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TOPIC 5: Culture, art and traditions

About Topic 5

The Culture, art and traditions topic includes human folklore, ceremonies and rituals, myths and legends, social customs, traditional languages, dress and arts, the impact of modern life on traditional lifestyles and differences in national habits.

Please remember that IELTS will not ask specifically about religion, politics or spiritual beliefs, and you should not base your answers in the Writing or Speaking tests on your personal beliefs in these areas. For example, if the Task asks whether you agree with a certain idea, you would get a low mark if you say ‘Yes, because my religion agrees with it/ because my President has this policy’ or similar.

You can certainly use religious or political situations as evidence or examples to support an argument, but not as a starting point. For example, ‘We should give money to charity because it benefits society, as we can see for example in countries where religious observance requires people to do this regularly.’ This is a more logical and academic way to respond.

Topic 5 example Task

In many countries, traditional dress and costumes are considered effective ways of maintaining links with the past. How effective can traditional costumes be, in this sense?

What other ways exist to help citizens connect with a country’s past?






Band 9 model essay

Most people would agree that preserving connections with our past is an admirable objective, especially as the world evolves so rapidly. I feel that traditional costumes are one part of doing this, but they are by no means the most important, as we shall see.

Admittedly, historic dress plays a key role in social events such as religious ritualsor military parades, and these events are helpful in transmitting social memes such as public duty and self-sacrifice. Traditional costumes also remind us of the origins of cultural traditions and mythologies, for instance the historic Swiss national dress which evokes their medieval independence.

However, it must be said that costumes are an accessory in these situations, and do not appear to constitute the central message. It is the ceremonies themselves which convey the cultural norms that help to maintain the fabric of society. In this sense, the costumes are of secondary importance. Furthermore, it seems that there are in fact much more powerful ways in which culture is conserved and handed down between the generations. Most countries have a rich heritage of legends and folklore about the birth and development of their nation, some of which are mythological and some being grounded in truth (as we see in the English stories about Robin Hood or George and the Dragon, for example.) These stories are a cultural inheritance which embodies important symbols and concepts far more effectively than dress. Similarly, we must remember the significance of art and music in passing on our traditions, in forms ranging from fine art to handicrafts, and from opera to traditional shanties and dirges. The presence of visual or linguistic messages in these media make them more effective than costumes, which convey no language.

Overall, we must recognise and welcome the use of traditional dress in helping to maintain our cultures. However, the forms of story, art and music would appear to be the driving forces in this invaluable process.

(321 words)



To preserve (bảo tồn) = to protect and keep something, usually because it is valuable for some reason

E.g.      The state preserves ancient buildings because they are part of our heritage.


Rituals (nghi thức) = highly traditional ceremonies which have meaning for the participants

E.g.      In some countries, wedding rituals continue for several days.


Parades (diễu hành) = organised processions in public by groups of people, usually to commemorate an event

E.g.      In my home town, we have a military parade (duyệt binh) each year to mark our Independence Day.


To transmit (truyền, phát) = to communicate a message, literal or symbolic

E.g.      The monarchy transmit symbols of power through dress and ritual.


Social memes (biểu tượng văn hóa xã hội) = social habits or patterns which are transmitted between people

E.g.      In Britain, punctuality is a social meme.


Public duty (nhiệm vụ xã hội) = the willingness to serve the public or the state

E.g.      Civil servants need a sense of public duty.


Self-sacrifice (sẵn sàng hi sinh) = the willingness to suffer or die for a cause

E.g.      We remember the self-sacrifice of our wartime generation each year.

Cultural traditions (truyền thống văn hóa) = traditions carrying cultural importance.

E.g.      Hospitality is a great cultural tradition in Mediterranean countries.


Mythology, myth (thần thoại) = a classic story from the past which people know is not true but which carries meaning

E.g.      There are old myths about gigantic animals in my part of the countryside.


To evoke (khơi gợi) = to bring back memories or feelings

E.g.      Our national flag evokes strong emotions whenever we see it.


Medieval (thời Trung cổ) = adjective for the Middle Ages, roughly 1050 to 1400 in European history

E.g.      France has some superb medieval architecture, which I saw on my gap year.


Ceremonies (nghi lễ) = a ceremony is similar to a ritual, usually involving people in authority

E.g.      The government enters office with a long ceremony at the presidential palace.


Cultural norms (quy chuẩn văn hóa) = standards expected of behaviour or ideas

E.g.      In some countries, marriage between cousins is a cultural norm.


The fabric of society (kết cấu xã hội) = the way that society is connected and maintained E.g. Drugs and crime are damaging the fabric of society.


To conserve (bảo tồn) = a synonym for ‘to preserve’

E.g.      Conservation of old treasures is the main role of our city museum.


To hand something down (truyền lại) (from one generation to the next) = to pass it from parents to children and to their children etc.

E.g.      Cultural values have been handed down for hundreds of years, but now they are starting to disappear.


Heritage (di sản) = something inherited (= received/handed down) by one generation from the previous generation

E.g.      Our countryside is part of our national heritage and we should preserve it carefully.


Legends (huyền thoại) = similar to myths, but sometimes containing an element of reality

E.g.      Robin Hood is a British legend, although most historians agree the character is based on a real person.


Folklore (những câu chuyện truyềng miệng) = old stories and myths/legends, usually transmitted verbally

E.g.      African folklore is rich in stories of gods and monsters.


Inheritance (di sản) = a synonym for ‘heritage’

E.g.      Our greatest inheritance as a nation is our independence and fighting spirit.


Fine art (mỹ thuật) = art by famous or acclaimed painters

E.g.      Florence in Italy is a key destination for lovers of fine art.


Handicrafts (nghề thủ công) = skills of making objects by hand, and also the objects themselves

E.g.      Many indigenous people make a living by selling handicrafts to tourists.


Opera (nhạc kịch opera) = a very formal play with a musical score

E.g.      La Scala is the name of a famous opera venue in Italy, which I’d like to visit.


Shanties and dirges (những bài hát truyền thống) = very traditional songs about basic subjects

E.g.      Children sometimes sing shanties at primary school.


Linguistic (ngôn ngữ) = the adjective meaning ‘about language’

E.g.      Linguistic skills are essential for a tour guide in the modern economy.


Media (phương tiện truyền thông) = a way of communicating

E.g.      Folklore is a very effective media for transmitting our cultural heritage.

(The phrase ‘the media’ is used to mean all the newspapers, broadcasters, websites and magazines commenting on issues in a country: The president resigned due to pressure from the media, who disliked his policies)