The examiner might ask you to describe one of your parents in English.
This could also be in your class or it could be as part of the IELTS speaking test. In which case, you need to be able to describe your mother or father in some detail.
When describing people, students often fall into the trap of making a list of ideas.
My father is tall
My father has black hair
My father wears white shirts
My father reads the paper in the morning
This sounds terrible in any situation. Especially in the IELTS test.
You need to ‘drip-feed’ descriptions of physical appearance and then maybe provide some added detail or context. This makes the description sound more natural and the examiner in the IELTS test will be happier with this kind of answer.
I would like to show you a few ideas on how to describe your mother or father. You can then practice these things by yourself and make your descriptions sound more fluid and more like ‘real’ English.
For the sake of this exercise, I will assume you know the vocabulary used to describe people — or at least some of the vocabulary. This is not a vocabulary lesson where I just reel off a list of words and leave you to it. I want to show you how to describe someone using natural and real English. The way I might say it.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
The first thing you should start with is your parents’ physical appearance.
What do they look like?
What about their height and body shape?
Or their face?
This is your parents we are talking about so you need to know how to describe their physical appearance well.
When you describe one of your parents, you should start with a ‘larger’, more general description of their physical appearance.
My father is pretty tall
He is kind of overweight
He is a bit thin
Then you can add more details to this. It is unnecessary to add lots of details but just to clarify.
So, for example, you could say:
My father is pretty tall. Maybe a few centimetres taller than me.
Now, if you are saying this in the IELTS test, the examiner cannot clearly see how tall you are because you are sitting down. But it still adds detail and colour to your answer. It provides some more clarity, and that is enough.
He is kind of overweight. My mum is always telling him to lose weight.
Now in this added comment, you are talking about your mum and not your dad. But it can still fit into the description. We can get a clearer impression of your father being overweight because your mother complains to your father about it. Again, it adds more detail and clarity.
He is a bit thin. His shirts always look too big for him.
Are you talking about your father or your father’s shirts? Of course, you are talking about your father. This just adds a clearer picture of how thin your father is. It is a good answer.
Talk about all the big and clear-to-see details when describing your mother or father. These things could be:
Height — if they are particularly tall or short
Size — if they are particularly overweight or thin
Distinguishing Marks — maybe your father has a beard or moustache in a country where men seldom have one. He wears glasses or has a tattoo.
The first thing you describe is clear, easy-to-see details. Then you talk about the smaller details.
The next thing to talk about is your father or mother’s face.
The most obvious thing to say is whether they are handsome or beautiful or good-looking. You can say this as it is purely subjective and the examiner will accept it.
But you can give more details than that. Describe hair colour, length of hair and maybe style. The colour of their eyes, the size of their nose and mouth.
I think when describing one of your parents you don’t need to give too much detail on their physical appearance. It’s not like the IELTS examiner is a policeman asking for a detailed description of a thief!
Just give some brief details on their physical appearance and then leave it at that.
To be honest, there is not that much you can talk about with someone’s physical appearance. You can find more things to talk about in two other things.
And that is their personality and habits.
So let’s move on to talk about those.
I think describing someone’s personality is so much easier to talk about than talking about someone’s physical appearance. The reason for this is that when talking about the personality you can use storytelling.
Yes, you can make a story out of someone being very tall or being overweight but it is much easier to make stories from someone’s personality.
For example, my own father is a very outgoing person who can talk to anyone. This has helped him in life a great deal. He doesn’t judge people based on their appearance and just tries to engage with people. I have seen him strike up conversations with complete strangers and have lengthy conversations with them within minutes.
This drives my mum mad. So there is a story in there.
I could say:
My dad loves talking to people and finds it very easy to start a conversation with anyone — even a complete stranger. He does this from time to time. But if he is outside with my mum, it sometimes drives her mad when he does this.
One time she was in a hurry to get somewhere and my dad had to drive her there. He stopped at the gas station to get gas for the car and started chatting to someone working there. He wasn’t talking long — no more than five minutes or so.
But my mum was watching from the car getting more and more frustrated as my dad chatted with the guy working in the station.
When he got back in the car, she was a bit angry with him.
“Why do you waste so much time talking to people?” she said.
My dad just laughed it off and said he likes talking to people.
This story is not going to win any awards. It is not something that will get made into a Hollywood movie. But it is perfect for the IELTS test to describe my dad’s personality.
Am I talking only about my dad? No, I am talking about my mum too. I am also describing her frustration at my dad as he chats with someone.
But it all adds colour to the answer. It would be a great thing to say when describing my own father.
The examiner would be very happy with an answer like this in the test.
If you are talking about your mother or father’s personality you can often make a story from it. You just have to think creatively.
Let’s imagine my mother had a very fiery temper. I could mention this as part of the description then tell a story regarding her bad temper.
My mother has a very quick temper and can lose her temper over very simple things.
One time I can remember as a child I was with her in the supermarket. We were walking around buying all the things we needed to buy. I was getting bored, so I started playing with the shopping trolley.
My mum lost her temper very quickly and shouted at me in the middle of the supermarket. She told me to stop playing and instead help her with the shopping.
There were many people there, and they all looked around and stared at me. It was very embarrassing.
But I learned not to do something foolish while my mum was busy doing something.
This story is very simple. And it talks about a few things.
- My mother is quick-tempered.
- I am playing with the trolley and being foolish.
- People staring at me and I am embarrassed.
There are a lot of details in the story. But the whole story stems from my mum and her quick temper. That is the whole basis of the story.
If I said this in the IELTS test, the examiner would approve of such an answer.
This is another thing you can talk about by telling a story.
Think of your mother or father’s habits and you can often find a story to use when describing them.
Habits include smoking, getting up early, drinking tea, whistling, biting one’s fingernails, being absent-minded, talking to oneself, not listening to others and many others.
Think for a few minutes about your own parents’ habits. Sometimes they can be good habits. But sometimes they can be bad habits and quite often there are more stories in bad habits.
For example, maybe your father is a smoker. It is an unpleasant habit but many people indulge in it. There is also plenty to talk about with this habit.
You could say:
My father smokes cigarettes. He probably smokes a pack a day. One of the first things he does when he wakes up is light a cigarette.
The thing is, my mum hates it. She doesn’t smoke, and she doesn’t like that my dad smokes. She has pointed out that it is bad for his health but he doesn’t listen.
I guess he must be really stubborn because he continues to smoke to this day.
Some people might say that the talk is about smoking. Or about your mother expressing her distaste at smoking. But I think this just provides more description of the person via the bad habit of smoking.
You can do this with a good habit too. Let’s say that your dad likes to take a walk in the evening after dinner. That would be easy to talk about.
My dad always takes a walk after dinner in the evening. He said it helps him digest his food and that it is relaxing too. He said just by going for a short stroll in the evening it gives him time to think by himself.
I guess it must be good exercise too. He doesn’t do any other exercise so maybe that is enough.
When I was much younger my dad would ask me to go with him for a walk around. It was nice because we got to talk about a lot of things just the two of us.
But as I grew older, I had no interest in walking around after dinner.
My dad still does it though, every evening just like clockwork.
In this talk, you are talking about your dad going for a walk and also yourself walking after dinner too. But the examiner knows that it is all related to the habit of your dad walking in the evening.
Essentially, the talk is still all about your dad and your dad only.
I want you to try this by yourself.
Think about your mother or father and their personality and the habits they have. Try to think of a short anecdote to tell about one of your parents and something related to their personality or their habits.
It might help to write this down at first. Then practice by speaking out loud.
I hope I have shed some light on how to describe your mother or father in the IELTS test. Please don’t think you have to give a detailed description of your parents like you are filing a police report. You can talk briefly about what they look like — their physical appearance — but then you can talk about their personality and their habits.
When you talk about their personality and their habits you will find that you can tell a short story or anecdote. This will add a lot more detail in your description and the examiner will be very pleased to hear this as an answer.
Please check these articles too, to help you in the IELTS test:
Good luck and let me know what you think in the comments below!