Paradigm Language Institute

[IELTS Article] Improving your speaking fluency

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In the speaking test in IELTS (International English Language Testing System), the examiner assesses how fluently you speak: can you speak smoothly and continuously, and at a normal speed?

Here’s an example of poor fluency. When asked, “What would be a perfect place to have a holiday?,” one of my students said:

“A place ... a perfect place ... I think that a perfect place that I would want to visit is ... A perfect place would be Phuket ... Phuket Island.”

The student paused many times and repeated words in order to add new information. Unfortunately, this would result in a low score for “Fluency and Coherence,” one of the four areas assessed in the speaking test. Here are five ways to improve fluency.

Think in English

Psychologists specialising in language have determined that a different part of the brain deals with foreign languages (e.g., English) as opposed to your native language (such as Thai).

You have to regularly use the English part of your brain if you want to develop it. Therefore, spend at least 20 minutes every day thinking in English. Do it when you don’t have to concentrate on something else, for example, while you’re walking, travelling or taking a shower.

Furthermore, the most inefficient way of speaking in English is first thinking of what you want to say in Thai, translating it into English, and then saying the English translation.

It’s also the most ineffective way of trying to improve your English speaking ability. Why? It’s because you’re constantly hopping from the “Thai area” of your brain to the “English area” and back again. This adds unnecessary steps in communicating, and fluency is often worse as a result.

What should you do? Just create sentences in English, without using any Thai. When you get used to doing that, you’ll find it’s much easier to talk. Your fluency will develop faster, too.

Don’t try to be perfect

A fear of making mistakes could easily make you too shy to speak English. Your spoken fluency might therefore not improve at all. Worse still, you might not be able to have a conversation in English even if you know much grammar and vocabulary.

As well, if you try to be perfect all the time, you’ll probably speak slower than normal, repeat or correct words, or include pauses in your speech.

This is a common problem among candidates needing a high ielts band score, like 7.0. For example, by concentrating on avoiding grammar errors in order to get a high grammar score, their fluency suffers, resulting in too low a score for fluency.

No matter what your language level is, don’t expect to speak without making errors. If you focus too much on grammar rules, for instance, it’s easy to become nervous or even forget about your fluency.

My advice is: don’t worry about making mistakes. Just relax and think about the message you want to communicate.

Use English often

If you don’t practice speaking a lot, with or without errors, you’ll never make any real progress towards fluency.

By contrast, the more often you speak, the easier it becomes. Talk in English to people, like your friends. Join an English speaking club at school or university, or do an English course. You’ll soon notice improvement.

You can also practice speaking on your own. Although there’s no response, simply speaking gives you the opportunity to try different ways of saying things, which increases your confidence. Here are some suggestions:

Tell yourself what you see around you and what’s happening in the street when you travel somewhere.

Tell yourself what you need, and why, as you walk around the supermarket.

In the morning, tell yourself what you think will happen during the day. At night, tell yourself what actually happened.

Participate in class

If you’re taking an English class, you could avoid making mistakes by speaking only when the teacher asks you a question. However, you’d speak little English each class.

A better approach is to mentally answer every question in class − even those you’re not directly asked. This gives you constant practice forming English sentences.

As well, force yourself to join in class discussions, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. You can easily enter a discussion by saying, “Excuse me, do you mean... ,” or “I

don’t follow you; can you explain that another way?”.

Record yourself

Use a recorder to tape a three-minute conversation with a friend. When you’ve finished, listen to yourself. How fluent did you sound? Can you identify and correct any errors in word choice or grammar?

Next, repeat the conversation, but force yourself to keep speaking without stopping, correcting or repeating words.

Let’s look back at the sample of poor fluency at the beginning of this article. My student realised he’d forgotten to say the place he wanted to visit was perfect, and that Phuket is an island.

Rather than restarting his talk, he could have continued talking by adding the missing information later:

“A place that I would want to visit is Phuket. Phuket is an island in the South of Thailand, and it’s my idea of a perfect place to have a holiday because ...”

Finally, listen to your repeated conversation. Note the improvements in your speech. You should find that the more you and your friend record yourselves, the more natural you’ll both sound. 

This article was written by David Park, a highly experienced IELTS teacher. Ajarn David teaches at Paradigm Language Institute.

If you have any questions about IELTS that you would like Ajarn David to answer,
or if you wish to do an IELTS preparation course, write to:

IELTS is owned by Cambridge ESOL, the British Council and IDP: IELTS Australia.

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