What I want to write about today is some more general strategies for the speaking section, while connecting them to the 3 sections of the test. As I keep saying to my students, it’s not enough to be able to speak English, the IELTS criteria (yes, those again) plainly states what is required from you to get a good score. So with this in mind I want to share some things which you may find useful…
Strategy 1, do not memorise answers. The main reason is that the examiner will ignore anything you say that sounds like it is simply repeated. When most people do this it sounds very unnatural, we can tell, you know! Also, the answer you memorise may not quite fit the question you are asked. You can memorise some connectors, and use those to structure your speech, but not whole answers. For example, I spoke to a student recently and I asked him two part 2 questions, “Describe an electronic device you would like to buy” and “Describe a place you went to for a short visit”. I picked these questions from a couple of books doing the rounds in China supposedly containing the latest IELTS questions. Anyway, he started off with something like “I want to describe an electronic device I would like to own (yes, he didn’t paraphrase so not a good start) and then he told me a tale of how he wants the iphone 6 as his friend used it to contact his family while they were climbing the Yellow mountain. And then he told me about the Yellow mountain. “The Yellow mountain is a famous mountain in China, it is in Hangzhou province, etc, etc…” So, not so good. Then we tried the next topic, a place for a short visit. Can you guess what place he told me about? Yes, the Yellow mountain!!!! “I want to describe a place I went to for a short visit, it is called the Yellow mountain. The Yellow mountain is a famous mountain in China, it is in Hangzhou provice, etc, etc”. The moral here, don’t memorise answers as it will lead to a low mark.
Strategy 2, use your imagination in your answers. I have touched on this before, about how the IELTS is not a truth test and how the examiner is not testing your general knowledge. Also, by using your imagination, you are effectively showing a wider range of vocabulary than if you stick to the “truth”. If you get stuck on a question, like as in part 2 topic card questions, you can use your imagination to answer it. “Describe an advertisement that impressed you” let us say, I don’t have a TV but I am sure I can remember something from the days when I did or think of something that I have either heard about or read about to speak for two mins. And that is all you need to do, keep it going for 2 minutes whilst showing a good range of lexis and vocab, truth not needed.
Strategy 3, use varied and advanced vocabulary. what you need to do here is to switch things around a bit, for example, don’t answer every question with “I think…because…”, use a different structure for every question. In my view, in my opinion, I suppose, I reckon, I guess, it could be that, etc. Make complex sentences with conjunctions and connecting words and phrases, not simple short sentences. “My favourite animal is the dog”, “I have a dog”, He is a terrier”, “I have had him since he was a puppy”. Too short, too simple. Join them up and make it better. “I love dogs, as a matter I have one at the moment, it’s a terrier, you know I have had him since he was a puppy, he is such a funny dog”……
Strategy 4, say something!…..what this means is, if you don’t have an answer then buy some time, don’t sit there like a dummy. Your fluency score is affected if you hesitate and pause for too long, so what you can do is to fill the space while you think with something like “That’s a good question!” , “Ok, well let me see”, “You know, I’ve never thought about that before”, etc. This will show the examiner that you are thinking about your answer, try not to overuse it though.
Strategy 5, speak up, sound confident! Now this is not something that is directly measured by the examiner but it cannot hurt for you to speak clearly and confidently, even if you don’t feel particularly confident at that moment. Think of it as a psychological trick, the act of appearing confident will lead you to feel confident, and of course speaking clearly will help the examiner to hear you better. If you think of what happens at an interview for a job, as it is said, first impressions count so try to make a good impression on the examiner and show him or her just how good your English is.
Ok, that’s enough for now, my next post will look at specific strategies for the 3 sections of the speaking test. As always, any questions, feel free to drop me a line and I will see what I can do, also if you have any requests or suggestions for future posts, let me know.