Go Native! Using phrasal verbs to sound more natural.
I once worked with a very capable student, keen to get a high score in her IELTS test. Despite studying diligently, she was disappointed with her results. Her vocabulary was complex and she knew a lot of difficult words. To coin an old phrase, she had “swallowed a dictionary”, often talking as if she was lecturing to a group of Ivy League University professors. But something was missing. And it was this missing element which possibly prevented her getting a very high score in the test. Her rich store of words sounded formal and unnatural in the conversations we had. While the speaking part of a language test is not quite the same as talking to your Aunty Doris, you must remember that getting to know a language means being able to use native-like, or natural language. Listen carefully to native speakers. You'll see they don't speak in a very formal way, and they don't use the kind of vocabulary you'll find in an English Literature Professor's Journal. In the public band descriptors for the IELTS test, it states that the higher bands look for “less common and idiomatic language”. Does “less common” mean language that hardly anyone uses? Quite the opposite! This is language that only those really familiar with the language will use – so definitely not everyone, and hence, special! Why not show off your knowledge with words that show you have a real affinity with the language? This is where phrasal language comes in. You may know more phrasal language than you realise and I'll bet you didn't think it was sophisticated enough to use, but you'd be wrong. Whilst high-level complex vocabulary is very important, phrasal language can really take you further. You can literally take off with it … but more about this later!
Let me give you a simple example. You probably know the word ‘extinguish’. It means to stop a fire from burning. If you look at signs for instructions for fire drills you will no doubt see that word used too. If you are flying, look out for the sign in the toilets telling you to “Extinguish your cigarette”. This is correct use of the language. However, imagine you don't want your friend to smoke a cigarette in the kitchen. Would you tell them to “extinguish” their cigarette? Probably not! Speaking like this is much too formal for this situation. So what would a native-speaker say? Something like: “Can you put your cigarette out please”! This is an example of a phrasal verb, to put something out. There are many types but this:
Verb + Preposition type is one of the most common.
Let's look at another example.
John's accountancy career was moving slowly, but once he had completed his Certified Accountancy qualification, his financial career really started to ascend/do well very quickly.
John's accountancy career was moving slowly, but once he had completed his Certified Accountancy qualification, his financial career really took off!
Both uses are fine, but you are more likely to use the second in conversation. It's also a useful way to write if the situation is appropriate. This could be an informal article in a magazine.
Many language learners spend years trying to master complicated vocabulary. When they spend some time immersed with native speakers, they often begin to use phrasal or more natural language. And language assessment professionals like your examiner know this.
It's your turn!
Read the following passages through once. They are fine as they are, but they could be written differently, and possibly more naturally, by replacing the words in bold italics with some phrasal verbs. Try replacing the language with some phrasal verbs and then re-read the passages.
Is there a difference? How does this language feel? Read these to a native speaker and see how they react.
(Note that you may have to change the grammar, such as tense patterns.)
I recently unexpectedly found an article on natural home remedies when I was doing some medical research, which supported my theory that mother nature knows best. My nephew had become sick with chicken pox. Usually, I can trust my faithful chicken soup recipe that had been taught by my grandmother. The usual medical advice is to reduce consumption of rich, fatty foods. However, it might be best to ignore this. The rich, chicken soup eliminated his fever almost immediately!
Recently, I was busy disposing of unwanted items in some cupboards in my home, when a good friend made a visit without prior arrangement. I had just found some old travel photographs and so she joined me in looking carefully at some enjoyable holiday snaps. We had both been working so hard and decided we needed to take a holiday. We never find time to have a holiday as we are both so busy. So we carefully scrutinised some holiday brochures I had casually left on (a table or similar). I decided to investigate Greece as I liked the sound of a Mediterranean adventure. The trouble is, I usually confuse Athens and Santorini! In the end, I chose from a selection, a gorgeous little villa on the island of Skyros. My friend made me aware that the temperature in Skyros usually rises quite considerably in the summer months. Although I had a strong desire to go to Skyros on a budget airline, my friend also suggested we compare prices to get the best deal.
Suggested Answer Key:
How did you go? The following are suggested replacements for the words used in the previous passages. This is not the only language you can use, and some is interchangeable, but the important thing is that this language is definitely more informal and will sound more natural to a native speaker. The more you can incorporate (make use of) this kind of language, when you need to, the better you will sound and write. You don't need to ignore all the more formal ways of expressing yourself. The trick is to make use of both as and when you need. This means you use the language flexibly. And flexibility is an important criteria for the higher bands!
I recently came across an article on natural home remedies when I was doing my research, which backed up my theory that mother nature knows best. My nephew had come down with chicken pox. Usually, I can count on my faithful chicken soup recipe that had been passed on/handed down by my grandmother. The usual medical advice is to cut down on rich, fatty foods. However, it might be best to take no notice of this. The rich, chicken soup got rid of his fever almost immediately!
Recently, I was busy clearing out some cupboards in my home, when a good friend dropped by. I had just found some old travel photographs and so she joined me in going through some enjoyable holiday snaps. We had both been working so hard and decided we needed to get away. We never get around to having a holiday as we are both so busy. So we went over some holiday brochures I had lying around. I decided to look into Greece as I liked the sound of a Mediterranean adventure. The trouble is, I usually mix up Athens and Santorini! In the end, I picked out a gorgeous little villa on the island of Skyros. My friend pointed out that the temperature in Skyros usually goes up quite considerably in the summer months. Although I had my heart set on going to (note the slight grammar change with this phrase) Skyros on a budget airline, my friend also suggested we shop around to get the best deal.
You might be wondering about this informal and formal language use. Well, let's look at them in action and compare their use.
Remember that phrasal verb ‘to take off’? Here's another meaning:
In many countries in Asia you need to remove your shoes before you enter someone's home.
In many countries in Asia you need to take off your shoes before you go into someone's home.
Where would you use ‘remove’?
Here is an example:
Please remove your shoes before entering the temple.
Now , here is a mother talking to her son at the same temple:
Ok Jonas, you need to take off your shoes/take your shoes off before you go into the temple.
NB: Did you notice that I cheekily changed enter, to go into? Enter is more formal than to go into something.
You may also notice that I changed the word order, which is just to show you that sometimes you can do this. How you do this, I will explain in another article. For now, familiarise yourself with as much phrasal language as you can. Read magazines and more informal articles which often use this language more frequently than formal publications.
You can find a host of information online that will give lists of phrasal verbs and the different ways they are written. Cambridge and Oxford University presses have lots of publications too numerous to mention here. It's all out there and it's just up to you to go native!
Submitted by Neilane Liew, British Council language assessment consultant