To be, or not to be? Formal, that is!…

To be or not to be…formal or informal, that is!…

Here is a question I am asked quite often, how formal should I speak in the IELTS speaking test? I know that many students have been told by their teachers that to get a high score they need to use this kind of language. You know what I mean, “moreover”, “in modern times”, “undoubtedly”, etc. The only problem is that, by using such language which is inappropriate in terms of register, the speaker tends to sound rather stiff and definitely unnatural.

Now, I am not saying there is no place for “formal” language in the IELTS, far from it, you will definitely need to use it in your writing tasks. However, in the speaking section it is best not to be too “formal” as I mentioned, it will make your English sound forced and definitely not native like, which is one of the things you need to do to get a good band score.

The speaking test is meant to be, more or less, an informal dialogue between two people, it is not really an entirely natural conversation because in such a conversation the speaking and listening would be split fifty- fifty between you and whoever you are speaking to. Whereas, in the test, you will be doing nearly all of the speaking (ideally)!

Saying this however, there is one caveat, you mustn’t be too informal either and try to avoid “slang” as much as possible. I include a table below which should illustrate this…

Informal (Avoid)

Neutral (Speaking)

Formal (Writing)

Stuff

Things

Items, Possessions

Folks

Family

Relatives

Kids (younger)

Babies, Children

Infants, Offspring

Kids (older)

Teenagers

Adolescents, Youths

Guy

Man

Male

Old people

Elderly people

Senior citizens, Retirees

Boss, Manager

Supervisor, Superior

Cops

Police

Law enforcement

Crooks

Criminals

Offenders, Lawbreakers

OK, Alright

Fine

Acceptable, Satisfactory

Great, Awesome

Good

Preferable, Desirable

Rubbish, Useless

Bad, Poor

Unsatisfactory, Unacceptable

Nice, Polite

Considerate, Agreeable

Kind, Friendly

Sociable, Neighbourly

Nasty, Cheeky (person)

Rude, Impolite

Abusive, Disagreeable

Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (idea)

Misguided, Questionable

Stupid, Crazy, Dumb (person)

Misguided, Mistaken

Happy (person)

Satisfied, Delighted

Happy (situation)

Satisfying, Delightful

Sad (person)

Regretful, Distressed

Sad (situation)

Regrettable, Distressing

Sick of, Fed up with

Tired of

Dissatisfied with

Poor (country)

Developing, Poverty-stricken

Poor (person)

In poverty, Underprivileged

Rich (country)

Wealthy, Developed

Rich (person)

Wealthy, Privileged

To return to my earlier point, to illustrate what I mean, if you look at the IELTS descriptors under “Fluency and Coherence”, it says that a Band 5.0 answer “may over use certain connectives and discourse markers”, this means if you overuse these too formal words you cannot get a good score. So, for your information here is another table with some more examples of formal and the informal equivalent alternatives. Give them a try…

It is said that….

People say that….

It is agreed that….

I agree….

It is necessary for me to….

I’ve got to…..

In my opinion….

I think…

In my view…

I guess….

There is much…

There is lots of….

Whilst

While

Moreover…

As well as that….

In addition…

What’s more….

Additionally…

Another thing is….

In consequence….

So…

Therefore…

So….

Hence…

So….

In conclusion…

All in all…

Firstly….

To begin with…

Thereafter…

After that….

However…

Still….

Nevertheless….

Mind you….

Incidentally….

By the way….

Regarding….

As for….

On the other hand….

While…..

It is true….

Of course….

In modern life…

These days…..

Nowadays…

Today…

As a matter of fact….

Actually….

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