In part 2 of the IELTS speaking test, you could be asked to describe a person. There are many different types of people you could be asked to talk about – a kind person, an interesting person, a helpful person, someone you admire, a famous person, a sportsperson, a family member, and so on. One possible task is being asked to describe a polite person.

In this lesson, I will show you how to answer this question by analysing the cue card, looking at some useful vocabulary, and then I’ll give you my own sample band 9 answer.

The Cue Card: Describe a Polite Person

As always, it is impossible to predict upcoming cue cards, but it can be useful to look at past ones in order to prepare more effectively. Thus, I will give you a sample (reported) cue card about a polite person. Here it is:

Describe a polite person you know.

You should say:

– who this person is

– how you met him/her

– whether you enjoy his/her company or not

and explain why you think he/she is a very polite person.

Keep in mind that even if you received this cue card in your next speaking test, it could have some subtle differences, so read it carefully and answer directly. Don’t make assumptions.

In any case, this cue card is asking you to talk about a person who has the following qualities:

  • They are polite
  • You know them

In other words, don’t talk about someone who is not polite or someone that you do not know. This may sound obvious, but stress makes people panic and say strange things.

As for the bullet points, you should aim to talk about them, but you don’t have to do it in order and if you missed one out it would not be a huge deal.

Language for Describing a Polite Person

When talking about a polite person, you might want to use some synonyms or related words in order to avoid saying “polite” over and over:

  • Affable
  • Attentive
  • Considerate
  • Courteous
  • Friendly
  • Good-natured
  • Gracious  
  • Neighbourly
  • Pleasant
  • Respectful
  • Thoughtful
  • Well-mannered

Most of these are pretty close synonyms and could be used in describing a polite person, but keep in mind that if you use a thesaurus, you will often get words that have slightly different meanings, so don’t just pick words that you think can be used interchangeably. More often than not, they can’t.

Also remember that, when it comes to avoiding repetition, you don’t just need to use synonyms, you can use pronouns and omission. You can even change the form of the word from adjective to noun in some cases, though this may still sound a bit repetitive.

It is also worth noting that, when talking about a person, you shouldn’t just say “He/she is very ___” over and over. You can give examples of that thing. For a polite person, you might talk about a time that they did something very polite that impressed you. This would allow different sorts of vocabulary and grammar.

Structuring your Answer

Remember that when it comes to IELTS speaking part 2, you have to talk for about 1-2 minutes and so it helps to have a bit of structure ready. I don’t mean an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion as you would in IELTS writing, but certainly it helps to give some form to your answer to avoid common problems like repetition and hesitation. I spoke about that here:

In that video, I recommended starting with a personal story. This could be a memory or opinion, but basically I find it helps to locate a natural introduction and then build logically from there. By making this process more organic, you can focus more on lining up grammar and choosing words than thinking of ideas because these will start coming to you more naturally.

Anyway, the important thing is to talk fluently, which can involve going from one idea to the next without much hesitation because your ideas are all logically connected. It is easier to start by saying “When I was fifteen, I met a man called…” than to say something boring like “The person I want to talk about today is…” This latter structure is artificial and unhelpful.

Sample Band 9 Answer

Growing up, I was lucky to know lots of polite people because I came from a part of the world where manners were valued and people prided themselves upon acting with decency. In particular, men aspired to be dignified and chivalrous, putting others before themselves and always acting deferential towards women. One of these people was my grandad.

Even though most people that I knew were very polite, he was by far the kindest and most well-mannered. He was a quiet but considerate man, always listening to others and never contradicting them. He would do the right thing, of course, but he was always willing to let others have their say and to treat people with the utmost respect. This applied to family, friends, and even strangers.

My grandad was a huge influence on me for this reason and I immensely enjoyed our time together. No matter where we went or what we did, I could see that people immediately liked and respected him and this came in large part from his attitude to others.

I suspect that his manners and decency came from various places, including his own upbringing. He was part of a generation that grew up with the legacy of chivalry that has, sadly, declined over the past few decades, and whilst most people threw away their own manners, he retained his and thus stood out from others as a person of tremendous character.

Notes on the Answer

In this answer, I started as usual with a personal story, which was my own experience of growing up. This allowed me to introduce the person I wanted to talk about in a natural way. Already, this gives the answer some natural framework that is interesting to listen to.

Rather than repeat “he is polite” over and over, I gave examples and explanations and this allowed me to use an array of useful language:

  • a part of the world where manners were valued
  • people prided themselves upon acting with decency
  • aspired to be dignified and chivalrous
  • acting deferential towards women
  • by far the kindest and most well-mannered
  • a quiet but considerate man
  • willing to let others have their say
  • treat people with the utmost respect
  • his attitude to others
  • the legacy of chivalry
  • a person of tremendous character

Note the range of language here. I have avoided repetition and used topic-specific words and phrases. This is really important and would ensure a great score for Lexical Resource.