Idiomatic Vocabulary (3 of 25): “Personally, I think they just watch movies at home on Netflixs.”


In the previous posts, I mentioned how every language has phrases and sentences that cannot be understood by just knowing the individual words. This sort of language is collectively known as ‘idiomatic’, and obviously is only language which higher speakers of any language (including English) can use appropriately and well. Let us continue to explore this issue. Here is a part from my Speaking Book [Tip 4, page 21].


Why do people prefer going to cinemas to watching TV?


I would attribute this phenomenon to many causes, the most prevalent being the alleviation of pressure consequent to the psychological conflicts in modern society. Not only is the cinema very relaxing, but it is also a social activity allowing various other activities. Moreover, people can have time with their families. Furthermore, they can be entertained.

Is this good or bad? Here’s what my book says (page 23).

The phrasing used in Case 5 does not respond to the informality of the situation. This informality is shown in the public version of the Band Descriptors, which, for Lexical Resource, reward ‘idiomatic’ vocabulary, not ‘formal’ complicated words. These band descriptors tell us that:

IELTS Nine               =            uses idiomatic language naturally.

IELTS Eight              =             idiomatic vocabulary skillfully.

IELTS Seven           =             some idiomatic vocabulary.

IELTS Six                 =             language mostly appropriately.

Hmmm, we can see from these descriptors that idiomatic language is important, and almost expected in the situation of the IELTS Speaking test. Those formal complicated words ….

to attribute

a phenomenon

to be prevalent



… are a bit strange, and unclear in meaning. What ‘psychological conflicts’ is the candidate talking about? When you go to a movie with your boy/girl-friend, are you really thinking about ‘alleviation of pressure’ from these ‘conflicts’? 

Would native speakers of English use the conjunctions ‘Moreover’ and ‘Furthermore’ here?

Isn’t ‘alleviation of pressure’ and ‘relaxing’ and ‘social activity’ and ‘time with families’ and ‘be entertained’ all the same thing? So, isn’t the candidate saying the same thing five times (!) in a weird way, which actually is not true. [I don’t see families at the cinema.] And me, I’d just give the honest answer shown in the heading to this post.

And did the candidate sound natural, or weird? [Pronunciation is one quarter of your score!!!!!]. And if the examiner asked a follow-up question, …

“What do you mean by psychological conflict?”

… what would happen?

And is the examiner going to like or dislike hearing this? Is (s)he going to feel this is a good speaker, or a bad one? And give a high score, or a low one?

But does that mean that you can never use ‘formal’ words or phrasing in the IELTS Speaking test? The answer is ‘No, of course not!’, and we will explore the issue of formal English in the next two posts.

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