Start with a summary, giving a general description of what’s in the picture and what you can see.
It’s useful to imagine that the person you’re talking to can’t see the picture. Think: what does the other person need to know? What do you need to say so that other people can understand what’s in the picture?
Let’s do an example.
You want to summarize what you see in one or two simple sentences. How could you do that?
You could say:
There are several small boats next to a beach.
The picture shows a beach, with many small boats in the water nearby.
Simple summaries like this make it easy to understand the general contents of the picture.
Let’s do one more:
What could you say here?
Here are some possible answers:
There are three people cooking in a kitchen.
The picture shows three young friends cooking together.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Here’s another picture:
You need to make a summary of what you see.
You can use these phrases:
The picture shows…
Pause the video, and make one or two sentences. You can write down your answers if you want.
Okay, after your summary, you can start giving more detail about what you see in the picture.
By trying to answer questions like this, you are speculating; you’re talking about possibilities and giving your opinion about the picture.
Speculating can help you to make a longer, more detailed answer when talking about a picture.
Let’s do an example:
I suppose it might be some kind of art project.
Maybe one person put an umbrella up there as a joke, and then other people started doing it, too.
Let’s look at one more picture:
Think, if you wanted to speculate about this picture, what could you say?
Another way to think about it: what questions could you ask yourself about this picture?
Possible ideas are: who made the footprints, and why? Where were they going? Where is the person who made the footprints now?
There are other possibilities, of course, so feel free to use your own ideas, too!
Okay, so what could you say to speculate about this picture?
Here are some examples:
The footprints must have been made by a climber or a mountaineer.
The person who made the footprints might be standing on top of the mountain now.
In our examples, you’ve seen some useful language which you can use to speculate about a picture. Do you remember?
You can use language like:
Let’s practise using these once more with another picture:
Could you make four sentences, using the useful language we just saw?
Let’s do an example together:
I suppose the guy is a climber, or he’s on an adventure holiday.
Maybe he climbed something, and now he’s on the way down.
He must have a lot of experience, because his body language is quite relaxed.
He might be focusing on what he’s doing, but he might just be enjoying the view!
Okay, now it’s your turn. Let’s take another of our pictures:
Can you make four sentences to speculate about this picture, using the language you’ve learned in this section? Pause the video and think about your answers!
Now, you have one more thing to do.
5. Speculating About the Context of the Picture
When you speculate, you can speculate about what you can see in the picture. However, you can—and should—speculate about what you can’t see, too.
How’s this possible? Well, think about this picture:
You can think about questions like: where and when was the picture taken? Who took the picture? What was the photographer doing there?
I think this could be in the USA, or maybe Russia.
It’s a good photo, so perhaps it was taken by a professional nature photographer.
You see? Talking about what you can’t see in the picture can be very useful, and can help to add details to your answer.
Let’s do one more example:
What could you say about this picture?
Let’s do this one together. You could say:
This must be somewhere tropical, like the Caribbean or the Maldives.
Perhaps it was taken by a tourist who came to the beach on one of those boats.
Okay, one more. This time, you have to do it yourself!
Here’s your picture:
Make at least two sentences to speculate about the context of the picture. Think about where and when it was taken, who took it, and what the photographer was doing there.
How was that? Hopefully you feel more confident describing pictures in English now.
Let’s put everything you’ve learned together and practise making longer, fluent descriptions.
6. Making a Longer Answer
When you describe a picture, you should:
Give a summary of what you see.
Talk about where things are in the picture.
Speculate about what’s in the picture.
Speculate about the context of the picture.
Let’s make a longer answer together. We’ll start with a picture we’ve used already:
Here’s a possible longer answer:
In the picture, there are two people sitting at a table, looking unhappy. There’s a woman on the left and a man on the right. In the middle of the picture, we can see some things on the table, like cups of tea, biscuits, milk and so on. The two people look sad or irritated, and they aren’t speaking to each other. They’re both looking down at the table. I suppose they had a fight and now they aren’t talking to each other, or they might just be bored and not have anything to talk about. I guess it’s a stock photo because otherwise, why would the photographer be in the kitchen with them?
Do you think you could make an answer like this? Remember, all the language you need is in this lesson. You just need to take the things you practised in each part, and then put them together.
Let’s do one more example together:
The picture shows umbrellas hanging in the air. In the foreground, we can see a streetlight, and the umbrellas fill the picture from left to right. The umbrellas are of many different colours, mostly bright colours like pink, yellow or green. They’re hanging from wires. I can see at least four lines of umbrellas hanging down in this way, but there could be even more. Maybe this is some sort of art project. It might also be a festival or tradition, that people decorate the street with colourful umbrellas like this. I suppose the picture was taken in a city or town, though I can’t tell where exactly. Perhaps the photographer was a tourist, and was just walking around the city when he saw this amazing and strange scene.
Alright, now it’s your turn. We’ll give you a new picture:
Pause the video and try to make a longer answer, like we just did. Follow the same structure.
Finished? I don’t think so! You should practise as much as you can. Take the other pictures from the lesson, and make longer answers about them, too.
Practise your answers several times, until you can do it fluently and comfortably. Post your responses on the Oxford Online English YouTube channel and we’ll give you feedback!