Signpost words are used in the IELTS Test to signal where the answers required are likely to be.
Understanding how they are used is a key skill for IELTS Test candidates and band scores can only rise higher once their effective use is learned.
IELTS Test Prepcast Episode 12
IELTS Listening Skills: Signpost Words
I’m Steve Price. I’m the founder of the Pass IELTS Higher website, which was started in late 2010 and has been successfully helping students achieve higher band scores since. Andrea Price currently lives and works in London, teaching IELTS. She has been teaching the subject at home and abroad for over twenty years.
And now for today’s IELTS lesson.
Steve: Hello. Today we’re going to talk about signpost words. And Andrea’s with me, and she’s going to explain their use. But it’s going to be useful for IELTS candidates in their preparation to be aware of signpost words and how to use them.
Andrea: So were looking at signpost words today, and knowledge of signpost words is very important in the IELTS listening exam. The reason for this is that when you’re listening to a speaker, that speaker will signal stages of their talk or use the signpost words to highlight the fact that useful information is about to be introduced. In the listening exam, these words usually help you to realize that the answer you are waiting for is coming. The awareness of signpost words can also be applied to the IELTS skill of reading too, by focusing your attention on the information which is coming and which will have the answer you require. You can use signpost words in your IELTS writing—in speaking exams as well—not only to signal a change, but also to make your writing and speaking more complex and thus encourage examiners to give you a higher band score. And obviously signpost words make your speaking or writing more sequential and logical as well. In this IELTS prepcast, we’re focusing the use of signpost words in the IELTS listening exam.
What are examples of signpost words? Each type of signpost word has a reason for being in a sentence. We’ve already discussed the way in which a speaker will signal the stages of his talk, and there are signpost words to show each stage in a talk or the sequence of the speaker’s ideas.
The stages of a talk. If you’re introducing a talk, you might say, “Today I’m going to introduce the topic of”, or “Firstly, we will look at”, or “First of all”. The next section you would introduce by saying, “Secondly, we will discuss”, “Following this”, “Then”, “Finally”, and “Lastly”. These expressions are guiding you easily through each section or idea of the talk, making its contents easy to follow too. Here’s an example of more complex sequencing of a talk. I’m about to read a script of a podcast given on childhood obesity. Note the way in which the speaker uses the sentences at the beginning of each stage to both introduce the stage and to link each section to previous sections and to sections following.
“In a recent report, 2010, by the University of Bristol on child obesity, the report claims that 40 percent of children in the Northern American and Western European World Health Organization region are predicted to be obese or overweight. Parents of such children have every cause to be concerned as obesity can adversely affect all organs of the body, resulting in symptoms such as hypertension, liver problems, diabetes, and many more, including psychosocial disorders. The main causes of obesity are living on junk food and a sedentary lifestyle. However, once the problem is established, then the child needs motivation from within. Hypnosis can help by reprogramming the child’s subconscious mind into wanting to lose weight for their own benefit, and this hypnosis script download can help you to help the children involved.”
So here are some examples from the talk on child obesity. In the introduction, obese children are mentioned. In paragraph 2, the speaker talks about the parents of such children. “Such children” links back to the children mentioned in the introduction. In paragraph 2, we also see a reference to obesity and its symptoms. So again, the obesity is linking back to paragraph 1 or the introduction. In paragraph 3, the link that is used is the main causes, and those main causes are the symptoms, in paragraph 2. In paragraph 3, again, a reference is made to “motivation from within”. This focuses the listener’s attention on paragraph 4, which talks about hypnosis that can help by reprogramming the child’s subconscious mind. Again, the child’s subconscious mind links back to paragraph 3, the “motivation from within”. So you see, a good piece of writing will link backwards and forwards by using words from one paragraph and another or paraphrases of those words.
Steve: Okay. And to the listener or to the reader, that means that it’s a more interesting or compelling read or listen.
Andrea: Yes. And the reason that these links are useful is that they usually will be helping you focus on the answers to the questions.
Andrea: So we also have signpost words that show an opposite idea. Other expressions to listen for are ones which tell you that a completely different idea is being introduced. These expressions are very important as what follows is usually the answer to your question.
“Learning English in England is extremely beneficial, although it can be very expensive.” So first of all, we’re saying that learning English in England is good. However, there’s an opposite idea. It can be expensive: “although it can be very expensive”. “What is a disadvantage of coming to England to learn the language?” There are two halves to this sentence, and “although” is used to signal a contrasting idea to the one in the first half of the sentence: “it can be very expensive”.
Other examples of signpost words to show a contrasting idea are “Despite being a vegetarian, my husband has been known to eat meat”. Note the grammar here. We use “despite” plus what is called the gerund. The gerund is a verb which is used as a noun, and it’s made into a noun by adding “ing” to the main part of the verb. So here it’s “being”. So the verb is “be”, and it becomes a noun by adding “ing”. And “despite being” has the same meaning as “He is a vegetarian but . . .” And there are other words: “by way of contrast” or “in contrast” or “conversely”. “Many people in the Western world believe that eating full-fat dairy products is good for you. By way of contrast, in countries such as China, you will not find any dairy products included in the daily diet.” That’s just showing an opposite idea or an opposite approach.
Steve: Okay. So what we’ve been hearing is to make the English a little bit more interesting, to make it a lot more cohesive, that we can use signing within the writing and speaking that we’re doing, and that is actually helping to focus on the topic in question. And for—as you’ve mentioned earlier—from an IELTS candidate point of view, what that allows the students to do is to readily identify where the potential answers for their questions are going to be.
Andrea: Yes. So you mentioned speaking and writing, and obviously, this help comes from the listening and the reading, which hopefully you recycle—just recycle knowledge.
Steve: Okay. And you used a good example there of an opposite idea or rather a question that leads from the fact that there are opposite ideas in a passage, where you asked what is the disadvantage of coming. So the student will have to go and look for a signpost word which—and in this case, it was “although”. And that expressed a negative element, aspect to whatever was being said. And in this instance, it was you had the positive English in England, learning English in England is very beneficial, and the negative was that “although it can be very expensive”. So the question “What is a disadvantage?” drives the student to looking for the negative element of it.
Andrea: Yes, exactly. And if you’re aware of that sort of thing, that’s going to help you, especially with questions like the true, false, and not given questions. So it will help you think probably of the false answers.
Andrea: Okay. There are lots of words which show a contrast, and here are some more. “Many students study hard to achieve their IELTS certificate. Nevertheless, they still do not achieve the score they need because they do not know approaches to help them.” So that means they’re studying hard. There is a problem. The problem is that it’s not helping sometimes because they need to know more information. Another one is “Having stopped eating all sugary foods to help me lose weight, this didn’t work. So instead, I successfully tried eating less and exercising more”. “Instead”, again, is showing an opposite approach. So no eating sugary food didn’t work. Another way, an opposite way: eating less, exercising more.
Some signpost words are used to give reasons. So we’ve got the expression “because of”, and the minute you see a preposition in English—so “of” is a preposition—you know that a verb that follows that will take the “ing” form. It becomes a gerund, and a gerund is a noun with an “ing” form.
“Pollution is rising because of the fact that society is not controlling its disposal of waste.” So here you see another. You have to be aware of the grammar of these signpost words, and this is the second kind of grammar. “Because” may also be followed by the subject noun plus the verb, which you introduce with “the fact that society is not controlling its disposal of waste”.
Steve: So if, I guess another way of saying that sentence might be, “Pollution is rising despite the fact that society is attempting to control its disposal of waste”, which is a different way of saying the same sort of thing and, but it’s, I guess another example of how you’re using signpost words to give reasons.
Andrea: Yes, and you’ve also introduced another kind of signpost word. And the reason why they’re different is the way you use the grammar. So you said “despite the fact that”. If we use “despite” without “the fact that”, you know that the next word that comes has to be a verb with an “ing” form or the gerund. But if you use “despite the fact that”, then you need a sentence to follow that, so a subject, a verb, and maybe the next bit, the object.
Steve: I see. So had I said “Despite society not controlling its disposal of waste”, that would have been perhaps a better example to underpin the point you were making earlier.
Andrea: Yes. Not necessarily a better example. They’re just different kinds of grammar. And the students mix those up because they don’t realize that each of the signpost words has its own grammatical rule to go with it.
Andrea: Another one is “for this reason”. “Modern technology is causing obesity in children. For this reason, parents should control their children’s use of this technology.” And then that’s a very blatant way to suggest a reason, because you’re just saying that in the sentence.
Signpost words also add extra information. Things like “besides” plus the gerund or the noun with verb in the “ing” form plus the subject noun plus the verb. “In addition” is another one. “Transport is becoming very expensive in London besides becoming much less convenient.” So you see that “besides” is followed by the verb with the “ing” form: “besides” plus gerund. Or we might say “besides the fact that it is much less convenient”, and then you need the subject noun and the verb. “He had eaten four cakes already. He ate a fifth one besides.” And this one now means “extra”. This is extra. So he’d eaten four and he ate another one, an extra one. “When the host asked him if he wanted another cake, he declined. Besides, he had eaten four already.” And that means “for that reason”.
Signpost words add extra information, so words such as “furthermore”, this can go at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the sentence and is separated by commas. Plus you need the subject noun and the verb. “The government rarely changes policies to benefit the poor. It”—and then “furthermore” is in the middle of that sentence, so it has to have a comma on either side, “if”, comma, “furthermore”, comma—introduces new policies that make poor people’s lives harder.” “Similarly” means “in the same way”. “The Spanish climate is exceedingly hot and dry in the summer. Italy’s climate is similarly hot and dry in the summer.” So Italy’s climate is much the same as the Spanish climate.
Steve: Okay. So this has been a very helpful lesson for the students. So what we’ve learned today is that the students should be aware of signpost words and should attempt to use them in their writing and in their speaking. And what this will do is it will enable them to link their writing and speaking together in a slightly more complex way.
Steve: And in a more a natural way, the way that native speakers would typically use. And the signpost words themselves can be used to show a contrast, so they can show a sort of positive and a negative or an A and a B. But also they can be used to signal the use or reasons for something. And finally, I think we covered the use of the signpost words to add in extra information and to signpost to the reader or the listener that extra information is coming as well.
Steve: So I think in terms of what we were trying to achieve for today’s lesson, I think we’ve covered that. And I’m sure there’s much more we can talk about with signpost words, so I’ve no doubt well be returning to the topic at some point in the future. But I think for the purpose of today’s lesson, I think we’ll say good-bye today.
Andrea: Okay. Bye-bye.
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