Updated July 19, 2014
How to Speak in Part 1
(A lot of the information below applies to the whole test, not just Part 1.)
Question: "Do you work or are you a student?"
Answer: "Oh, I've been working for five years."
That answer does tell the examiner that you are working but it does so indirectly. The question asks you to choose between "A" and "B" and, in order to answer directly, you should first choose between A and B and then add some suitable extra information. So, a more suitable answer is, "I'm working. In fact, I've been working for five years."
There are times in the Speaking test when it is suitable not to give an immediate answer, for example, when it's a difficult question and you need to think for a second before answering or when you want to make a comment about the question. This is natural even when you are speaking your native language. In the case where you need time to think, you should tell the examiner that you need a second to consider the question; don't sit there silently thinking about your answer.
In other words, you should always start speaking immediately after the examiner asks a question but what you say does not always have to immediately be the answer to the question from the moment you start speaking. However, you should not need to speak this way very much in Part 1 because almost all questions in Part 1 are rather simple, information-seeking questions. This advice is more suitable for some Part 3 questions.
The best way (but not the only way) to give new information is to include the information in the same sentence as your direct answer. When you do this, you usually use a relative pronoun (联系代词) such as, "which" to make the whole sentence into a complex sentence. Showing this skill is a key point for getting 6 or more for grammar and 6 or more for the whole Speaking test.
When you give extra information, make sure it is new information, not information that everybody already knows.
Here's an example of extra information that is not new information: "I study chemistry, which has a lot of experiments." Almost everybody knows that the study of chemistry (usually) includes experiments. That's almost like saying, "I study history, which is the story of the past." But if you say, "I study chemistry, which has a lot of interesting experiments" then you are giving new information to the examiner – the information that the experiments are interesting to you.
Note that there are times when it is not suitable or natural to use a relative pronoun to connect the extra information to your basic answer. For example, if you say, "I'm working, which (is something) I've been doing for five years" then your answer will sound a little unnatural and forced.
In other words, if your pronunciation is clear and accurate but you use an unsuitable choice of words, the examiner will usually not ask you to repeat your answer because they will hear you clearly. Similarly, if your choice of words is suitable but your pronunciation is not perfect (but not too bad), the examiner will usually know what you said and will not ask you to repeat your answer. So, if the examiner asks you to repeat a sentence, try to guess which words were unsuitable and try to change them when you repeat your sentence.If you are asked to repeat a sentence, (and you use a different word or two), also try to clarify your meaning by giving an example.
Alternatively, you could repeat your sentence using the same words that you spoke originally, but also include an example and, as well as that, say something such as, "In other words, ..." or "What I mean is, ....".
In general, try to keep a balance between longer and shorter answers within each topic, such as the topic of "Sport" or the topic of "Food". For example, if you first give two short answers in one topic, you should try to make the other answers in that topic longer. Or, if you first give two long answers, try to make the other answers in that topic a bit shorter.
In this way, you will be co-operating with the examiner by helping him or her ask you about 12 questions on three topics in about 4.5 minutes (between 4 and 5 minutes). If the examiner feels that the interview "went smoothly", you are more likely to get the highest score that is possible for you.
Why do examiners dislike completely memorized answers? Firstly, the purpose of the Speaking test is to assess how well you can communicate naturally in spoken English – completely memorized answers are not considered to be natural communication. Also, you are not supposed to know what the test questions are! So don't make it obvious that you do know a certain question is in the test.
As well as that, Westerners (including me) do not believe that memorizing long passages of language is the optimum way to learn a language. The theory is that people best learn a language by memorizing short combinations of words, such as noun + adjective combinations, a verb construction such as a present perfect construction, phrases, expressions etc. and even very short complete sentences. Then, you should create your own output by combining the short memorized items. In fact, language experts believe that the best way to learn the vocabulary of a language is not to learn single new words but learn them in short combinations of words.
So, if you do prepare a complete, rather long answer to a question, this is my advice:
- Don't try to repeat or practice that answer 100% exactly the same each time you say it. Instead, vary your answer a little each time you say it, hopefully making it a little better each time. Or, you can think of this idea as meaning, don't 100% memorize a long answer but instead memorize just the key points, so that you are memorizing your answer to about 70% accuracy. And,
- Whenever you repeat or practice an answer, speak it naturally, as if you were really speaking to another human being. Don't repeat any prepared answers like a robot.
These words are basic, everyday vocabulary. Don't think that Part 1 is trying to test the kind of words that you find in "IELTS Vocabulary" books. Those books are mainly for the Reading and Writing tests. (Similarly, the examiner is not looking for the kind of words that are tested in the GRE test.) Of course, many of the words in those IELTS Vocabulary books are suitable for Part 1 answers, but some of the words in those books are too formal for speaking, especially for Part 1.
For example, if the examiner asks you, "Do you have anything on the walls of your home (or, your room)?", the truth might be that you have nothing on the walls because you don't want to damage the walls. But that answer doesn't show much vocabulary. If, on the other hand, you (untruthfully) tell the examiner about lots of things that you have on your walls, possibly including in your answer a short description of a picture (for example, a bamboo forest with two tigers lying on some grass), you will get more points for vocabulary.
Similarly, the examiner might ask you what you can see when you look out the window(s) of your house (or your room) but maybe you don't know the vocabulary to describe what you really can see. In this case, tell a lie and give an answer using vocabulary that you do know. Or maybe the view is very boring and simple to talk about and doesn't require much vocabulary to describe. In that case, tell a lie and impress the examiner with your vocabulary by describing a view that is not true but that is rich in detail or rich in vocabulary.
Another example is the 'housework' topic. Many candidates do very little housework, besides just tidying up their own room. You could speak the truth and say that and explain why you don't do much housework. That's quite good, if you can use good language to say it. But why not include in your answer that you occasionally wash the dishes or help your mother wash and chop up the vegetables for dinner (even if it is not true)? And in the question that asks you what housework you least like doing, you can tell a lie and say, "Once I had to ..... and I really didn't like it because ..... So, I'd probably say (or, "I'd have to say") that's the household chore I least like doing." Use your imagination here!
For example, pay attention to any past tense question, which usually has the word "did" (or, "was" or "were") in the question. Then use the past tense in your direct answer, and probably in all of your answer, as well. For example: "When did you first start reading newspapers?" You say when and also speak in the past tense when you say why or how or where you got the newspaper from, or what parts of the newspaper you used to read when you first started reading newspapers, say, at the age of 12.
At other times the question is asked in the present perfect tense (现在完成时) but your answer should be in the past tense. For example, "Have you received any (on-the-job) training at work?" The most common way to begin your answer using the same tense, "Yes, I have." You could continue to use the present perfect tense such as, "I've been trained how to give presentations to my customers". But it would be better to change to the past tense and say the specific time when this happened. For example, "Yes, I have. I was trained how to give presentations to my customers when I first started this job."
When talking about something in the past, look for opportunities to say something such as, " ... because I thought it was interesting". Notice you say, "thought", not "think" even though you might still think that it is interesting now. This is 间接引语, the same as this: "He said he was a doctor." (He still is a doctor.) Another example is: "I chose that sort of work because I thought it would suit my personality." (Here, "would" is the subjunctive form (虚拟语气) of "will".)
For example, "What would you suggest a visitor to China see and do?" should be answered by saying:
"I'd suggest they visit the Great Wall and ..."
= "I'd suggest visiting the Great Wall and ..."
= "I'd recommend they visit the Great Wall and ..."
= "I'd recommend visiting the Great Wall and ..."
= "I'd encourage them to visit the Great Wall and ..."
= "I'd tell them to visit the Great Wall and ..." (This last example is not as good as the others because "tell" is more general than "suggest" – it's more suitable for the question, "What would you say to a visitor to China?")
You need to practice making sentences using "which" (as well as other relative pronouns, 联系代词) so that the sentences come quickly in the Speaking test.
– "Would you say your hometown is a good place to live?" --> "Yes, I would. It's a very nice place place to live in because ...." (That's better than, "Yes, I would. My hometown is a very nice place place to live in because ...."). In this case, repeating "to live in" is suitable because it just just say "nice place" then that could simply mean "a nice place to visit".
– "Do you like traveling by train?" --> "Yes, I quite like it because ..." or even, "Yes, I do because ..." are better than, "Yes, I quite like traveling by train because ..."
– "Do you often use a computer?" --> "Yes, I use one almost every day" is better than, "Yes, I use a computer almost every day."
– "Does your mother work?" --> "Yes, she works as a kindergarten teacher" is better than, "Yes, my mother works as a kindergarten teacher."
– "If someone gave you a dictionary as a gift, how would you feel?" --> "Well, I'd feel thankful because ..." is better than, "Well, if someone gave me a dictionary as a gift I'd feel thankful because ...". There's no need to include those words.
– "Do you think schools should take their students to visit museums and art galleries?" --> "Yes, I think they should because .." or, "Yes, I think they should take them there" or, "Yes, I think they should take them to those places" are better than, "Yes, I think schools should take their students to museums and art galleries because .....".
You should begin your answer with, "Yes, I do" and then give more information, even though the examiner did not directly ask you for more information. For example, say what type of sport or art or music or TV programs you like, when you do something, how long you have liked it, how often you do something, who you do it with, why you like it, or whatever you feel is suitable extra information for that question. Be talkative! (当爱说话的人！做个健谈的人！)