In the IELTS speaking test, you could be asked about traditions. This could actually appear in any of the three parts of the speaking exam, but today we are going to look at part two. Here, you would be given a cue card that says something like “describe a tradition.”

In this lesson, you will learn how to handle this sort of cue card, make notes, pick the right language, and I will also give you my own sample answer.

What Out for Fake Cue Cards

First of all, if you want to learn about IELTS then you need to understand the exam. Unfortunately, most IELTS websites are run by people who cannot speak English well and who do not understand IELTS. For example, look at these excerpts from other posts on this topic:

fake ielts question
bad ielts question

It is appalling that these people feel they are qualified to give advice on IELTS when they cannot even understand the basic structure of a question. Let me explain further: They have both fallen into the trap of thinking the bullet points in an IELTS cue card are questions. They are not. This is shockingly bad grammar. They also seem to think that the last part, which is an instruction, is a question.

To be honest, these people would score a maximum of band 6 in their IELTS test. Do not trust them. You can learn more about good and bad IELTS websites here.

IELTS Cue Card: Describe a Tradition in your Country

Here is a more realistic version of the fake cue card above:

Describe a tradition in your country.

You should say:

– what it is

– who takes part in it

– when does it happen

and explain how you feel about it.

Here, you are given a pretty simple task. You must think of a tradition in your country and you should do the following things:

  1. explain what it is
  2. talk about the people involved
  3. describe the tradition in terms of activities
  4. give your personal opinion about it

I don’t feel that there is anything complicated about this, so I won’t spend more time analysing it here. Instead, we can skip ahead to brainstorming our answer.

Thinking of an Answer Quickly

When you are doing IELTS speaking part two, you should try to think of an answer as fast as possible. Remember that you only have one minute to prepare, so it would be a waste of time to change your mind later.

I am from Scotland and these days we are a quite modern, multicultural society, so there are not many traditions that spring to mind. Also, I have not lived in Scotland for many years because I tend to work in different countries. As such, I have a problem!

how to think of answers for ielts speaking

I would have to pick the first thing that popped into my mind and then develop it as best I can. It would not be the perfect reply, but that is not the purpose of IELTS. No one is expected to prepare an amazing answer over several weeks. This is a test of English speaking skills, and that means thinking on your feet.

Choosing the Right Language

As always, it is hard to give advice on vocabulary about traditions because it will depend entirely upon your country and culture. A Chinese person might have totally different things to describe from a French person or a Pakistani person.

Instead, let’s think about the idea of traditions and some vocabulary that might apply widely.

traditionalthe adjective form of “tradition.”It is traditional for the men in the village to climb the sacred mountain.
belief(noun) something that someone believesThe local people have a variety of beliefs stemming from ancient times.
custom(noun) a way of behaving or a belief that has been established for a long timeThe local customs are quite complicated but absolutely fascinating.
folklore(noun) the traditional stories and culture of a group of peopleJapanese folklore includes various deities that people nowadays still revere.
habit(noun) something that people do often and regularlyIn our town, we have various interesting habits relating to our history.
heritage(noun) features belonging to the culture of a particular societyThe people there are fiercely defensive about their heritage, so don’t question it.
myth(noun) a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a peopleWe have various myths that people still sort of believe and which define our culture.
practice(noun) something that is usually or regularly doneDuring this festival, there are various unique practices that people still observe.

It is also quite useful to consider grammar. When you are describing traditions, you will most likely be talking about repeated actions. As such, you should use the present simple tense. This is because present simple allows us to describe actions that happen routinely. For example:

  • We light the candles and eat a special kind of food.

Here the verbs “light” and “eat” are in present simple form. This shows that they happened in the past, could happen in the present, and will probably happen in the future.

Making Notes on the Cue Card

During your one minute of preparation time, you will be able to make a few notes to help guide you as you attempt to speak for up to two minutes. It is important not to write too much here or else you will note adequately use your time. It is hard to write much in just one minute.

I recommend writing down a few useful words to help you remember important ideas or vocabulary. For example, I would write:

  • Hogmanay
  • Superstition
  • Shortbread

Sample Band 9 Answer

I come from Scotland and we have many traditions there, but the one that first comes to mind is called “first footing.” This is not common around the world and I believe that it is unique to Scotland. Basically, it is a part of our Hogmanay celebrations. That’s the name we give to New Year in Scotland. This is a really important holiday for us and first footing was traditionally an important part of it.

A first footer is the person who first visits a house at the start of a new year. I suppose it could be anyone but it is considered good luck for it to be a tall, dark-haired man and he should carry some sort of small gift to give the homeowner. This could be a piece of shortbread, for example, which is a traditional Scottish food, or else a dram of whisky is also fine.

Nowadays, it is still very common to carry out this tradition but we are not as superstitious as we used to be. I suppose you don’t have to be tall, dark-haired, or even male to be a first footer anymore. Still, though, I think that most homes send someone outside to go and ring the doorbell after midnight. It is just a custom that has carried on over the years.

I am not really a traditional person but I do appreciate this sort of practice because I think it is a unique and beautiful part of a culture. I have first footed several times myself and it is an interesting experience that I will probably continue to do in the future.

Notes on the Sample Answer

You can see that my answer is a little short, but it would still take me about a minute and a half to read unless I went too quickly. (This is something you should definitely avoid!) I have tried to avoid repetition but I have used “tradition” and “traditional” a few times.

You can see that I have used some of the vocabulary introduced above:

  • custom
  • practice

Another good word is “superstitious.” This “believing in something that is not true.” It tends to refer to small things regarding bad luck. I have also used “unique” twice to emphasise the fact that this tradition is specific to my country.