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IELTS Preparation Series 2, Episode 14: Termites


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Hello. I'm Margot Politis. Welcome to Study English, IELTS preparation.

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Today, we're going to talk about tenses, and different ways of making comparisons.

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Choosing the best tense for formal writing, including your IELTS essay, is important,

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and so is being consistent.

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We're going to start by listening to an ecologist talking about termites in tropical Australia.

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What verb tense does she use?

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This is another species of termite that we have here in the Territory, and this species

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is nesuta termes graviolis and as you can tell, it nests in trees and their nests are

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nice and round around the higher branches of the tree, and then they build these little

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runways, what we call carton runways, that run all the way from the nest, all the way

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down to the base of the tree, and the idea here is the termites just use them as shelter

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so they're not exposed to predators and not exposed to the hot sun. So they travel down

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through these tunnels and that allows them to access food resources on the ground.

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So here in tropical Australia, termites are actually the major decomposer insect and they

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also play a really important role in conditioning the soil, much like earthworms do, so they

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help to turn over the soil, to create new soil and to increase the porosity of the soil.

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She says:

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Termites are the major decomposer insect.

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They play a really important.

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They help to turn over the soil.

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She used the simple present tense form of verbs: are, play, and help.

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In IELTS writing tasks, the essay topics given are general and will require you to write

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about actions. The simple present tense would be the most appropriate verb form to use because

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you would be talking about general facts.

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Dr Dawes-Gromadzki was describing general facts about termites, so she used the simple

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present. Listen again.

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So here in tropical Australia, termites are actually the major decomposer insect and they

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also play a really important role in conditioning the soil, much like earthworms do, so they

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help to turn over the soil. She starts using the present tense, and then

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continues with it throughout her description.

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It's very important to be consistent in the verb tense you use. So when writing your IELTS

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essay, try to use the simple present tense for the main verb, and avoid switching tenses.

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Keeping in mind that the essay will be about things in general, you also need to consider

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the language of the noun phrases.

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Listen to Tracey talking about the nesting habits of termites. What noun forms does she

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use?

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The idea here is the termites just use them as shelter, so they're not exposed to predators

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and not exposed to the hot sun. So they travel down through these tunnels and that allows

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them to access food resources on the ground.

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Most of the noun phrases she uses are plural - termites, predators, tunnels, and food resources

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She uses the plural for 'termites' because she is talking about the species as a whole.

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The idea here is about the habits of termites in general, so the plural would be used.

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It is not only one predator or a single tunnel or one food resource that is being discussed,

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but all the 'predators', 'tunnels' and 'food resources' of the termites.

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In formal writing, you will usually find nouns are in plural form when the statements are

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general ones about groups, classes or things.

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But, of course, you'll need to watch for uncountable nouns, because uncountable nouns do not have

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a plural form.

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The various topics you may get in the IELTS test will be general in nature, and will require

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you to discuss, explain, compare and contrast in general terms.

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So for your IELTS essay, you should use the simple present tense as the main verb form,

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and use plural nouns or uncountable nouns for your subjects.

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Now let's look at another aspect of the termite story - how comparisons are structured in

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English.

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We use a comparative to compare one person, thing or action with another.

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For example:

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Judy is younger than her sister.

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We can use a double comparative when we want to say something is changing.

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For example:

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They are getting better and better since starting the IELTS program.

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There is another way we can use a comparative - to describe complementary processes. That

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is, we can describe how something is changing, but changing together with something else.

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We can use this kind of form:

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In Australia, the farther south you go, the cooler the winters.

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Now watch Tracey talk about the rate at which termites break down mulch.

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The more termites and the more other bugs you have in the soil, the quicker this mulch

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is going to decompose and that means the faster the nutrients are going to cycle through the

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system and help make it healthier.

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She says:

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The more termites and the more other bugs you have, the quicker this mulch is going

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to decompose and the faster the nutrients are going to cycle.

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She is comparing several things that are changing together.

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Let's see how the basic structure of a comparative expression like this works.

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The form is:

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the + comparative + subject + verb.

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Tracey said:

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the quicker this mulch is going to decompose

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Then using exactly the same grammatical structure, she added the complementary statement:

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the faster the nutrients are going to cycle

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Notice the symmetry of these statements? It makes it easier to remember and apply!

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Let's try another example.

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The older she gets, the happier she is.

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And another one:

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The harder I study, the more I learn.

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As with most languages, English users take shortcuts.

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For example, if someone asked me how I take my tea, I might say:

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The stronger, the better!

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The stronger my tea is, the better it will be.

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When the subject is understood in this context, you only need to state the comparison, leaving

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out the subject and verb.

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How would you like your haircut? The longer, the better!

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This is short for:

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The longer my hair is, the better it will be.

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The short form is common with phrases ending in 'the better'.

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When is your friend coming over? The sooner, the better!

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Do you like hot soup? The hotter, the better!

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It's also used to describe a good party - one that has lots of people. You might say:

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The more, the merrier!

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It's understood that you mean:

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The more people there are, the merrier the party will be.

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These phrases are examples of more complex comparative structures. Why not practise them

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with your friends? The sooner, the better! That's all for today. Let's review what we've

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learnt.

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We talked about the IELTS essay task, and using the simple present tense and plural

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nouns.

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Then we talked about making different kinds of comparisons, ones that described complementary

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processes.

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And don't forget that you can watch the story again and get more IELTS help when you visit

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our Study English website.

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I'll see you next time. Bye bye.

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