There are many different topics that come up in the IELTS exam, and one of them is transport. This is not a main topic that would necessarily appear by itself, but rather one that would probably be mixed with other topics like society or technology.

Nonetheless, it is an important everyday issue and thus it is quite a common feature of the IELTS exam. It could be in a question you are asked for speaking, you might have to write an essay on it for writing, or you could find it mentioned in the listening or reading exams. Basically, it’s common and so it’s important.

I’m sure that anyone reading this article is able to say a few things about technology. You probably know the basic vocabulary – car, bus, train, airplane, and so on. But can you talk at length about them? Do you know some synonyms for these words or methods to talk about them? How about less common modes of transport? What about the prepositions that you should use when talking about modes of transport?

Today, I am going to teach you some vocabulary and grammar for the IELTS topic of transport, and then we will look at some sample questions and answers from the actual exam.

Transport Vocabulary

As I said before, you are probably familiar with many of the most important words of transport vocabulary that would be required for a good IELTS score. You wouldn’t need to know any particularly obscure words (although it might help you a little) such as the internal parts of an engine or the names of archaic forms of transport.

I have put together a short PPT that contains some transport vocabulary that might help you with your IELTS preparation. Obviously, I have not included “car” and “bus” because these are too easy. I have tried to include some more advanced words that might help you talk more accurately about the topic.

Grammar and Transport

Prepositions

It is never enough just to know some words for IELTS. Words are only useful when you can join them with other words in order to make a full clause or sentence. As such, you should think about collocations – that means groups of words that naturally go together.

One thing that many English learns find tricky is the way that prepositions are used with transport. We use “in” or “on” but there appears to be no logical distinction between the two:

In On
in a car on a bus
in a tax/cab on a train
in a helicopter on a plane
in a boat on a boat/ship
in a van/lorry/truck on a bike/motorbike
in the subway on the subway

If you were to think of a rule, it seems that in many cases, when you are inside something, you can say “in” it – such as a car. However, there are also things that you are inside, like a train or plane, for which we say “on.” As such, there is no perfect rule to remember how to use these!

You can also see that there were some cases when “on” and “in” were both possible. We can say “in a boat” or “on a boat,” although there is a difference. If I am “in a boat” then it is a small boat, but if I am “on a boat” then it a big one. We are unlikely to say “in the subway” but it is possible. More commonly, “in the subway” means “in the subway system,” while “on the subway” means “on the subway train.”

There are other collocations, of course, that you can learn in your studies. One of them involves the word “crash.” A lot of people know this word but don’t know how to use it. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I crashed my car last week.
  • The bus crashed into a lamppost.
  • There was a terrible plane crash.

As you can see, we use “crash” as a verb followed by a noun phrase when we don’t say what was crashed into. We can also follow the verb with “into” and then explain what the thing (which came before the verb) crashed into. Finally, we can use it as a noun.

I recently encountered an IELTS student using “crash” to refer to the dangers of children playing near roads. He said that cars might “crash into children.”

This is very logical, but actually it is not correct. When we talk about cars hitting people, we do not say “crash” because this refers to two big things (a car and a wall, for example). For hitting people, we might say something like the following:

  • A young boy was run over (by a car) last weekend.
  • You must be careful not to hit anyone while driving through a village.
  • The old lady was run down by a speeding driver.

Tenses

To be able to talk about transport, like anything else, you need to be able to use tenses accurately and to make sure that they match correctly with the subject of the sentence.

Look at the following and find out what is wrong with it:

These days, traffic in the cities can be very heavy, so bike is a good way to get to work or school.

In this case, actually the verb is correct but the noun is wrong. We should use the present simple and a plural subject: “bikes are a good way…” The reason for this is that when we state general facts or opinions, we should use this tense. We also use the plural form of the noun in most cases, although it is possible to pick one hypothetical example:

These days, traffic in the cities can be very heavy, so a bike is a good way to get to work or school.

When you are talking about your own experiences, you will probably use past tenses, but if it is an on-going part of your life you may use the present simple. For example, you might say something like:

When I was in school, I took the bus from outside my parents’ house, but later at university I lived on campus and so I walked. These days, I mostly cycle to work, but I hope to buy a car so that I can drive to work in future because it gets a bit too cold in winter.

Here, we began talking about the past, so we used past simple (took, walked). However, the discussion moved into the present, so the present tense was correct (cycle) and then when the future was appropriate, I used that (drive).

IELTS Speaking Questions about Transport

There are many possible questions that could occur in the IELTS speaking test related to the topic of transport. Let’s look at a few of them and I will write some sample answers for you, with highlighted words and phrases. The following three questions are from part one of the speaking test.

Q: How did you get here today?

A: I drove here from my home. It’s actually my parents’ car, but they lent it to me for the day.

Q: Do you ever use public transportation?

A: Yes, I sometimes take the bus or subway, but it depends where I’m going. I passed my driving test a few years ago so when I can borrow a car, I will drive, but otherwise I rely on public transport.

Q: Is there a lot of traffic congestion in your hometown?

A: No, it’s not too bad actually. In fact, there is almost never a traffic jam. The only problem we have is that sometimes cars go too fast through the quiet streets, which is dangerous considering that children often play by the roads.

IELTS Writing and the Topic of Transportation

The topic of transport could appear in either part of the IELTS writing test. For task one, it is possible that you would have questions about a line graph or bar chart showing different types of transport, or perhaps a map that includes roads. For task two, it’s probable that you will be asked to discuss an issue such as reducing pollution in cities.

If you want to learn about describing graphs, this video is a great starting place.

Below, I will give you a sample answer for both a task one and task two question. Again, I will highlight some useful words and phrases.

Task 1 Question

The following bar chart shows the different modes of transport used to travel to and from work in one European city in 1960, 1980 and 2000.

european transportation - IELTS Topics: Transport

Sample Answer

The bar chart compares modes of transportation for people commuting to work in a European city. It looks at data from a forty year period, beginning in 1960 and ending in 2000. There were significant changes during this time.

In 1960, the most popular means of getting to work was by walking, with nearly 35% of people choosing to go on foot. Similarly, a quarter of people chose to cycle to work. These methods were far more popular than taking a car, which only about 5% of people did.

These data saw a complete reversal over the next forty years, with walking and cycling falling in popularity, while driving skyrocketed to become the most common method of commuting. By 2000, the figures for these three methods had nearly inverted.

Buses, on the other hand, started and ended the period at around the same level, although they spiked in popularity in 1980, briefly being the chosen type of transport for about a quarter of people.

Task 2 Question

Some people think it is necessary to spend large sums of money on constructing new railway lines for very fast trains between cities. Others believe the money should be spent on improving existing public transport.

Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.

Sample Answer

There is usually significant debate when it comes to very large sums of money being spent on infrastructure improvements. In recent years, it has become common for countries to invest in high-speed rail projects that connect the whole country, but this is often criticized when that money could have alternatively been spent upgrading existing transport systems. This essay will explore both perspectives, and decide that both ideas have merit.

High-speed rail is a great way of moving people around a country quickly and with comparatively little damage to the environment. As such, governments around the world are quick to invest in such schemes. The benefits are obvious: these trains can move large numbers of people across hundreds of miles in just a few hours, making them faster and more economical than cars. Although a plane is quicker, trains are more environmentally-friendly and involve less hassle than going to an airport.

However, high-speed rail is quite expensive, and when governments suggest building them, others often point out that there are already public transportation networks in the country that could be vastly improved with that same money. In small countries like the UK, existing railway lines could be upgraded to keep them running smoothly instead of building new ones. Moreover, the money could be spent on improving buses and trams, or repairing damage to roads to keep traffic flowing.

There is no easy answer to this debate, but it is clear that both investing in high-speed rail and investing in the existing infrastructure could potentially yield great benefits for a country.