In the IELTS speaking test, there are some very common mistakes that students make with their approach to answering the questions. In Taiwan, there are also some very common vocabulary and grammar mistakes. Here are some examples of both, with tips on how to avoid them.
1. Responding to a questions with Silence
When you don’t quite understand, don’t know what to say, or you need to time to think it’s quite common to respond with silence. However, the examiner won’t know if you are thinking, don’t understand, or can’t respond because you don’t have enough vocabulary.
Learn some standard responses, and practice these very often, so you can use them when you need time to think. E.g.:
- Hmmm, that’s an interesting question…
- Well, I suppose…
- Sorry, could you say that again?
2. Flat, monotone pronunciation
For a higher band score in the pronunciation criteria of the speaking test, you need to demonstrate pronunciation features, like linking words, stress and intonation.
This can be difficult for Chinese speakers, as the two languages are very different, sometimes resulting in flat, monotone pronunciation.
- Listen to a short clip of a native English speaker (any accent is fine)
- Note down what they say, and make a note of: words that are stressed; rising and falling intonation; words that are linked together
- Record yourself saying the same thing
- Compare your recording with the original, and make note of any differences
- Repeat this often with different accents and different scenarios.
3. Simple vocabulary
To get a good score on your vocabulary (lexical resource), you need to have a wide range of words that you can use, for a wide range of topics.
- In practice, if you find you lack vocabulary when talking about a certain topic, make a vocabulary list in your notebook on that topic. E.g. ‘space’ or ‘health’.
- Then, read/ listen to/ watch authentic texts on that topic, and each time, take around 10 new words.
- Add them to your notebook list, with a definition and example.
- Practice speaking on that topic again, and focus on incorporating the new words you have learnt.
4. Short answers
Remember, the examiner is asking you a question to give you the opportunity to show them all of the English that you know. If you give a short answer like ‘No.’ or ‘Sometimes.’, then you are not giving the examiner much English to grade you on.
Practise the speaking test at home, very often. Time yourself to try and replicate the real test situation. Record yourself, so you can hear if you are able to speak long enough. If not, think of more details you could have given, and try again.
5. Opening to part 2 – repeating the question
In part 2, you only have 2 minutes to speak and show the examiner your best English. So don’t waste it by just reading the opening line that’s written down on the question paper.
Top Tip: Instead, paraphrase and use a high level English phrase to start your answer. So instead of “I’m going to describe a time when…”, you can say something like “A few years ago…” or “I’d like to tell you about something that happened last year…”.
Common vocabulary and grammar mistakes
(X) Very efficiency (very + noun.)
(V) To be very efficient OR To do something very efficiently
Students frequently make the mistake of ‘very + noun’. Record your speaking practice, listen back, and listen for any time you say ‘very’. Make sure it is with an adverb or adjective, and not a noun or a verb.
(X) Due to…/ Because…
(V) I like … because… (opinion or fact + because + reason)
(V) This is due to… (Effect/ Result + is due to + reason)
In English, It’s best to use because in two ways:
- To connect an opinion/ fact with a reason
- To respond to a why question (not a what, when, where question etc…)
In English, It’s best to use due to in two ways:
- After a sentence that gives an outcome or result, the next sentence can start with ‘This is due to…’ to provide the reason.
- You might also hear ‘due to’ at the start of sentences in public announcements or legal documents. E.g. at the airport ‘due to severe weather, the flight will be delayed’. However, this usage is not common in normal spoken English.
(X) Honest speaking/ general speaking
(V) Honestly speaking/ generally speaking
These two are phrases used to start a sentence, or preface an opinion – the word form doesn’t change, and is always adv.+ speaking
(X) I like watching Korean drama/ American drama
(V) I like watching Korean Soap Operas
(V) I like watching American TV Shows
In Chinese, Drama is used on the end of many types of TV shows. In English though, we have different words that collocate with TV shows.
- Soap Opera: TV shows, often with a fairly low budget, and story lines around love and betrayal. Usually amongst a family or neighbourhood
- TV Show: Although many people will watch series online, we still refer to them as ‘TV shows’ or ‘shows’.
- Drama: This is just a genre of TV show. So, we might say ‘I’ve been watching this great new show, it’s a political drama’.
(X) Taipei is very convenient
(V) Taipei is a really convenient city to live in because…
(V) The public transportation system in Taipei is excellent. It’s really easy to travel across the whole city.
To say ‘______is very convenient’ is correct, BUT, many students in Taiwan use this phrase. It could be considered quite a simple sentence pattern, and it is not something that a native speaker would say so often. Instead, show some variety by using the expressions suggested above.