Idioms for Speaking and Informal Writing 1: Free-Time Activities



Speaking Part 1 – FCE, CAE, IELTS. Most common topics – Free-Time Activities (sports, hobbies, friendship, music, films, parties), Home Life, Family, Travel and Holidays, Ambitions and Future Plans (school, job, business, future career), Health (food and diet, exercise), Likes and Dislikes,  Fashion, Clothes and Appearance…these are the most common topics and there’s a wide variety of questions related to them that you could be asked in any of these exams.

Idioms do make the difference between natives and non-natives and it’s sometimes not that easy to use them naturally when your mother tongue is not English. Still, using them a lot in your speaking preparation sessions before the exam (and in a quite controlled way, you’ll see what I mean) would actually help you reactivate them on the exam day and use them…naturally.

All you have to do is have your lists of idioms in front of you when you answer different questions on the same topic and try to include them in your speech, even if that means adapting the answer so that you could use as many idioms as possible (this is the controlled way and it may seem awkward to you, at least for a while.But, keep in mind-you won’t have these idioms in front of your eyes on the big day so, obviously, you won’t be using as many as on those practice days, just those that you will activate naturally as part of your response to the question).

So, if the topic is Travel, there could be questions related to your past, future and ideal trips, journeys and holidays, the way you like to travel, accommodation, places you go to, means of transport…Since there’s a list for that, feel free to use it.

Now, talking about writing, all the topics I’ve mentioned above could be met in an informal letter (FCE, CAE), an article (FCE) or a Review (FCE, CAE). Again, idioms will improve the quality of your informal language.

You can improve your English with more items of idiomatic language, so download, print and use this list of Idioms for Speaking and Informal Writing – Free-Time Activities

 Well, this just another resource  designed to boost your confidence so that you could say Yes To Exams! 





If you’re reading this,  it means you’ve already finished brainstorming ideas and writing paragraphs or full essays using the topics  listed in CAE Essay Topics 1.

Don’t forget to use a selection of academic vocabulary that you could find here, here and here , as well as a variety of formal phrases and grammatical structures.

Plan your essay carefully. 5 to 10 minutes may be necessary for you to brainstorm ideas (advantages, drawbacks, examples etc) for the 2 points you’re going to discuss, organize your ideas, find synonyms for the key vocabulary, create strong topic sentences…Do not skip the planning part, even if you think that the essay you are writing is so easy to deal with, as you’ve already discussed the topic in class.

Also, remember that spending 2 or 3 minutes on proofreading is an essential final step in the exam.

Here’s another list of CAE Essay Topics.


TV Series and Film Review Vocabulary

Movie and TV Series Review Vocabulary

In the writing paper of the FCE, CAE or CPE exams you may choose between more tasks  and a Film or TV Series Review could be an option. Whether it’s the most recent,  the best or the worst film, TV series or TV show you’ve ever watched, you’ll need specific vocabulary to include in your review.

So, again, feel free and happy to download and use a comprehensive

TV Series and Film Review Vocabulary 

list, which includes nice structures for both good and bad movies and shows.

You may also need these IMDB Charts:

 Top 250 Movies

 Top 250 TV Shows

Worst TV Shows Ever Made

Lowest Rated Movies





Academic Vocabulary 3



If you’ve already used and got used to the words on the previously published lists, then it’s time for  some more academic vocabulary. Students usually look for ‘ items of vocabulary to impress teachers’ and, although these words may seem alien to them at first, they start to like some of them and ask for more. For example, some students told me that ubiquitous sounds really nice to them and so does quintessential

My advice for you is to find as many contexts as possible for these academic words, to see how you can make meaningful sentences that sound natural.

So, here’s the new list:

Academic Vocabulary 3



REPETITION MAKES MONOTONOUS A great number of essay topics, especially those for the FCE exam, deal with the relationship between teachers and students, parents and children, children and society…and most of these essays, regardless of the topic or level, ask you to come up with advantages, downsides, solutions or recommendations. That’s why you should avoid repeating keywords. You can start with this list of synonyms and, obviously, they will be useful for other types of writing as well, such as reports or proposals.

10 Synonyms in Action for Writing


Idioms and slang-Parties and People

In FCE and CAE exams students may have to write an informal letter about a party they went to. Some idioms mastered with a sense of humour will surely help catch the reader’s attention. (Let’s not forget, however, important ingredients such as  informal connectors, questions, exclamations, and, obviously, the suitable layout.)

Slang can also be used, to some extent, just for adding extra flavour…

Here’s a suggested list of spices:


In the IELTS exam students can also use some of these idioms if they are given a task card on this topic in Speaking part 2.


Descriptive vocabulary-places


A list of vocabulary and idioms that can be used by FCE, CAE, CPE or IELTS students in the following exam papers and tasks:

•FCE: Speaking, Writing – Article, Review, Informal Letter

•CAE: Speaking, Writing – Review, Informal Letter

•CPE: Speaking, Writing – Article, Review, Informal Letter

•IELTS: Speaking





List of Formal and Informal Connectors

bowtie-formal-funny-classy-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirt What about neutral?

I was looking for such a list online some months ago, as my FCE students seemed to be a bit confused when they had to switch registers…and their specific connectors. After trying in vain to find a compared list, well, there might be one somewhere but I guess wasn’t lucky or patient enough to discover it, I gave up searching and started to make my own compilation.

As an English teacher,  I tend to insist on developing my students’ formal/ academic exam writing skills (and I am sure I am not an exception), so it does not come as a surprise to me when they start using ‘therefore’ or ‘furthermore’ in their informal letters after writing so many formal tasks. Consequently, this list seems to have helped them organize and use connectors appropriately.

Again, feel free to download it and improve it, if you like.




Here’s one of the lists some ( read it most) teenage students take a look at just once before they drop  it somewhere among other photocopies in a huge pile of school stuff. Then find it the night before the exam or rather when they clean up the mess at the end of the school year. Find it and think…well, that could’ve saved me…

So, why use phrases like these? I mean…

Do they guarantee a high score?

No. Obviously, not. Academic writing for Cambridge English Exams is a lot more than just some fixed phrases inserted here and there, to make you look smart, mature and well-prepared. Plus, they could look really awkward when they are  mixed with an informal tone, if grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors abound, if content is poor or ambiguous or if they occur so frequently, that the reader becomes  tired and bored.

Do they replace talent and good quality ideas?

No. Nothing can replace talent and high-quality content. I remember a few past CAE students of mine who wouldn’t care about any writing rules, suggestions, layout or carefully chosen structures. Those very few (wish there had been more like them) kids passed the exam with an excellent score in their writing paper just because they were naturally able to create great content.

Then, why use them?

Well, you might just like some of them. As you clearly don’t use them in conversation, ’cause people would run away instantly, they may sound odd to you at first. Just try to get used to them and if, let’s say, you lack inspiration when you have to write your paper or if you are generally  not a fan of writing, using some of them could guarantee a better mark than not using them at all. But, remember, don’t exaggerate!

Here’s a list of suggested phrases you may want to use. You can also download them here:

Academic Writing – Formal Phrases 1

  • This…is primarily provided/fulfilled/achieved through…
  • It is rather hard to believe that…
  • There is a far higher proportion of…who…
  • It is expected that…
  • This is not an incidental pattern, unique to a particular space and time.
  • This measure is likely to cause an unprecedented change
  • These measures largely reflect the needs of…
  • This phenomenon is not unique to…
  • This might prove to be a sustainable and responsible solution to…
  • There seems to be an ever-increasing rate of…
  • This could be a solution that any responsible person would be prepared to contemplate.
  • This is one of the prevalent issues in the modern society.
  • Some of the decisions originally perceived as rather unwise have proved a stroke of genius.
  • There can be little doubt that…
  • Unmistakably,/Unquestionably/Undeniably, this is…
  • Although the measure’s implementation chances of success appear to be ribbon-thin, statistics have shown that…
  • Though it may appear to be a time-consuming process, it has its obvious benefits
  • This…may well represent the very beginning of a fruitful process.
  • The proposed solution is audaciously simple and simply audacious.
  • Perhaps more importantly,…
  • Rules and policies, regulations and stipulations are innovation killers.
  • Scientific evidence can be invaluable, but it has to be used cautiously and in tandem with historical research.
  • This…may add more weight to the growing consensus that…
  • An idea that is sure to have sparked some lively debate refers to…
  • There is relatively thin evidence that…
  • There may have been erroneous opinions on this issue; fortunately, recent studies are now setting the record straight:…
  • One of the latest studies takes the argument further, claiming that…; however, it seems to be clearly just scratching the surface of a big issue, that is, …
  • This may be, nonetheless, a further step in the right direction in terms of…