Answering IELTS questions about hometown extreme weather and climate change.

In England, we love talking about the weather. This national hobby is not going away with climate change. When I first wrote this article, it was the 1st of November, and the day before was Halloween. Temperatures were hot for this time of year. By contrast, this got me thinking about a mistake I often hear my Russian IELTS students making when they talk to me about winter in Moscow.

An IELTS Speaking Part 1 question that is often used asks about your home town and to describe what you like and dislike about it. Russian students answering this question often tell me “our winters are strong”.

Winters can be bitter or harsh but not strong!

Here is a way to talk about a very cold winter, an extremely hot summer and some idioms suitable for IELTS Speaking Part 1. They are also useful for essays on climate change:

We get bitterly cold winters, lots of blizzards, and it’s freezing cold outside. I prefer to stay at home in the warm. – Russian student

In contrast, our winters in England have always tended to be mild and are getting even warmer. (Mild is the opposite to harsh/bitter). Our summers are sometimes blisteringly hot and often our green and pleasant land goes yellow in summer through lack of rainfall.

If you said “strong winter” it is not confusing. The examiner would understand you. But understanding the subtle differences in words can make all the difference and help you go from an IELTS band 7.0 score to IELTS band 8.0 in Speaking. The term winter collocates with bitter; it doesn’t collocate with strong.

Similarly, we call extreme heat blistering heat and these two words collocate together. This is a band 8.0 expression because not only is it a collocation, it is much rarer vocabulary and very precise in its meaning.

Note also, the language in the quotation above is suitable for IELTS Speaking Part 1 where you are proving your ability to make general conversation. If you are asked about the weather in your hometown it makes sense to talk about how it has changed, too.

Below I’ve put the link to the BBC news article, and some vocabulary to notice. They use some more formal vocabulary which would be useful in a serious answer about global warming in IELTS Speaking Part 3, and also useful if you are giving examples of rising temperatures in an essay on climate change for the IELTS Writing Test.

  • “…since records began”
    • Q1: Has Halloween ever been this mild before?
  • “…set to stay like this”
    • Q2: Are the temperatures predicted to rise further? Are they expected to fall, or stay the same?
  • “…seasonal norms.”
    • Q3: What are the temperatures usually like at this time of year?

BBC News article talking about the weather this Halloween

All of these expressions are useful for describing weather that has changed since your childhood, both summer and winter. Maybe there used to be bitter winters, but nowadays the temperatures in the winter are above seasonal norms, or you just had the warmest winter on record or the wettest November since records began. These expressions are handy and are band 8.0 vocabulary.

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