Updated  Nov. 7, 2008

How To Speak in Part 2 (Page 2)

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What Skills is Part 2 Testing?

Summary: All the skills (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, fluency and coherence) are tested. But Part 2 especially tests your fluency and coherence skills.


The IELTS Speaking Test is divided into three parts because each part is focusing on different speaking skills, although all the skills are being tested all the time

Part 2 focuses on your ability to narrate, i.e., to tell a story. And within the skill of narrating, the most important skills are:

a) Your fluency (i.e., your ability to 'continue talking' at a natural speed) and, 

b) Your ability to speak coherently, that is, your ability to speak in a way that is easy to follow because what you say is: i) complete,  ii) logically arranged and iii) all connected so as to form a 'whole'. Examiners are mostly listening to hear if your ideas and information are often linked by introductory expressions or phrases this is what gives your story a sense of wholeness

Of course, your vocabulary and grammar are also very important in Part 2. You should consider Part 2 as an opportunity to show the examiner what you know in vocabulary and in grammatical structures.       


Fluency in More Detail: Avoiding Unnaturally Long Pauses in Your Speaking

Speaking continuously is the biggest challenge for most candidates. You will lose points for fluency if you stop talking too much. Therefore, your first aim in Part 2 is to speak continuously. That is, you should try very hard to avoid unnaturally long pauses in your 'little story'. 

Below are some suggestions that will help you speak more continuously in Part 2.

a) How to Improve Your Fluency In The Months Before The Test

This first group of suggestions concerns how to train yourself to be a more fluent English speaker in the months before the actual IELTS test. These suggestions have already been explained in the page, 'How to Study for Part 2'. 

  1. You will increase your fluency greatly by spending time (many hours, actually), talking in a natural way with a speaking partner. In this activity you should just chat about small, everyday things, ask and answer questions, discuss topics and tell little stories. The emphasis should be on communicating naturally. The main thing is to exchange information. Remember, talking about your feelings and likes and dislikes is an example of giving information. 
  1. You should practice doing examples of typical Part 2 questions under real test conditions, i.e., by strictly giving yourself only 1 minute to read and think about a topic you have never seen before and then speaking for between 1 and 2 minutes. The more you do this, the more this exercise will increase your ability to brainstorm ideas in 1 minute and your ability to speak continuously for up to 2 minutes. 
  1. You should read out aloud a few 'model Part 2 answers' from IELTS books to give yourself some ideas on how to speak. But you should understand that some of these answers, the ones in poor quality books available in China, are not ideal answers because some of them are more like short speeches rather than naturally spoken short little stories. Be careful of your choice of 'model' answers to read.

b) Fluency In The Test Itself

Having Enough Things to Say

In the test itself, one of the main reasons why people stop talking (or finish the story too quickly) is that they don't have enough ideas. These 'ideas' are the 4 points that you say to answer the 4 main questions on the card as well as extra details to say about these 4 main points and other suitable points that the card does not specifically ask you to say. The number of ideas you can think of in your one minute of thinking time (and while you are speaking) will be much greater if you have practiced a few Part 2 topics under test conditions in your study. Also see, 'How to Best Use Your 1 Minute of Thinking Time' for more on this.

One reason why some people find it difficult to speak continuously is that these people speak impersonally, even formally. This way of speaking, avoiding mentioning yourself, makes it much more difficult to give suitable details because the Part 2 topics are almost always connected to you your personal experience, someone you know, some aspect of your everyday life, some plan or idea you have, etc. By speaking personally, you will find it much easier to think of things to say and, as a result, much easier to speak continuously. So, don't be afraid to use the words "I", "me", "my", "Personally, I ..." etc.

A key idea for speaking continuously is to look for opportunities to add information to your story about how you feel about something or your opinion about something, plus a reason or two why you feel or think this way. You don't have to wait for the task card to first tell you to add these details; just look for suitable opportunities to add this information into your story. In other words, to some extent speak like a person who loves to tell others his or her opinions, and his or her likes, dislikes and feelings about things. This is very valid information and it will definitely help you keep talking. Just be careful not to change the whole topic of your story. You can keep these pieces of information connected to your main story by the skillful use of connecting phrases such as, "By the way, ..."; "Actually, ...",  "You know, ..." and similar expressions that are used to introduce a related piece of information.

Speaking Your Thoughts When You Have to Pause

Basically, your Part 2 answer should be similar to the way you speak when telling a little story in your own language, Chinese. 

When we tell a little story in our own language, there are times when we need to pause and think about something such as a word, a name, a fact and more details to add. This is quite natural and you should not be afraid of this situation. However, when we speak our own language, we don't suddenly become silent when we need to pause to think of something. Instead, we say certain words or short expressions to communicate to the listener what is happening in your mind. You should try to do the same when speaking in English. 

The key is to speak your thoughts instead of keeping your thoughts in your head. These thoughts are not just the points in your story but are the thoughts you have about how to tell the story. You don't have to speak these thoughts when everything is going well but when you have problems in speaking continuously, you should 'think aloud'. By doing this, you will be keeping the words flowing from your mouth this is fluency! 

Below are some examples of the things people say when 'thinking aloud' when they need to pause while telling a story. These are not questions that you speak as if asking the examiner a question but rather, questions that you are asking yourself.

“Um, let me see. What else can I tell you?”

“Mmm, what else is there?”

“What else can I tell you about old Mr. Wang?” (For example, if you are describing an old person.)

“What have I forgotten to tell you? ... Oh yes, ...”

Even while you are speaking these things, your brain is still working on trying to find that something to say.

If you have practiced speaking these and similar sentences in natural conversation with your speaking partners, these sentences will come naturally to you if and when you need them in the test.

Ask Yourself the 'Question Words'

If you can't think of many things to say during the 1 minute of thinking time or while you are talking, a good idea is to ask (or say to) yourself the key 'questions words' that are used in English. These words are, "How?", "When?", "Where?", "Why?", "Who?" and "What .... (+ a noun)?" These words are in addition to the four question words in the four key points that the card asks you to talk about.

You don't need to ask yourself anything more than these single words. Just say these words to yourself and see if any information come to your mind that is suitable to include in your story.

For example, maybe the card is like this:

                        "Describe a place near water that you enjoyed visiting.

                        You should say:

                                                    where you went

                                                    who you went there with

                                                    what you did there

                        and explain how you felt about that place."

Let's look at just one of the points here, 'where you went'. Maybe your answer to this is, "I went to the beach at Qingdao". That's your basic answer but it's too short. So, you ask yourself the one word, "How?" This will bring to mind the question, "How did you go there?" Then you can add the fact that you went to Qingdao by plane or the fact that you went to the beach from your hotel on foot. The question word, "When?" can be answered by adding the detail that you and your friends went there about 10 o'clock in the morning. Or, maybe you could think of "When?" as meaning what day or what time of the year and you can say that it was in the last week of July and it was very hot then. You can still ask yourself the question word, "Where?" even though you plan to say Qingdao because the question might come to your mind, "Where is Qingdao?" and you can say that it's on the coast of Shandong province, not too far from South Korea and a few hundred kilometers east of your hometown, Beijing. The question word, "Why?" can bring to mind the facts that you went to the beach to, a) cool off in the sea water, b) to lie in the sun, c) to play some ball games on the sand and, d) to look at the beautiful view of the wide, blue ocean. Or maybe you can think of saying why you chose to go a beach at Qingdao and not a beach at, say, Dalian or some other place that has beaches.

Do you see how easily extra ideas come to your mind once you simply ask these question words? If you do this, you should have no problems in quickly thinking of extra details to add to you story.

Going Back Into the Story if You Finish Too Quickly

Some candidates don't give enough details when they talk about the four points on the task card and they find that they have finished their little story too quickly. If they have only spoken for, say, 45 seconds, the examiner will be reluctant to say anything and reluctant to accept that the story is finished because it is still much less than 1 minute. In this situation, the candidate usually sits there silently, trying to think of more to say while his or her fluency score starts to drop to a lower level. If you find yourself in a similar situation, (even if you have spoken for a little more than 1 minute but you still feel your story was too short), the thing to do is to return to something that you said previously in your story and add more details

Many people are afraid to do this because they think the Part 2 answer should resemble a very short written story or a speech but this is a mistaken idea. The Part 2 answer should be similar to a naturally spoken little story and a naturally spoken little story can be a little 'untidy', compared to a speech or written story. For example, it is natural to say "Um" a few times as you think and it is natural to use the 'thinking aloud' language that is shown above.

If you decide to 'go back into your story' to add some details, it can be done quite easily and naturally by first telling the listener what you are doing so the listener doesn't become lost or confused by what you are saying. This is showing good coherence. You can do this by saying something such as, "Oh, when I told you about ..., I forgot to say that ...." or, "As I mentioned before, ..." or, "As I was saying, ..." or some similar phrases. Instead of, "I forgot to say" you can say, "I forgot to mention" or, "I forgot to add", or, "I forgot to tell you". This is the way people sometimes talk when they tell a natural story in real life and it is quite acceptable in the Speaking test!


Coherence in More Detail

Overall, your aim should be to tell a little story that is easy to follow and has a sense of 'wholeness' to it. This is 'coherence'. 

  1. As mentioned previously, staying on the topic, as it is written in the first line of the task card, is an important part of your coherence. 

This includes paying attention to the key adjective (or adverb) that is usually in the first line of the task card. For example, if the first line says, "Describe an interesting animal", make sure your story emphasizes that the animal was interesting not just cute or some other adjective.

  1. One key idea for making your story easy to follow is to summarize the main point of your story at the beginning of the story. Then, the rest of your story is just a matter of supplying more details. In other words, you summarize your answer to the last line of the task card in your first sentence! 

Here is an example of this.


Describe some useful advice you received (from a friend or family member).

               You should say:

                               what the advice was about

                               who gave you the advice

                               what the advice was

               and explain why this advice was useful.


First sentence"Three years ago, my father gave me some advice about my choice of career, which was really useful because it saved me from making a big mistake."

This is a powerful beginning. Notice the following points:

The most suitable next sentence would be to give some background to the situation, i.e., why you were making a decision about your career at that time. But you should make this statement quite short because the listener to your story (the examiner) is anxious to know what the advice was and how you were just about to make a mistake. 

For example: "It was one night just before my College Entrance Exam, when I was filling out the form to choose what university and what faculty I would like to attend."

This model, i.e., an opening summary sentence that includes a summary of the last point, followed by a short statement about the background to the situation is an ideal model to use for many Part 2 stories.

  1. Most importantly for coherence, if you want to get a score of 6 or more for Fluency and Coherence, you need to frequently show the examiner that you know how to link your ideas. Basically, 'linking your ideas' means beginning very many (but not all) of your sentences with a short phrase or word that either:

  1. connects what you are going to say in that sentence with something you have already said or, 

  2. introduces what you are going to say in that sentence, in order to make that sentence easier to understand or, 

  3. both a) and b).

These words or short phrases that you use are called 'discourse markers' and many examples of these can be found, here, although there are many more than what is shown on that page. Here are three examples: "As I mentioned before, .......";  "As a matter of fact, ...." and, "Luckily, ....".  

You should train yourself to use ( = practice using) a wide variety of discourse markers in your study and use them a lot in Part 2, even if you feel they are not really necessary. The idea here is to show the examiner that you have knowledge of these discourse markers and that you can use them suitably. 

  1. One specific aspect of coherence in Part 2 that you should keep in mind is to clearly show the different 'parts' or different main points of your story. This is one of the main usages of the discourse markers. Don't announce that you are moving on to the next point on the card and especially don't read out the next point on the card. You should try to tell your story in such a way that someone listening to a recording of your test would not know that you are basing your story on a cue card. 

In the story about your father's advice, the next most logical point would be to say what faculty (i.e., what career preparation) you were initially going to choose, and why. Then say how your father pointed out that that choice was not a very good one and that studying accountancy was more practical and suited to you. Spend most of the time, i.e., several sentences, repeating the ideas that your father explained to you because, after all, the card asks you to describe some advice. Then finish by repeating how true and therefore, how useful the advice turned out to be and how glad you are now that your father gave you that advice. 


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