In this lesson, we are going to talk about mobile phones. Why? These days, many people own mobile phones and they have become an integral part of our lives, so it is important to be able to talk about them and be familiar with the terms and words used in this technology. When something is really common in daily life, you can expect it will appear in the IELTS test… and you’d be right! There are various IELTS cue cards on mobile phones. We are going to look at some of them today.

What I want to do with this lesson is take you through various ways that mobile phones (or cell phones) can appear in the IELTS test. I will also teach you a few words and phrases that you might find useful, too. 😀

Here are the contents of this lesson:

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Speaking Practice
  3. Reading Practice
  4. Writing
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Mobile Phone or Cell Phone?

First of all, let’s address a question that many of you won’t know the answer to. Why do we have these two phrases – mobile phone and cell phone – in English?

The answer is quite simple, actually. In the UK, we say “mobile phone” and in America, they say “cell phone.”

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When you are doing IELTS, you can choose to use British or American English, but you should not use both. Therefore, when you pick mobile or cell, you should then stick with that kind of English.

You can read all about British vs American English here.

More Mobile Phone Vocabulary for IELTS

We can shorten those two phrases down to just “mobile” or “cell,” such as in the following dialogue:

  • Hey Sandra, do you have any signal on your cell?
  • Oh no, I dropped my mobile. I hope I can get it fixed.

Similarly, we can shorten them both to just “phone” like this:

  • Hey Sandra, do you have any signal on your phone?
  • Oh no, I dropped my phone. I hope I can get it fixed.

It’s basically the same thing. In the past, we differentiated because people had phones in their house and then later in their pockets. Now, we mostly just have mobile phones and so we say “phone” to mean any kind.

Here is some useful mobile phone vocabulary for IELTS:

WordMeaning
LandlineA sort of phone that is attached to your house – ie not portable
SignalThe amount of reception that you can receive on your phone
DataThe amount that you can download on your phone (via 3G/4G)
Screen timeThe amount of time you spend on your phone
BurnerA phone that you can use and throw away (this is uncommon and not really useful for IELTS actually – but you might hear it in movies!)
ScrollMeaning to move up and down a screen with your finger
RingThe noise a phone makes when someone calls it

Mobile Phone Speaking Questions

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Because phones are now such a common occurrence in daily life, they can appear in the IELTS speaking test quite frequently. Almost everyone has a phone now, so this is a pretty universal topic. You might find questions like these in part one of the test:

  • Do you have a mobile phone?
  • How often do you use your mobile phone?
  • Can you describe your mobile phone?
  • Do you ever use a mobile phone for shopping?
  • What was your first mobile phone?
  • Do people use mobile phones too much these days?
  • Would you buy a new one in the future?
  • How has your mobile phone changed your life?

For these sorts of answers, you don’t know need to say much in reply but avoid an answer that is unreasonably short, such as “Yes.” Instead, we can elaborate a little on the topic, like this:

Q: Do you have a mobile phone?

A: Yeah, I have an iPhone 7 that I bought in 2018. I use it mostly for sending messages and checking the news, but I don’t think that I’m glued to it like most people are.

This is just two sentences but it answers the question and goes a little further, giving some extra detail without straying too far from the topic.

Cue Card on Mobile Phones

While you could definitely encounter the topic of mobile phones in the first part of the IELTS speaking test, they are pretty common in part two as well. You might find yourself dealing with a mobile phone cue card in your next test.

If you do, it will say “Describe…” and then give you some sort of prompt that will tell you what you need to do. For example:

Describe your first mobile phone.

You should say:

when you got this phone

– how much it cost

– what it looked like

– and how different it is to the technology you use today.

That is just one example of an IELTS speaking cue card about mobile phones. Of course, there could be others.

Here is another mobile phone cue card that I have recently seen:

Describe a time you were not allowed to use a mobile phone.

You should say :

– what you did

– when it was

– where it was

why you were not allowed to use a mobile phone

In either case, you would be required to talk at length on this subject, so the vocabulary above would be quite helpful for you. However, beyond specific phone vocabulary, you should also have a decent grasp of grammar and some basic English phrases because phones tend to intersect with normal life.

Sample Answer – Describe Your First Mobile Phone

Here is my sample answer to the first of those cue cards:

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It’s a long time ago now but I think my first phone was a Motorola, which was the big brand at the time, and it was on a Vodaphone contract, as they were one of the only companies around that did mobile phones. The phone itself was this big clunky thing with a long antenna on the top and lots of buttons. The only small thing was the screen, which is strange when you think about how phones are nowadays.

I did not really use it for much because I was probably fourteen years old and it was about 1994, when no one had a phone. I couldn’t call my friends and even if they had phones, it was probably too expensive. Honestly, it was useless back then.

I don’t remember how much it cost but most technology like that was expensive. I think my dad had gotten it from his work and then did not use it, so he gave it to me. Also, I did not really use it so it probably got thrown out before long, but it was interesting to have this early technology.

After that, I actually shied away from phones for a long time and only got my first smartphone in 2014! Since then, however, I have become as much of a phone zombie as anyone else. I send messages, check my e-mail, read the news, and take photos. It’s weird that they can do that now. My first phone did almost nothing!

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A Final Words on Mobile Phones and IELTS Speaking

If you are asked about phones and speaking, don’t worry about the technically vocabulary and just give an honest answer. You don’t need to know about accelerometers and so on. Just talk about what you use it for – communicating with friends, taking photos, checking messages, etc. This is fine.

You may also be asked about phones in part three. This may be about age or gender, so you might be asked something like, “Do you think that old people struggle to adapt to new technology?” or “Do men like high tech gadgets more than women?” In such cases, you can talk about phones.

Of course, you can also talk about mobile phones even when they were not explicitly mentioned in the question. Take a look at one final cue card that could be answered with information about a mobile phone:

Describe a thing that you possess and which is important to you.

You should say:

– what is it and who gave it to you

– what is the speciality of it

– would you ever give it to someone else

and explain why it is important to you.

I think that many people would happily use their mobile phone as the example for answering this question! Just read the cue card carefully. It’s not enough to know it’s a mobile phone cue card. You need to know the specifics.

How to Answer a Cue Card

I have talked many times on this website about how to answer IELTS cue cards so that you can do really well in the speaking test. You need to do a few things:

  1. Analyse the question
  2. Plan your answer
  3. Make notes
  4. Deliver your answer

This requires fast thinking, time management, and a cool head. Do not become overly nervous or you may speak too fast. Also, avoid writing too many notes. It will not help you when it comes to actually giving your answer.

IELTS Reading Practice – Phones

Do you know anything about the history of phones, and the history, in particular, of mobile phones? Let’s continue our exploration of this IELTS topic by looking into the history of this now-ubiquitous device. You should pay attention to the language used in these passages and think about how you could apply it to an IELTS cue card about mobile phones in order to give a better answer.

Read the following passage and then answer these questions:

  1. Who is credited with inventing the phone?
  2. Who received the first phone call?
  3. When was the first transatlantic phone call?

(You can find the answers at the bottom of the page.)

A Brief History of Telephones

Several people are credited with inventing the first telephone but it was an American, Alexander Graham Bell, who filed the first patent for the telephone in 1876. Later that year Bell made the first ever voice transmission from one telephone to another, when he said these words to his assistant: ‘Mister Watson, come here, I want to see you’.

The telephone developed over the next one hundred years or so. The first call from coast to coast in America was made in 1915, from New York to San Francisco. The first transatlantic call was made in 1927 from the United States to the United Kingdom.

All these phone calls had one thing in common: the telephones had to be connected to each other by a cable, usually a copper wire, even across the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, these systems have become known as fixed line, or landline systems.

One hundred years after that first phone call by Bell, inventors were working hard to make a phone that did not need the copper cable and could talk to each other, or communicate, using radio waves in the air, and therefore could be mobile, not fixed.

Now, read the next passage and decide whether these statements are TRUE or FALSE:

  1. The first commercial mobile phone network was available in 1973.
  2. A Scandinavian company launched the first mobile network.
  3. The 2G system was started in 1991.

The First Mobile Phones

In 1973 the Motorola company demonstrated the first such phone. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that the first commercial mobile phone was available.

The first commercial network of mobile phone towers was built in Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, NTT, in 1979. This was an analogue, not a digital system, and because it was the first such system, it later became known as 1G, or First Generation.

A similar system was set up in 1981 by the Scandinavian company Nordic Mobile Telephone, or NMT. It operated in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

By 1991 further developments in technology made it possible for the mobile phone networks to operate using digital signals, rather than analogue. It was necessary to define standards so that all the countries using this technology were using the same rules and specifications. Because this was the next step in the development, it was called 2G, or Second Generation. The standards for it were called GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications.

More Vocabulary!

How are we going so far?

You do not have to remember any details of this history—you do not need to know these dates, or names. The important thing is that you are familiar with some of the major terms used when speaking about mobile phones. What terms have we come across so far?

Analogue – note that this is spelt this way in British English, but is spelt analog in American English – both are correct, it just depends where you are. What does it mean? Think of vinyl music recordings, or records, which are analogue, and music on CD, which is digital.

1G – this means First Generation, and is the name given to the first mobile phone systems, which used analogue technology.

2G – this means Second Generation, and was the first of the digital mobile phone systems.

GSM – this stands for Global System for Mobile communications, and is a set of rules and specifications by which the new digital systems were required to comply.

You do not need to remember what these are, but it makes it easier to confidently use these terms if you understand a little of the background to them, and have a general idea of how they came to be used—how they became a part of our language.

Later, I will provide you with a cue card on mobile phone terms, and also a mobile phone speaking cue card, but for now let us continue with our discussion of mobile phones.

Back to Reading

Fill in the blanks for this next passage with words from the following:

keypad / usable / cell phones / differentiate / connect / calculator

Early Mobile Phones

During the 1980s and 1990s mobile phones were quite ___7___, but by today’s standards, quite basic. You may be familiar with them.

They have a small screen and a standard ___8___, with the numbers 1 through 9, plus a 0, and often one or two other keys as well. At first, they were just called mobile phones, or ___9___, but now, as we look back at them we need a term to describe them, and ___10___ them from the latest phones—so they are called feature phones.

These phones had a basic ability to ___11___ to the internet, but essentially they were used to make phone calls, and to send brief text messages. They may also have had such things as a ___12___ built into the software, or perhaps a simple game.

Summary Completion

Fill in the gaps using no more than THREE WORDS from the text:

  • It may seem like magic, but we can talk with people from all over the world on our mobile phones because they connect via a system of ____13____. The circular areas around these are called sometimes called ____14____, giving the phones their American name, which is short for “cellular.” Even if you said this in another country, people would probably know _____15_____.

Mobile phone / Cell phone – is there a difference?

Mobile phones connect to each other, and all around the world, by communicating with towers. Each tower covers a certain radius of perhaps many kilometres, depending upon the terrain or the buildings around it.  Mobile phones automatically connect to the best tower, usually the closest one, and will connect to another tower if the user has moved some distance by walking, driving, or on a train. So the phone is operating in little circular areas, areas that look like cells, if you drew them on a map.

Such phones came to be called cellular phones, which is usually shortened to cell phone, and sometimes, particularly in America, to just cell‘Hey, I see you have a new cell!’

In America and other countries close to that area, mobile phones are usually referred to as cell phones, whereas, in other countries, they are usually referred to as mobile phones. Both terms mean exactly the same thing, it is simply a case of using whichever term is more appropriate. But whichever term you use, pretty well everyone will know what you mean.

IELTS Writing – Mobile Phones

In this final section of the lesson, I would like to talk to you about IELTS writing and mobile phones. Let’s start by reading this passage from the end of the mobile phone article that we have been reading. We are not going to answer any more reading questions, but instead will use it as inspiration to answer the IELTS writing question that will follow.

As technology develops, communication companies develop better ways of doing things. With mobile phone technology, and the technology of the towers and other equipment, this means that they can have more phones operating from a tower at the same time, they can provide clearer signals, more features, and so on. The detail of all that is not for us to worry about. We are just getting you familiar with the terms that are used.

Suffice to say that 3G, or Third Generation mobile phone technology began in about 2001, and 4G, or Fourth Generation mobile phone technology began in about 2009.

And in 2020, companies around the world are using 5G, or Fifth Generation.

In 2007, Apple—the company that makes computers and software—released the first iPhone. This was a smartphone. Why is it called that?

It has a large screen, filled with icons, and has a lot of software, called apps, which is short for applications—little programs that can be anything from a calculator, a game, an email program, an internet browser or many other things. It is really just like a small computer that also makes phone calls. In other words, it is a smart phone, a smartphone.

Mobile phones have a little card in them so they can connect to the mobile phone network. It is called a SIM card, which means Subscriber Identity Module, but it’s much easier to just call it a SIM card don’t you think?

Some phones, such as the Apple iPhone, have a particular operating systemApple call it ‘iOS’, whereas many other phones use an operating system called Android, owned by the company Google.

Sample Band 9 Answer – Mobile Phones

Task 1 – a bar chart about mobile phones

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How would you describe this bar chart? To be honest, it doesn’t actually require any special phone knowledge… but having some good vocabulary is always useful. You might be able to incorporate some words like “handset” or “device” into it and give your essay slightly more flair.

Here is my model answer:

The bar chart shows sales figures for five different mobile phone brands in three different years. Two brands grew throughout the period and two saw constantly declining sales figures, while another remained pretty stable.

In 2009, the first year recorded, Nokia was the most popular phone brand, selling almost 450 million units. This fell slightly by 2011, but it plummeted thereafter, dropping to just 250 million units by the final year on record, 2013. This trend was also seen by LG phones, although they started at only 120 million units and dropped to about 75 million.

Samsung and Apple both experienced big jumps in sales figures, with Samsung moving from about 240 million units to around 450 million, meaning that its trend was the opposite of Nokia’s. Apple, meanwhile, jumped from about 20 million to around 150 million.

The figures for ZTE looked quite different, as it remained at around 50 million units in each of the three years recorded.

IELTS Writing Task 2 – Mobile Phones and Privacy

Here is the question I will attempt to answer:

Nowadays, technology is increasingly being used to monitor what people are saying and doing (for example, through cell phone tracking and security cameras). In many cases, the people being monitored are unaware that this is happening.

Do you think that the advantages of this development outweigh the disadvantages?

As you can see, it is quite complex. Having a good knowledge about phones and of English phone vocabulary can really help. You may be able to insert some specialist language about browsing or encrypted messages. However, even a basic knowledge will allow you to make a good performance.

Sample Band 9 Answer

In the twenty-first century, it is common for people’s actions and information to be monitored by others without their knowledge or consent. Opinion is strongly divided over this topic, with some people being adamantly opposed to such invasion of personal privacy, and others believing that it is necessary for our security. This essay will argue that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and as such this trend is dangerous for our future.

To begin with, as we move into an increasingly digital world, our personal data is mostly stored online. From dating profiles to photos to bank details, so much of what is important is now stored on computers. Much of this is available to governments and businesses without our knowledge, and it is even common for social media companies to sell our data to third parties in order to make profits. This leads to large organizations knowing more about our lives than we ever wanted them to. Our data should be our personal property, and we should have more say over how it is handled.

In addition, with the ever-present threat of global terrorism, government agencies are constantly monitoring people around the world. They do this by watching us on security cameras and also eavesdropping on our phone and email communication. This is ostensibly a positive thing as it should keep us safer, but in fact it is causing people to lose their privacy. If this is part of the fight against terrorism, then the terrorists have won because we are losing our personal freedoms each day.

In conclusion, although there are doubtless benefits to our lives being monitored by others, the disadvantages are greater because individuals are losing their rights and freedoms in various ways.

Now for some revision

Let’s look back through the text above and see if we can talk about some of the terms we used. Remember, you don’t have to remember the dates, or the names, or the facts. What is important is that you are comfortable and confident in using the terms, so that you can confidently use them in your writing and in your conversation.

How would you describe to someone what 2G was?

Let me have a go, so you know what I mean:

‘2G stands for Second Generation. It was the second  version of the technology used by mobile phones. It was the first however, to be digital, as 1G, or First Generation, was analogue. We are up to 4G now, and 5G is happening too.’

Imagine you are with a friend, and that friend has just acquired their first mobile phone, and is asking you about some things from the past because they are interested to learn.

What I want you to do is to figure out what you want to say, then I’d like you to say it out loud, and then I’d like you to write it down. It is important you say it out loud, because it is important that your ears hear the words you are saying, don’t just say it in your head. This is most important to your learning process.

How would you describe:

3G?

A feature phone?

A smartphone?

Tell your friend some of the companies who make smartphones.

Now let’s move on to talking about you, and maybe, your phone.

Do you have a mobile phone? It doesn’t matter if you don’t.

If you do have a mobile phone, what sort is it? Would you like to have a newer model? If so, why would you like to have a newer model?

If you don’t have a mobile phone, which one would you buy if you could choose any one, and why?

What are some of the things you do on your mobile phone? That is, how do you use it mostly?

Here is my answer:

‘Oh, I mostly use it to call my friends, and to send text messages. Sometimes I use it for email, or to surf the internet. I also use it a lot to take photos.’

What would your answer be? Remember, figure out what your answer is – say it out loud – then write it down, then, read out loud what you have written down. Does it sound right? If not, why not? The important thing is to use the correct terms, to say them properly, to spell them properly, and to use correct punctuation when writing. Don’t hurry, take your time.

What are some other phrases we might use when we are talking about mobile phones?

When you get to school, can you please call me on your mobile phone so I know you arrived safely?

My mobile phone doesn’t work, so I have to go to the phone shop and get it fixed.

You have a new iPhone? What model is it?

My friend in America has a new cell phone. I think it is a Samsung.

Answers

Reading

1) Alexander Graham Bell 2) Mister Watson 3) 1927 4) F 5) F 6)T usable 8) keypad 9) cell phones 10) differentiate 11) connect 12) calculator 13) towers 14) cells 15) what you mean