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Some time ago, I had an IELTS exam and my examiner asked me:

What is the age of marriage in your culture?

I thought he simply is mentioning the culture that I grow up with so I said:

It varies from person to person in my family, since my cousin has got married when she was 23 but my that got married when he was 26, but overall I can say it is between 20 to 30.

The examiner stopped me and asked again:

That was not my question. I've asked, what is the age of marriage IN YOUR CULTURE (while pointing his finger at me)

I repeat the scenario over and over but it doesn't make any sense to me. Of course I gave him my opinion about the age of marriage, but it is very strange to me.

Is it correct in English to ask that question?

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    I'm not sure, but could it be that the examiner was asking at what age can people get legally married in your culture? – Mikiko Sep 27 '16 at 2:34
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    Yes, the question What is the age of marriage in your culture? is perfectly correct in English. The examiner was asking you for your opinion of the "usual" or "average" age of marriage in your culture. If you responded as you say you did, I should have given you a good mark. He may have wanted to be sure you understood what he meant by "your culture." Do you understand what that means? But remember that an IELTS examiner is just as likely to be a fool as anyone else! – P. E. Dant Sep 27 '16 at 2:34
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    He may have just wanted you to parrot his words, e.g. "The age of marriage in my culture is 18 years." Since you have made a few minor grammatical errors in this question, maybe you made some in your answer to him and he was giving you the opportunity to provide a "textbook" answer. – Mick Sep 27 '16 at 2:49
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    Where was this? Terms like "age of marriage" (minimum age to consent or age when you should have gotten married) and "in your culture" (nationality, ethnic group or culture?) are vague. My guess is that he meant the second one (in your culture), not the particulars regarding your family (which is not your culture). – user3169 Sep 27 '16 at 3:04
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    I also take IELTS and I examine Chinese learners, I think your answer gives people the impression that you are answering about your family but not your culture, to improve it, you can say people normally get married between 20 to 30, but it varies from person to person, for examples... (I always tell my students to address the question first.) – EmmaXL Sep 27 '16 at 3:27
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What is the age of marriage in your culture?

Be careful, the original question does not ask for an opinion — “Of course I gave him my opinion about the age of marriage, but it is very strange to me.”
The IELTS question does not ask how old were your friends or family when they got married. That would be considered a personal question, inappropriate in an exam situation. Remember, the exam is an artificial environment; in real life, people will repeat themselves, explain, or paraphrase until the listener has understood.

As an IELTS candidate, you should ask the examiner to repeat their question if you think you misheard — “I'm sorry, could you repeat that, please?” If you want to be doubly sure, you can also ask:

  • Do you mean how old people are when they marry in my country?
  • Do you mean the average age people marry in my country?
  • Do you mean the minimum legal age for marriage in [Italy, Turkey, etc.]?

Now, whether an IELTS examiner is allowed to reply with a simple "No", or, "Yes, that's what I meant." I don't know, but I do know that these exams are audio recorded, so examiners who do not follow protocol might be reprimanded. You might have to rely on their facial expressions, then again experienced examiners will probably have learnt to keep a deadpan face. If you're not certain, cover all your bases.

Well in my experience, people tend to marry between the ages of 20 and 30, but the youngest age you can marry in my country is sixteen.

Note that the speaker did not parrot the words in the examiner's question, candidates should paraphrase and try to speak as naturally as possible.

In real life, any of the below would have been a simpler and less ambiguous question to answer.

How old can you be to marry in your country?
What is the legal age for marriage in your country?
What is the minimum age for someone to marry in your culture?

The level of difficulty increases as the exam progresses, they are meant to test candidates' coping and comprehension skills as well as their speaking abilities.

  • Thanks Mari for the response. I wanted to give the same answer, but I cannot understand why he pointed at me. I gave him examples and conclude on my own, but he emphasized on me so I believe that he wanted me to give him a direct answer like 20, but even you mentioned "you can marry in my country is sixteen" – Ashkan Sirous Sep 27 '16 at 21:09
  • But the examples you gave were of your family members, the question did not ask about them. The examiner was looking for a more neutral, perhaps objective response. For example, "In Italy it is very rare that teenagers marry, Italians will often wait until they have saved up enough money to make a deposit on a house before they take the big step, and that means they are closer to being thirty than twenty" – Mari-Lou A Sep 27 '16 at 21:36
  • @AshkanSirous do you see how I related to the question but I didn't talk about me? Your culture, means your country. – Mari-Lou A Sep 27 '16 at 21:37
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From the your description of the conversation, it sounds like the examiner is asking about the

usual age of marriage in your culture

however, you answered with examples from your family. An answer which might make sense would be

At the age of 18, people are free to marry in my culture.

By pointing to you and emphasising "your culture" he may have thought you were thinking "your culture" was "your family". By mentioning an age range of 20-30, I would say it is too broad and insufficient.

Remember, you need to answer the question for the exam, not how you would answer in day-to-day life which may be different.

  • Ok, I am totally confused now :) What does he mean by your culture? My country? my city? my district? my family? or me, myself? If it refers to anything other than me why does he pointed his finger on me afterwards? – Ashkan Sirous Sep 27 '16 at 21:12
  • By the way, I cannot understand how a person can have a age of marriage for himself. one person will marry or will not, it is a simple decision not a culture. To me culture is something beyond that like what a group of people do. Am I wrong? – Ashkan Sirous Sep 27 '16 at 21:14
  • What he might have meant by "your culture" is "what is usual in the social circumstances you identify with". A culture usually will drive the accepted social values of interaction. There are some cultures which encourage large families, other cultures might encourage getting married younger. Aside from that, you may be over thinking your answer, which is a dangerous thing to do for a standardised test. – Peter Sep 28 '16 at 1:43

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