Using news articles to develop vocabulary for IELTS – Part 1

Vocabulary is worth 25% of your marks in the IELTS Writing and Speaking tests but sometimes I feel like it’s the forgotten skill. My students are often so fixated on improving their grammar that they’re surprised to hear that their vocabulary needs just as much – or even more attention.

Building up a good range of vocabulary on different topic areas takes time so I’ve written a series of two blog posts to look at how reading newspaper articles can really help. This first post in the series focuses on why news articles are so useful in IELTS preparation and the strategies you can use to improve your vocabulary. The second post will suggest some activities you can do at home to use and remember the new language learned. It will also share a list of some useful websites to find suitable articles.

Why news articles?

IELTS is essentially an English test with its roots in current affairs – i.e. subjects that the majority of people are interested in on a day to day basis. Therefore, the topics that you come across in the test – like education, health, the environment, work and culture - are all commonly covered in the news.

Not only that, news articles are normally clearly written in plain English making them easy to understand.

Learning language in chunks

First of all, the most effective way to learn new language is in chunks or collocations rather than individual words.

For example, if you come across the word ‘funding’ in a news article and you’d like to remember it, look at the other words that it’s used with. Chances are, those words are commonly found together in texts – which means that they form a collocation.

You can find out more about collocations on this blog post about learning languages in chunks by following this link.

Noticing language

When you’re reading news articles with the aim of learning new vocabulary, noticing vocabulary is so important.

Let’s illustrate this a bit more. I’ve just finished reading an article from the UK’s BBC website on university funding in Scotland. You can read it here. I’ve noticed that the word ‘funding’ is used several times – unsurprisingly as that’s the topic of the article – but I want to see how it’s used.

Here’s a few chunks I’ve noted down (the collocations with the word ‘funding’ are in bold):

· The headline which is: Universities fear more funding cuts and borrowing

· the value of central funding had fallen significantly

· there was a 12% real-terms cut in funding over seven years

· universities were facing increased costs, further funding cuts and more reliance on borrowing

· institutions receive appropriate levels of public funding for the services they deliver

Recording language

It’s essential that you record new language – ideally in a dedicated vocabulary notebook, organised by common IELTS topics. Again, we’ve provided information on how to record new collocations in the blog post about language chunks mentioned previously by clicking here.

Activities to help you remember and use your new language

In the next blog post, I’m going to provide you with a list of 6 simple and practical activities to help you really learn the vocabulary you find in news articles. I’m also going to share a list of some of the websites I recommend to my IELTS students where you can find well-written news articles, including those written in easier English.

Tell us what you think

Do you use news articles to help you prepare for IELTS? If so, drop us a comment and let us know how they’ve helped you.