Focus on Fluency and Coherence

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Band 6

  • is willing to speak at length, though may lose coherence at times due to occasional repetition, self-correction or hesitation
  • uses a range of connectives and discourse markers but not always appropriately
Band 7

  • speaks at length without noticeable effort or loss of coherence
  • may demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition and/or self-correction
  • uses a range of connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility
Band 8

  • speaks fluently with only occasional repetition or self correction;
  • hesitation is usually content-related and only rarely to search for language
  • develops topics coherently and appropriately
Band 9

  • speaks fluently with only rare repetition or self-correction;
  • any hesitation is content-related rather than to find words or grammar
  • speaks coherently with fully appropriate cohesive features
  • develops topics fully and appropriately

Fluency

In the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner will assess your ability to speak fluently. To do this, the examiner listens for two main features in your speech:

  • your rate of speech i.e., do you speak at a relaxed, natural rate?
  • the smoothness and continuity of your speech i.e., do you speak easily without too many pauses?

Let’s look at each of these features so you can learn how to become a fluent speaker.

Effective rate of speech

The rate of your speech refers to the speed of your speech, that is, how quickly or slowly you speak. An effective rate is a relaxed, natural speed, that is, not too quick or not too slow.

Effective smoothness and continuity

The smoothness of your speech refers to how easily you speak, that is, how easily you move from one sentence to another. The continuity of your speech refers to how easily you can speak without too many pauses.To speak fluently, your speech needs to be smooth and continuous, that is, flow from one word to another and from one sentence to another without pausing too often.

This does not mean that you should speak without pausing at all – a few pauses are quite natural. Pausing is used by native speakers of English to think about what they are going to say or how they are going to say it.

Improving the smoothness and continuity of a response

Why is it sometimes difficult to speak smoothly and continuously?

The main reason is that you cannot think of a word or phrase that you want to use to answer a question and so you pause or say um several times while you try to think of the word or phrase.

There are two strategies that you can use when this happens. These strategies will help you improve the smoothness and continuity of your answers in the Speaking test. You can:

  • use other words to express the same or similar meaning when you cannot think of the word in English
  • use fillers when you can’t think of a word or expression and you don’t want to hesitate for too long.

Let’s look at these strategies now.

Using other words

During the Speaking test, you may hesitate too long if you are unable to remember a word or if you don’t know a word in English. In this case, you should try to use other words to express the same or a similar meaning.

Let’s look at an example question. The examiner asks you:

Let’s talk about your home town…

  • Is your city a popular tourist destination?

You want to say that it is popular because there are many shrines and temples and other ancient monuments that tourists can visit.

However, you do not remember or do not know the words ‘shrines’ and ‘temples’ and ‘ancient monuments’ in English.

Using fillers

Another strategy you can use when you can’t think of a word or expression and you don’t want to hesitate for too long is to use fillers. Examples of fillers are:

  • um
  • uh
  • er
  • well
  • let me see

Coherence

In the IELTS Speaking test, the examiner will assess your ability to answer coherently. A coherent answer is an answer that links ideas, is well-oganised and ordered logically. To do this, you should make sure:

  • your sentences are sequenced logically, that is, they are in a logical order.
  • you have used signposts to organise your answer
  • you have used conjunctions to link ideas
  • you have linked your ideas to the question.

We will look at each of these in this section.

Sequencing your sentences logically

One way of making your answer coherent is to sequence the sentences in your answer logically. This means that your ideas need to be linked together so the main idea of a sentence flows on from the sentence before.

Using signposts in your answer

Another way of creating a coherent answer is the use of signposts. Signposts are words or phrases which help to organise your answer. They connect what you have said before with what you are going to say next. Signposts are used to help the listener understand the logical connections of your ideas. They signal that you are going to:

  • sequence your ideas
  • give an example
  • add another idea
  • introduce an idea that is different
  • summarise ideas
  • give a cause
  • give an effect
  • emphasise a point
  • generalise
  • clarify a point.

You will find a table on the next page which gives examples of these signposts. First, let’s listen to an example of how signposts are used.

More useful signposts

Here are some examples of other useful signposts you can use to organise your answers in the IELTS Speaking test.

Sequence ideas
  • First (firstly)
  • Next,
  • Finally,
  • The main reason is
  • Another point is
  • Another reason is
computers have increased our ability to get a job done faster.

 

Give an Example
  • For example,
  • For instance,
  • Namely,
  • Specifically,
  • That is,
now I can make overseas orders by e-mail and the goods are here in only a few days.
  • …such as…
…such as making overseas orders by email.

 

Add another idea
  • Also,
  • In addition,
  • Moreover,
  • Besides,
they allow us to get a job done more efficiently.

 

Introduce a similar idea
  • Likewise,
  • Similarly,
computers can be a lot of fun to use.

 

Introduce a different idea
  • However,
  • In contrast,
  • On the other hand,
some people find computers very boring to use.
  • Although
some people find computers boring, I am fascinated by them.

 

Introduce a new idea
  • With regard to
  • When it comes to
  • On the question of
other kinds of technology, it is clear that they have improved working conditions as well.

 

Summarise your ideas
  • All in all,
  • In brief,
  • On the whole,
I think the increased use of computers has improved our lives dramatically.

 

Give a cause
  • Due to
  • Because of
my parents’ nervousness, they never turn on the computer.

 

Give an effect
  • Therefore,
  • As a result,
  • For this reason,
  • Consequently,
the computer sits in the study without being used.

 

Emphasise a point
  • Certainly,
  • Indeed,
  • In fact,
  • Of course,
  • Actually,
  • As a matter of fact,
  • Naturally,
I understand their fear of technology.

 

Generalise
  • Usually,
  • In general,
  • On the whole,
  • As a rule,
  • In most cases,
  • Broadly speaking,
  • Generally speaking,
  • For the most part,
  • To some extent
younger people are more comfortable using computers.

 

Clarify a point
  • In other words,
  • Namely,
  • That is to say,
  • I mean,
younger people have grown up with computers.

Um … there are a few ways. In fact, in my country most people nowadays have the opportunity to start learning English at school … um … most students take English as a subject at high school. Also, there are other small schools that you can go to and some of them have conversation classes. In general, it depends on what … on why you are learning English.

Using signpost phrases to respond to the question

When answering questions during the Speaking test you can organise what you say by using signpost phrases in your answer. Let’s look at some phrases you can use to:

  • express your opinion
  • compare and contrast
  • evaluate
  • suggest
  • give a preference
  • predict or speculate.

Giving an opinion

Look at the following question.

Let’s talk about marriage…

  • Do you think married couples should divorce if they are no longer happy together?

This question asks for your opinion. It asks if you think married couples who are unhappy together should divorce.

Look at the following phrases you can use to express your opinion.

Phrases to express an opinion Opinion
  • I believe that …
  • I think that …
  • As far as I’m concerned …
  • In my opinion …
  • In my view …
  • It seems to me that …
  • I strongly believe that …
… couples should be free to divorce if they have tried to solve the problems in their relationship without success.

Comparing and contrasting

Look at the following questions.

What are some similarities between buying food in your country and buying food here?

This question asks you to compare and contrast.

Now look at the following phrases you can use to compare and contrast.

Phrases to compare and contrast Comparing and contrasting
Some similarities between (buying food in my country and here) are that…

(Buying food in my country and here) is similar because …

Some differences between (buying food in my country and here) are that…

(Buying food in my country and here) is different because …

… fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap and they are also easily available.

 

… meat is almost twice as expensive here as in my country and there is less variety here.

Evaluating

Look at the following example question.

Let’s talk about education…

  • What type of assessment do you think is more effective for tertiary students, assignments or examinations?

This question asks you to evaluate. It asks you to say which type of assessment you think is better and why.

Look at following phrases you can use to evaluate.

 

Phrases to evaluate Evaluation
I believe that (assignments) are more effective/better/fairerbecause …

(Assignments) are definitely more suitable for (tertiary students) because …

… this type of assessment gives students the time and opportunity to produce better quality work.

Note that in order to evaluate something, you may have to compare it with something else in order to decide if it is better/worse etc. You may therefore need to use comparative or superlative adjectives such as those used in the above examples:

  • more effective/the most effective
  • better/the best
  • fairer/the fairest.
  • more successful/the most successful
  • more important/the most important
  • more popular/the most popular.

Giving suggestions

Look at the following question.

Let’s talk about tourism in your country…

  • What could your government do to encourage more tourism in your country?

This question asks you to suggest ways in which the government could increase tourism in your country.

Here are some phrases you can use to give suggestions.

 

Phrases to give suggestions Suggestion
(The government) could…
Perhaps (the government) could …A good idea would be for (the government) to…
Maybe (the government) should …
… encourage tourism in our country by spending more money on worldwide advertising to promote our tourist attractions and our culture.
One way (the government) could …
Another way (the government) could …
… encourage tourism in our country is by spending more money on worldwide advertising to promote our tourist attractions and our culture.

Giving preferences

Look at the following example question.

Let’s talk about study…

  • Do you prefer to study with a group or by yourself? Why/Why not?

This question asks you to give a preference. It asks you to say which choice you like better (studying with a group or by yourself) and why.

Look at the following phrases you can use to give preferences.

Phrases to give preferences Preference
I much prefer to …
In general I would rather …
I usually like to …
On the whole I usually choose to …
Sometimes I prefer to…
… study with a friend or a group of people.

No preference

I don’t mind doing either (x) or (y).
“ I don’t mind studying either with a group or by myself.”

I like doing both (x) and (y).
“ I like studying both with a group and by myself.”

Speculating (about the past, present or future)

Look at the following example question.

Let’s talk about the environment…

  • Do you think the recycling of household waste products will become more efficient in the future?

This question asks you to speculate. It asks you if you think recycling of household waste will be more effective in the future.

Look at the following phrases you can use to speculate.

Phrases to speculate Speculation
I’m certain that …
There’s a good / a reasonable chance that …
Most probably …
It’s quite possible that …
I hope that …
Perhaps …
I’m not sure if …
There’s little/ not much chance that …
I doubt very much that …
…the recycling of household rubbish and other waste products will become more efficient in the future.

Using conjunctions to link your ideas

A further way of achieving coherence in your answer is the use of conjunctions. Conjunctions are words such as and, but, so, as and or. They are like signposts in that they are used to link ideas and are therefore used to organise the ideas in your essay. However, conjunctions are usually found within the sentence, whereas signposts are usually found at the beginning of a sentence.

Example

Listen and read the following sample answer for Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test to hear how conjunctions are used. The conjunctions have been highlighted.

Let’s talk about health…

  • How important is good health?

 

Good health is extremely important. The main reason is that other things in life don’t have much value if you don’t have good health. For example, some health problems can cause pain or tiredness that lasts for a long time and sometimes you have to stay in bed. As a result, you may not be able to enjoy your life as you cannot do as many activities as healthy people. Another reason, I guess, is that if you have good health, you have more energy and so are more productive in the workplace. Similarly, you have more energy to give to your family and friends.

This answer uses conjunctions effectively:

  • to add another idea – and, or
  • to give the cause – as
  • to give the effect – so.

Here are some more conjunctions you can use to link your ideas within a sentence.

Function Conjunction
Introduce a contrast Cities are polluted but | while | whereas the countryside isn’t.
Add another idea

 

Air pollution is caused by smoke from factories and | as well as | or cars.

Air pollution is caused by smoke from factories too | also.

Give the cause Cities are polluted because | as there is so much smoke.
Give the effect There is a lot of smoke in cities so | so that they become polluted.

Linking ideas to the question

You have learnt how to link your ideas within your response by sequencing sentences logically, using signposts and conjunctions. Now we will look at how to link your ideas to the question.

There are two strategies that you can use to link your ideas to the examiner’s question. You can:

  • refer directly to the main idea of the question at the beginning of your answer
  • continue to refer to the main idea of the question using reference words throughout your answer

Referring directly to the main idea of the question

If you want your answer to refer directly to the main idea of the question you can use the same or similar words as the question or you can rephrase the question.

Using reference words

To make a coherent response you should continue to refer to the main idea of the question throughout your answer. You can do this by using reference words. Reference words:

  • refer back to a subject that has already been mentioned in the same sentence or a previous sentence
  • help the listener to follow an idea throughout the text
    and therefore make your answer coherent.

The most common reference words are pronouns such as, I, you, we, they, he, she, it, but they could be words such as this, that, these, those, here, there.