Spoken English is what you hear on TV, in bars and cafes, and when meeting new classmates at university. You hear it everywhere, but are you using it properly in IELTS?
In IELTS Speaking, your score is based on how well you use Spoken English, not Academic English, even if you’re taking the Academic version of the test. Confused? Read on.
The Speaking module of IELTS is the same for Academic and General Training candidates and there are no extra points for sounding like an academic essay. In fact, your score could even go down!
To get a high score in IELTS Speaking, be aware of the common features of Spoken English and apply them in the test. Here’s my list of eight things that make Spoken English unique.
Spoken English begins with greetings
At the beginning of a new conversation, we start with greetings. The actual contents of our greetings are usually meaningless. The true purpose of greetings is to communicate the mood we’re in and announce that we’re available to talk. So, if asked ‘How are you?’ never reply with ‘I’m tired and I think I’ve caught a cold.’ Smile and respond quickly with ‘Great, thanks’ and let the conversation begin!
Spoken English is simple
In speaking, we use a lot of one-syllable words like ‘I’ ‘think’ ‘you’ ‘are’ ‘great’. We don’t say ‘It is my personal belief that you have superior qualities’. One mistake that IELTS Academic candidates make is in trying to pack their speech with academic jargon. It doesn’t make you sound clever: it only increases the work the listener must do to understand you. Keep it simple and use plain language.
Spoken English is interesting
Sometimes we just have to read boring books as part of our studies. But we don’t want to hang around people whose conversation bores us. The most common reasons for boring speech are flat intonation and slow speed. Record yourself speaking on your smartphone or another device. Now listen back to the recording (don’t worry – NOBODY likes doing this!) Be honest: are you an interesting speaker? If not, practice varying your intonation and speed, and try to use more fluency expressions to keep your listener engaged.
Spoken English is cultural
When you read books written by British, American, or Australian authors, you will rarely find any differences in the language, except for a few spellings. But Spoken English is much more dependent on the culture of the speakers. Different groups uses accents, slang and idioms to communicate their shared identity. As an IELTS candidate, you don’t need to worry about accents and you should avoid slang completely. However, using a few common idioms can help to show that you’re familiar with the conventions of Spoken English.
Spoken English involves two people
In any conversation, there is always a speaker and a listener. But how is that different from a reader and a writer? The difference is something called synchronicity. When reading a book, if there’s something we don’t understand, we go back and read it again. The responsibility is on the reader. In speaking, however, the speaker must pay attention to the listener’s cues and be ready to reword it or explain again if something wasn’t clear the first time. The interview format of IELTS Speaking allows you to do this.
Spoken English is where new words are tested and learned
Do you spend many hours of the day cramming your brain with new English vocabulary? Memorisation is useful to a point, but most linguists agree that new words are only truly learned when we use them in speech. Look at the vocabulary that you’ve studied in the last 12 months. How many words have you actually used in conversation? You’ll find that the words you’ve actually used are easier to remember. However, don’t forget my second point, which is that you should not use words that may cause problems for your listener.
Spoken English is about more than just words
In conversation, the listener pays attention to far more than just our words. Our posture, clothing, hairstyle, facial expression, eye contact and voice quality are all important signals that we are friendly, competent, trustworthy, or the opposite! Of course, in IELTS Speaking there are no scores awarded for non-verbal communication or body language. IELTS examiners claim that they completely ignore such factors when scoring a candidate. However, is that really possible to believe?
Spoken English is social
Spoken English is how we maintain our relationships with friends and family. But it’s also how we introduce ourselves to strangers and form new relationships. If all your conversations are with people you already know, you may be uncomfortable speaking to a stranger in the IELTS Speaking test. Make sure you overcome any shyness by meeting new people in the weeks before you take the test. This will also give you many opportunities to practice talking about yourself. You can also practice IELTS Speaking with me on Skype by taking my IELTS Speaking Practice Test with Feedback.
This article was produced by IELTS Academic, bringing you strategies for success in the IELTS test and supporting your dream of work or study abroad. Search for more articles below or take an online practice test.