In the IELTS exam, you sometimes have to talk about families. We have discussed that before on this blog, looking at common questions and vocabulary for family and friends. However, today we will look specifically at part 2 of the IELTS speaking test and a cue card that says “Describe someone in your family.”

In this lesson, we will look at how to give a good answer to this cue card by analysing it properly, picking the right vocabulary, and then speaking confidently.

Cue Card: Describe Someone in your Family

In part 2 of the IELTS speaking test, you will be shown a cue card on which there will be a task for you to complete. This will tell you to describe something – a person, a place, a memory, etc. Today, we will look at a cue card about describing a person:

Describe someone in your family who you really admire.

You should say:

– what relation this person is to you

– what are your first memories of this person

– how often you see this person

and explain why you really admire this person.

First of all, it is worth considering what exactly we must describe:

  1. It should be someone in my family (not another person’s family)
  2. It should be someone that I really admire

The bullet points contain some things that I should aim to talk about, but it’s not vitally important that I do this. To be honest, they typically provide a good framework that can help you give a fluent answer, but don’t worry too much about them. You won’t lose marks for missing one or talking about other (on-topic) things.

Language for Describing Family Members

I written before about language for describing families and friends. You can learn some words in this slideshow:

Today, though, let’s look at appropriate language for describing a specific person. Think carefully about what you might need to say. Here are some words/phrases stemming from the ideas suggested in the bullet points:

what relation this person is to youWords like mother/mum, father/dad, brother, sister, cousin, grandmother/grandma/granny, etc. You can also say things like “we are very close.”
what are your first memories of this personHere, grammar is very important. Past simple and past perfect could be necessary. Also make sure to know words related to your situation at that time.
how often you see this personAgain, grammar is essential. In this case, present simple will most likely be necessary, but other tenses may reflect important truths.
why you really admire this personThink of language related to personal attributes and qualities: trustworthy, honest, hilarious, intelligent, caring, etc.

When we talk about people, it is good to provide a sort of verbal portrait of them. This is really hard to do, even for native speakers, but if you can do it reasonably well, it will show the examiner that you have a good grasp of English.

Culturally, people in English-speaking countries now try to steer clear of physical descriptions of people because it can sometimes be seen as offensive. However, in other countries, it is still common. When I was in China, all my students would say, “My mother is very beautiful” or “My brother is very handsome.” It sounds weird to a native speaker of English, but it’s not wrong exactly. Instead, I would recommend using personality adjectives:

Making Notes

You only have 1 minute to make notes, so do it quickly and efficiently. Don’t write too much – just write down words that will help you remember what to say later, and also any important vocabulary that you could use.

Avoid wasting time by thinking too much about who you should describe! You have no time to waste. Instead, focus on picking a person quickly and then how to describe them well.

Here are some ideas:

  • cousin
  • playing football
  • infrequently
  • integrity

As you can see, my notes are very brief. These correspond to the points on the cue card, and I have included two good words – “infrequently” and “integrity”.

Sample Band 9 Answer

I really admire one of my cousins. He’s about two years older than me, so I’ve known him all my life. When I was very young, my mum and my aunt spent a lot of time together and so my cousin and I would often play together in his garden. Mostly we played football, but we did other things too. We were very close at that time, although in later years we saw each other less and less. Still, we sometimes see each other; just a little infrequently. I live abroad now, but whenever I go home I try to meet him and we hang out for a while. We maybe see each other about once every year or two. He is now married with two young children, and I feel very happy when I see photos of his family and think about how well his life has gone.

I think that I’ve always looked up to him to some extent. Maybe it’s because he has a lot of integrity. Ever since I’ve known him, I’ve been impressed by his honesty. He’s a really great guy – very generous and compassionate. Most people are attracted to his sense of humour, actually. He’s very funny and also quite optimistic, so people naturally gravitate towards him. It’s for all of those reasons and more that I admire him.

Notes on the Answer

I have used verb tenses carefully to reflect the reality of our relationship throughout this speech. Note these parts:

  • I’ve known him all my life

This is present perfect tense. It shows that I knew him in the past and continue to know him now.

  • my aunt spent a lot of time together
  • we played football

I used past simple often for things that happened in the past but also finished in the past. Remember that if they could continue now, you would use present perfect.

  • I live abroad now
  • He is now married

When I switched to talk about the present, I used present simple. Again, it is very important to use verb tenses to show this accurately. The wrong verb tense could lead to a lot of confusion!

Let’s also note the vocabulary used:

  • looked up to him
  • integrity
  • honesty
  • generous
  • compassionate
  • optimistic
  • gravitate towards

All of these words and phrases are really useful for describing people! They can make your descriptions vivid and compelling.

Animated Version

On my various social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), I like to post visual lessons. Here is one made from the above sample answer. It provides a little more detail: