IELTS Speaking Tips
“Teacher how can I improve my speaking?” I hear this all the time. It is by far the most common question I receive. Here is my advice for improving your IELTS speaking score.
- Practice more. This is obvious I know, but it is almost always ignored. Fluency has a lot to do with teaching your brain to think in another language. True fluency does not come from translating from your first language in your mind and then speaking. “But teacher…”, I hear a lot of excuses, some of them good, some of them not so good. Of course sitting down with a native speaker everyday who will patiently correct your mistakes while you share a cup of coffee is ideal but unfortunately it may not be possible (most teachers don’t have time to drink 80 cups of coffee a week in their off hours). Speaking with other students is much better than not speaking at all. If you live in a house with other English speakers, declare Wednesdays as English only and stick to it. Call your sibling/cousin/aunt/uncle who speaks English and ask them to practice with you once a week. Use the resources you have.
- Watch the news. Journalists produce language for a living so their English tends to be cleaner and more educated than your average TV episode or movie. Some of my IELTS students still have trouble with proper sentence structure. Listening and repeating small clips from news reports will teach your mouth what “sounds right”.
- Become an expert at common IELTS topics. My students that have studied medicine or pharmaceuticals tend to do better than the others. It could be that medical students are by necessity more studious than students of other disciplines, but I don’t think so. IELTS asks lots of questions about how things have changed or improved, the effects of technology, and how certain things affect us. I am surprised how often medicine can be used to answer these kinds of questions by clever students. The same goes for science, technology, urban challenges and development, and government and law. These topics can be used again and again and they may also come up in the other parts of the test.
- Learn good synonyms for simple words. I tell my students I don’t want to hear the words, good, bad, get, and help when they take practice tests with me. They should be using better, more complex words. Warning: do not try to use words you do not know or fully understand, chances are you will use them incorrectly or in the wrong context.
- Answer all the questions. Sometimes students lack the personal experience required for some of the questions. Most of my Yemeni students have never been to a music festival. Some sites recommend lying; I do not. Explain that you have never been to a festival but describe one you know about. If the question asks how it made you feel, describe how you think it would make you feel. In the end you are there to demonstrate your English ability, one does not need to have a pet to talk about the experience of having a pet.
- Don’t give one word answers. The IELTS speaking test is not about factual answers, giving the right answer is not the same as giving a good answer. Many questions are followed up with “why?” You should tell the examiner why without being asked. Develop your answers more fully.
- Prepare yourself mentally. Show up early, don’t rush, get a good night’s sleep the night before, have a good breakfast. This an important day, try to do it right. Visualization practice, meditation, prayer, relaxing music, whatever techniques you use to get yourself ready for a big event, use them on the big day. I, personally, imagine I’m about teach a class before I enter a job interview. It’s something I’m confident about doing. Our brains are very smart but we can trick them. Imagine yourself doing something you are good at and you will feel more relaxed. One of my students told me that he imagined himself giving a lecture before going into the test. Whatever works for you.