what you want to say about it. Try to visualise your neighbourhood and then draw upon your vocabulary to give vivid and interesting descriptions.
Here’s a video on a similar topic that has me describing my hometown:
Structuring your Answer
I always say that you should begin your part 2 answers with a personal memory and that’s easy to do with a question like this. In fact, it would be the most natural way of beginning. You could say something like:
- I grew up in a neighbourhood on the east side of London…
- When I was young, I lived in a neighbourhood in the south of Paris…
- Growing up in a small village, I distinctly remember…
This sort of beginning allows you to easily transition into a description of the neighbourhood where you lived. Try to incorporate the bullet points on the cue card, but don’t be afraid to say other things if they are relevant.
Also, try to follow a logical sequence of ideas. If you just read from the cue card then you might give an answer that is jumpy and disconnected. Let your ideas flow naturally and concern yourself more with language.
Finally, bring your answer to a natural conclusion if possible. Obviously, don’t do this if you’ve spoken for less than a minute! However, if you’ve spoken for more than that then take the chance to add a final sentence or two that nicely concludes your answer. Even using your tone of voice can be helpful here to bring it to an end.
Here’s a video about giving good part 2 speaking answers:
My Sample Band 9 Answer
Well, I actually did not grow up in a town or a city, so it’s impossible for me to describe living in a neighbourhood in one of these places, so instead I’ll describe the village I lived in as a child, which I suppose could be considered a sort of neighbourhood. It is a small village in the countryside of Scotland, not too far from a town called St. Andrews. In this village, people were generally quite friendly but there wasn’t a big sense of community because everyone seemed to live their own lives. Of course, there were certain community events and most of the children and parents knew one another, but it was not cohesive like some tight-knit neighbourhoods in other parts of the world.
The village was a very pleasant place to grow up in for many reasons. It was safe and quiet, with beautiful scenery surrounding it. As a child, there was always something to do there. We played football and hiked in the hills, and it was located pretty close to towns and small cities if you needed anything else.
I like to go back there but I don’t know whether I would live there again in the future. It was a wonderful place to be as a child, but as an adult there really isn’t much to do. It lacks the amenities of a town or city and doing almost anything requires at least a short drive. However, I would consider it because it really is a nice area with a special place in my heart.
You’ll see that this is one of the few answers I did not begin with a personal memory. I did that in order to explain to the examiner that I’m not from a town or city. I wanted to make this clear, and any sort of direct and open communication like this is a good thing. It’s better that than you talk and have the examiner feel that you didn’t understand the question.
After explaining the situation, I introduced the place I lived. I mentioned things that were listed on the cue card – where it was, who lived there, what it was like, and whether I would want to live there in the future. This allowed me to give a good answer in spite of not coming from a place specifically like the one mentioned.
I tried to use topic-specific vocabulary. Here are some phrases of interest:
- a sort of neighbourhood
- not too far from a town
- there wasn’t a big sense of community
- community events
- tight-knit neighbourhoods
- safe and quiet
- lacks the amenities of a town or city
- a special place in my heart