Pronunciation is important but they do not expect you to talk like a native speaker (not at all–I’m not talking about your accent).
However, you should be able to pronounce words correctly and be easily understood. So, if you don’t know how some words are pronounced, don’t use them.
All online dictionaries have audio pronunciation in every word so make sure to check them out for words you are not sure about.
2.) Every day Topics
In Part 1, you should be able to talk about every day topics in relation to your own personal preferences and interests, that is to be able to talk about family, studies, work, friends, hobbies etc.
These are going to be very simple questions, warm-up questions, so this is good for you because you will be able to show off your English by giving simple answers (to the point) without hesitation or pauses.
Don’t worry if the examiner interrupts you in any part, s/he follows specific time guidelines so they have to interrupt you in order to be on time.
3.) Avoid Yes/No Answers
In both Part 1 and Part 3 don’t answer with a “yes” or “no” or just a sentence for an answer.
Try to expand and develop your answers in at least two sentences!! (If it is Part 3, make it even more).
Face these parts like an interview. Pretend you are a famous person and you talk about yourself and your beliefs. Just like you don’t like interviews of famous people that the person doesn’t talk much and doesn’t say anything (the reporter does all the job), in the same way the examiner doesn’t like candidates who don’t talk enough!
How will your English be evaluated if you don’t talk especially in Part 1 which is the easiest? Just think about it!
4.) Stay on Topic
There are some students who understand the previous tip of expanding answers the wrong way. They are so eager to talk that they start talking about irrelevant things.
For example, if the examiner asks a simple question like “Do you like music?” this is how they answer: “Yes, I do. The other day I bought a music playing device and my mum got angry because it was too expensive [….]”
Ok, this is a farfetched example, but there are people who out of anxiety just forget what the question was and talk about anything!
So, be relaxed, focused, and answer on topic.
5.) Vocabulary and Linking Phrases
Try to use a variety of vocabulary and a wide range of linking phrases. Both are very important as they will make you sound natural and will help you with your organisation of ideas as well.
Even users with a good command of the language tend to use limited vocabulary in Speaking. It seems that the only words they can remember to describe something are “good” and “bad”. You have so many options!
Instead of just “good” you can use–depending on the context–“helpful, useful, effective, appropriate, amazing, interesting, excellent”: there are so many equivalents and these are words you already know for sure.
Also, instead of “bad” you can use “ineffective, inappropriate, useless, frustrating, annoying, boring” again depending on the context.
You can do this with verbs as well. Instead of using “I like” all the time, you can say “I enjoy; I have fun with; I prefer etc”.
Additionally, you can learn some standard linking phrases to help you during your speaking, especially when you get stuck and you don’t know what else to say. You can find useful phrases in the speaking lessons here!
6.) Part 2 and Notes
In Part 2, you will be given some time to have a look at the card with some paper and a pen to take down notes.
Make sure that you do take down notes and that you cover all points in your monologue.
Some students complain that they don’t have enough time for that. The majority of times, this happens because they don’t take notes but they start writing whole sentences with their ideas.
Obviously, you don’t have time for that! This is not a writing. So, train yourself on taking down notes of your ideas in a short amount of time and then start talking about them.
Another problem is that students waste time thinking what to note down–you don’t have time for that either. Talk about the first thing that crosses your mind and start taking notes right away.
7.) Always Give Reasons and Examples
In Part 3 you’re going to be asked more demanding questions than Part 1 and 2.
Even if the examiner doesn’t ask you, you should always add a “why” at the end of each question you’re asked.
This means that you answer the questions; state your opinion; and always answer “why” you think that way. It will also be very good if you are able to give an example that justifies your point.
Again, you can find useful phrases to help you organise your speech in the speaking lessons about vocabulary here.
8.) Speak as you write
This might seem a little bit weird but really, it is going to help you very much once you get the hang of it.
In Part 3, the questions you’re going to get could be writing topics as well. In order to be fluent without pauses and organised in your ideas, make sure that your answers follow the coherence of a good paragraph.
You should start introducing your answer with an opening sentence; then give your opinion and example; and end with a closing sentence. This will be a complete answer with no pauses and no awkwardness. For more information on how to achieve that, check out this lesson here.
9.) Get Into the Examiner’s Shoes
Imagine for a moment that you are the examiner of your own language. What would you want to see? Would you like to see a terrified person that is too afraid to speak?
No, this will make your job even harder. You want to see a happy and friendly person. Examiners see lots of people everyday: they are tired too. They are on your side, not your enemy.
Just go in there and have a friendly conversation with confidence. If you make them forget that they examine you (which is the ideal), you will score higher. The only way to achieve that is by being prepared. You’re going to be nervous more or less, so the more prepared you are, the less nervous you are going to be.
There are no right or wrong questions. They do not evaluate your general knowledge–they couldn’t care less.
What they want to see is that you are able to understand what you are asked and talk about it by giving your own opinion with arguments.
They just want to see that you can communicate well and effectively in English and that you can justify and stand up for what you believe.
What is more, you can lie too. Examiners know nothing about you. And they don’t care. All they care about is your English. So, it doesn’t matter if you lie in a question just because it seems easier at some point. You can lie as much as you like, as long as you answer the question on topic and your English is good.
11.) Don’t be a parrot
Lots of students when asked a question, they repeat it. For example, “Would you rather live in the country or in the city?”. And they go: “Would I rather live in the country or in the city? Well […]” OR “I would rather live in the city because […]”.
The first is obviously worse but the second one isn’t very good either especially if you do this to every question.
The ideal is to try and paraphrase a little bit. For example, “Well, I prefer living in the city because..” Do you see the difference? It’s not much but if you do this in every answer it will make a huge difference.
12.) Practice Makes Perfect
This is a golden rule for everything in life and speaking is no exception. Answer questions of all parts on your own and practise a lot.
Do not memorise answers by heart, examiners can easily understand that and it will count against your score.
Just practice answering questions lots of times–see it like a game and gradually you will improve.
13.) Focus On What You Know NOT On What You Don’t
Gradually the questions are going to be a little bit more challenging especially in Part 3. If you didn’t get a question you can ask “Could you repeat the question, please?” That’s fine.
Most times apart from a difficult word or phrase the question is pretty simple, so don’t get too overwhelmed. Even if they ask you: “What do you think about nuclear energy?” and you know nothing about it, you still know that it is something dangerous so base your answer on that.
They do not expect you to be a scientist. They just want you to talk in English, so use your weaknesses to your advantage: If you don’t know about something, state it! Use it: “Well, I’m not really familiar with that topic, but I would say that ….” just like you would in your mother tongue.
If you don’t remember a word and you get stuck, use that too! Try to describe it: “Oh, how is this word called; it’s on the tip of my tongue–it’s this thing that we use when we want to […]” Use your weaknesses to your advantage and act as you would in your mother tongue.
14.) Think In English
I know it is very difficult but this is what we are aiming for so try to think and talk in English as much as possible. The worst thing you can do is to try to translate in your mind what you would say in your mother language. Avoid that at all costs!
Be simple but think in English. If you think in a language with a different syntax and more advanced vocabulary you’ll get stuck eventually and then you’ll forget what you started to say in the first place!
So, practice thinking in English even if it is simple phrasing at first. Gradually, you will be able to do it with more complex phrasing.
15.) Speak Up
You will nervous (it’s only natural) but that doesn’t mean that you should be shy and make it difficult for the examiner to hear you.
Your English may be excellent but what difference does it make if only dolphins can hear you?
If the examiner can’t hear you, he’ll be annoyed because his job becomes harder. You don’t want that.
Open your mouth; talk clearly; and speak up with confidence!
A Personal Story
Now I’d like to share with you a personal story of mine. When I was taking the Cambridge Proficiency Exam I scored an A in the Speaking Part and you know what? It wasn’t because of my range of vocabulary (I was only 16 at the time–my vocabulary wasn’t as advanced then).
It wasn’t because of my accent either, as most of you know I’m not a native speaker of English (just like you) so my accent was even worse when I was 16 than it is now. Sure my grammar was very good and I was pretty fluent (I want to be honest with you) but what I do know now as a teacher is that I got an A for another reason entirely.
But first, let me give you some background information. At that time, I had a terrible fight with my best friend of 8 years to the point we weren’t talking to each other any more. You know how teenagers are with their friends; I was devastated and thought it was the end of the world.
To make a long story short, towards the end of the Speaking exam, I get this question “How important is friendship for you?” or something along these lines. Talk about bad timing, right? I started answering the question and suddenly I couldn’t help it anymore and started crying!
This was one of the most embarassing moments in my entire life! (After that I got more embarassing moments for sure but still, this is one of them.) Imagine yourself crying in a Speaking exam! You don’t want this; trust me.
So, do you know why I got an A? Not because she felt sorry for me hopefully (well, she could have given me a C–I would still have passed). She gave me an A because yes, I was crying, but I didn’t stop talking!
I used the problem to my advantage. I remember ssaying something like “I can’t believe this is happening to me” and then I explained the situation to her and answered the question as well.
Do you see the point I’m trying to make here (apart from making a fool of myself in front of you)? I’m not saying that you should go in there and start crying no, not at all (try not to do that by the way), what I’m trying to say is that whatever your weakness is, use it to your advantage and don’t stop talking.
Act just like you would act in your mother language. Go there to have a conversation and enjoy it without being self-conscious of your level, your grammar mistakes, or your range of voccabulary. Go there to have a friendly conversation without pauses and without fear!
So, go there and rock your Speaking exam!