Childhood is one of the most common IELTS topics, and may appear in any of the three parts of the speaking exam. You can expect to be asked about your childhood memories, including ideas like friendship and hobbies, as well as more difficult questions about childhood in general.
IELTS Vocabulary for Childhood
There is not a lot of vocabulary that is essential for the IELTS speaking topic of childhood. Most of it is actually pretty general, like “friends” or “friendship” and “parents” and “parenting.” But here are some useful words and phrases to know:
- upbringing – the way a child is raised – ie “He had a strict upbringing.”
- bring up/brought up – the process of raising a child – ie “He was well-brought up.”
- have good manners – to be polite and well-behaved – ie “She has good manners. She always helps her neighbours.”
You also need to use some phrases regarding memories and remembering:
- lasting impression – something that affected you deeply
- takes me back – makes me recall something from the past
- _____ escapes me – I can’t quite remember
- flooding back – to suddenly remember in great detail
We also have an article about phrasal verbs for talking about childhood, which would also prove very useful.
Most importantly, though, you need a range of tenses. Talking about childhood obviously requires looking into the past, and often requires telling stories. To do this with accuracy, you need to be able to differentiate between times in the past.
Look at this story:
I remember coming home from school one time and seeing my brother covered in mud in the garden. He had been playing with the hose while mum and dad were out. I helped him get cleaned up, but he had gotten mud everywhere and it wasn’t easy. When mum and dad got home, they quickly figured out what had happened, but they found it funny. We still laugh about it today.
Notice how the verb tenses help tell the order of events. Some of these actions occur now in the present (remember, laugh) and others at various points in the past. By saying “had been playing”, we mark this action as occurring before “coming home from school.”
If you want help with your tenses, take a look at my book, Grammar for IELTS Writing.
You can see all of my IELTS books here.
Part One Questions
The topic of childhood may arise in IELTS speaking part 1. If it does, you will likely be asked simple questions about your own childhood memories. Here are some examples, with answers:
Q: What is your most vivid childhood memory?
A: I remember going out walking with my friends one day. We often used to go walking in the countryside near my home, and this time we walked really far over the fields. It started to rain really heavily, so we hid under a big tree, but then there was a thunderstorm, and you really shouldn’t stay under a tree when there’s lightning. It was really scary.
Q: Are you still in touch with your childhood friends?
A: Not really, no. We drifted apart over the years. I still get together with my best friend from primary school maybe once every year or two, but that’s all. I suppose I see what people are up to on Facebook.
Q: What was your favourite toy when you were a child?
A: Hmm… Let me think… I was really into dinosaurs when I was a child, I suppose my favourite toy would have been a dinosaur. Honestly, though, I can’t remember that much.
Q: Is it important for children to have fun? Why?
A: Well, yes, of course. As you get older, life tends to get more and more stressful. There are so many social and economic pressures that trouble us, so I think people should be allowed to enjoy their childhoods. I mean, just look at children. They are so innocent and carefree by their nature. Why should we spoil for them? Let them have fun.
Part Two Cue Card: Describe a Childhood Memory
Here is a potential cue card for IELTS speaking part 2:
Describe a happy childhood memory.
You should say:
- when and where the incident you remember happened
- who you were with
- what happened exactly
and explain why it is a happy memory.
You will begin by taking 1 minute to make some notes on the topic. You shouldn’t waste time by writing full sentences. Just note down some useful vocabulary, and perhaps a loose structure. In my opinion, the structure given in this cue card is actually logical and so I wouldn’t change it.
When I was about eight years old, my family took a trip to a beach on the other side of the country. It was a small holiday resort that we sometimes visited. We stayed in a caravan near this beautiful horse-shoe shaped beach, and all day I’d play in the sand. Most of the time we were together. We would play games on the beach and have picnics, although it was too cold to ever go swimming. Sometimes I would play on my own. I loved looking in rock pools for fish and crabs. On one occasion, I caught loads of crabs in my bucket and when it was time to go back to the caravan at the end of the day, my mum and dad told me I should put the crabs back into the water. I was so upset. However, they eventually convinced me that if I kept them then they’d die and so it was best to put them back. I always look back on that time fondly. Those were wonderful, carefree days with my family, and I learned an important lesson that day that has served me well in life.
Here’s a video I made about this cue card:
Part Three Questions
In part 3 of the IELTS speaking test, you often encounter questions about age and how it relates to many topics. You may be asked about children and technology or children and society. However, here we will look at more specific questions relating to childhood:
Q: Do you think people often idealise their childhoods?
A: Of course. I think that most people look back on their own childhoods with a sense of nostalgia. They remember that sense of innocence and freedom that they had, and how much that has been lost in adulthood. They also tend to look at today’s youth and feel that their own childhood was somehow better because they are now so detached from modern young people.
Q: How does a person’s childhood influence what kind of adult they become?
A: Well, it probably influences them in many ways, some of which are subtle and some obvious. For one example, if you have a happy, healthy childhood, you are probably more likely to become a well-adjusted adult. However, if you were subjected to bullying and abuse, you may replicate that behaviour as an adult.
Q: When does a child become an adult in your view?
A: Oh wow, that’s a difficult question. I suppose legally we are adults at 16 in my country, but more traditionally you are an adult at 21. For some things, you are also considered an adult at 18. However, I think growing into adulthood is more complex and inexact process. Some people mature very early and others very late, and there is probably no point at which any person could be said to have switched from childhood to adulthood.
There are so many ways that the IELTS topic of childhood could mix with other IELTS topics (education, weather, society, transport, etc). One question that you may even be asked in the speaking test is whether or not you had a childhood pet. In that case, you should know some vocabulary to discuss pets. Check out this vocabulary video that I made a few months ago:
Childhood is an important part of human life, and so it is also an important part of the IELTS exam. You should learn the basic vocabulary to discuss it as well as practice the above questions so you are ready to answer them if they arise in the speaking test.