In the IELTS speaking exam part 2, you will be asked to describe something. That could be a person, a place, an object, an animal, an experience… or something else. In today’s lesson, we are going to look at a cue card that asks you to describe something else. In this case, it is a skill.

This may seem difficult, but I will try to explain the whole process clearly and simply so that you can do it for yourself. I will explain the steps in order to answer the cue card:

  1. Analyze the question
  2. Make notes
  3. Answer the question

Analyze the Question

First of all, we must look at the cue card and read it very carefully. As with the IELTS writing task 2, you cannot simply glance at the question. You need to think about it and make sure that you understand it completely. Sometimes this is pretty straightforward, but other times it requires reading closely and underlining key words.

This is the cue card that we will examine today:

Describe a skill that takes a long time to learn:

You should say:

– what the skill is

– why it takes a long time to learn

– how and where you can learn it

and explain how you would feel if you learned it.

describe a skill cue card for ielts
The cue card – read it carefully.

I think that this is pretty straightforward to understand, but there is one slightly challenging part. Notice the final line: “explain how you would feel if you learned it.”

What does this mean?

If the speaker talks about learning guitar, has he already learned it? No.

learn a skill

In this case, we are being asked about something we haven’t learned. The words “would” and “if” tell us that this cannot be something we already know how to do. It is a small distinction, but an important one.

Can I talk about a skill I have already learned?

If the question were phrased a little differently, then yes. Perhaps we could have the same question, but with a few subtle changes:

Describe a skill that took you a long time to learn:

You should say:

– what the skill is

– why it took a long time to learn

– how and where you learned it

and explain how you felt when you learned it.

In this case, we can see how the question has changed. We are still required to “describe a skill” but now we are talking about a skill that we have actually learned in the past. A few small changes to the question now require a very different answer.

So could you use the same answer for both questions? Not really. However, it may be possible to use one idea and adapt it for either question. You might, for example, walk to talk about programming a computer. Let’s say you have already learned this skill. You could, of course, use it for question 2… but if you wanted, you could also use it for question 1. How? Talk about the skill without referring to yourself. Describe the skill according to the requirements of the cue card. When it comes to the final part, about how you would feel if you learned it… then just act as though you haven’t yet learned it. In other words, you can lie a little. 😅

Ok, let’s refresh, what does the question (let’s focus only on question 1) require us to do?

  1. Describe a skill.
    • Any skill? No. One that takes a long time.
  2. Explain why it takes a long time to learn.
  3. Give details about how you can learn it, and where.
  4. Describe how you would feel if you learned it.

Make Notes

Once you have analyzed the question, you should make notes. This is important because once you start speaking, you should have something to guide you a little. Even if you are very confident, it can be helpful to be reminded of a useful word or idea.

Remember not to write down any more than a word or idea, though, because you only have one minute. That one minute should be spent analyzing the question and making notes, so it’s not much time. You certainly don’t have time to write any full sentences.

If you think of any good ideas, a loose structure, or a really great word or phrase, you should write it down now.

My answer for this question is learning Japanese. This is a language I’ve always wanted to learn, so it would make a perfect answer for me. Here are my notes:

  • Asian language
  • Complexity
  • Multiple alphabets and characters
  • iPad apps
  • Speaking partners

As you can see, I have not written much. I don’t feel it’s necessary or even helpful to write too much, but a few brief notes can really prove helpful in structuring the speech, boosting your confidence, and reminding you of some useful things. In particular, I thought of the word “complexity” and the phrase “multiple alphabets” and thought that they would be good to incorporate into an answer. I also didn’t want to forget about iPad apps and speaking partners, as these are both quite important.

Answer the Question

When it’s time to speak, you should speak for between one and two minutes. The examiner is not allowed to interrupt you at any time, but they will stop you when you reach the two minute limit. If you speak calmly and at a natural pace, it should not be difficult to speak for about 90 seconds, which would be a perfect time.

Warning: Feeling nervous often causes people to speak too quickly. This can make them say everything in less than one minute, which then causes them to panic, go off-topic, or repeat themselves. You should prepare adequately in order to avoid these.

You must also make sure to begin speaking quickly. Some students hesitate for a long time, and this is really not good. If you take ten or twenty seconds to actually start, you have wasted a lot of time, and the examiner will mark you down for it.

Sample Answer

Here is my answer to the above cue card. You can hear me read it in the video at the bottom of this page:

One skill that takes a really long time to learn is Japanese. This is an old Asian language which is notoriously difficult. Although it has no tones like Chinese or Thai, it is nonetheless renowned for its complexity. It has three alphabets, which are mixed together according to some really confusing rules to create the Japanese writing system. This makes it far more difficult than most languages.

japanese lanterns

Like any language, you can learn a little Japanese easily, but it takes a long time to get good at it. In fact, becoming fluent at Japanese can take a very long time due to the complexity of the language. It is not just the written language that is tough, but the grammar is hard. Japanese culture is also infused with many cultural rules that require the use of certain honorific forms, meaning that you need to learn a lot of subtle rules in order to speak with people appropriately.

These days, you can learn Japanese online through helpful videos and audio tutorials. You can download apps for your iPad or find a speaking partner to communicate with on Skype. If I succeeded in learning Japanese, I would feel incredibly proud of myself for learning such a challenging language, and I would also feel excited to plan a trip to Japan, knowing that I could explore more easily with my newfound linguistic skills.


In order to answer an IELTS speaking part 2 question adequately, you need to read the cue card very carefully to ensure that you understand the question. Next, you need to plan out your answer and write down a few notes to help you. Finally, you should deliver your answer calmly and confidently.

If you prefer to watch the video of this lesson and hear me read my sample answer, you can find it on YouTube: