IELTS Speaking isn’t just a ‘chat’. Just like all the other parts of the IELTS test, it is put together in such a way that you can demonstrate a variety of speaking skills to the examiner – such things as showing your vocabulary, being able to communicate at length about various topics and presenting a short ‘talk’ on a particular subject. These are all things you will need to do as students and also in your future work. What this means is that you can and should prepare for your IELTS speaking just like you prepare for every other part of the exam.
So here are some facts that you should know and that will help you in your preparation.
The speaking test is a test of communication. It looks at how effectively you can communicate in English. It will test your fluency and ability to have a conversation and discussion first and foremost. This means that making a mistake (such as in grammar) is not the end of the world. Having said that, your mistakes will be noticed and the more you make the more your score will be affected.
Being confident in this part of the test can have a big impact on your performance. It will stop you from hesitating and also make sure you take ownership of the test. You should be speaking the most. The very best way to improve confidence in speaking is to practise speaking – the more the better. This does not necessarily have to be with native speakers, speaking with friends and colleagues can also help.
Pronunciation does count. Pronouncing a language well is part of language learning and the examiners in your speaking test will be checking your pronunciation. It is important although unless it really interferes with understanding it shouldn’t affect your score too much. However, if there are any words you feel you pronounce wrongly or if you stress and intonation patterns have some faults then you could try and work on this a little – in particular if you are looking for a band 8 in speaking. You could try these sites for practice. Sounds, Intonation, Stress patterns.
Remember also that whenever you learn a new word and you are not sure how to say it you should check the pronunciation. You can do this very easily on any online English-English dictionary (you should use one of these in any case to check meaning). My favourite is Macmillan.
Speed does not equal fluency. Sometimes I’ve seen students (and candidates too when I was an examiner) speak very quickly thinking that this made them sound fluent. In actual fact many native speakers (including myself) do not speak very fast. The examiner will not be fooled and if you speak too fast they may not be able to understand everything. Speaking too quickly also stops you from having time to think and this may stop you using the best language you know.
Speaking slowly stops the examiners asking too many questions! You may laugh but I have heard some students who think this is a good strategy. The less you say, the less the examiner has to mark you on and the less likely you’ll get a high band. Examiners are trained to spot ‘tricks’ and ‘strategies’ so they again won’t be fooled. A normal delivery is best. If you are thinking about using these type of techniques it just points to one thing (see facts 1 and 2) you are not really ready to take the IELTS speaking test for the band you want.
The examiner can help you. Maintaining eye contact with the examiner can help you in the speaking test. Their ‘body language’ will tell you if they are ready to move to another question or happy for you to continue speaking. In part 2 they may show if they are ready to stop or if you need to say more. Finally in part three there is more of a ‘discussion’ and sometimes they will help you to develop your idea with their questions. The Speaking test is not a diatribe – there should be some give and take between you at various parts of the test.