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Strategies for Speaking

Clarification strategies

During the Speaking test you may need to clarify a word or question either because you did not hear the examiner or because you did not understand a word or a phrase. There are a number of strategies you can use to clarify meaning. The degree of clarification an examiner can give depends on the part of the test.

Possible problems

You do not hear the question: you can ask the examiner to repeat the question in any part of the test.

You do not understand a word: you can ask the examiner what the word means. In Part 1 the examiner is not able to give you a detailed response. In Part 2 and 3 the examiner can give you another meaning for the same word.

You do not understand a question: you can ask the meaning or you can check that you understand. In Part 1 the examiner can only repeat the same question. In Part 3 the examiner can rephrase the question to help you understand.

Let’s look at how you can solve these problems using clarification strategies. There are a number of useful and acceptable strategies you can use. You can:

  • ask the examiner to repeat the question
  • ask the examiner to rephrase the question (use different words)
  • check that you understand by rephrasing the question yourself.

Remember that it is better to clarify meaning with the examiner than to give an answer that is not relevant.

Asking the examiner to repeat the question

You can ask the examiner to repeat the question if you did not hear it the first time. You could say:

  • Can/Could you repeat that please?
  • Can/Could you say that again please?
  • I didn’t catch that. Would you mind repeating it please?

However, simply asking the examiner to repeat the question will not help you if you did not understand it the first time. In this case, you may wish to ask the examiner to rephrase the question in a different or simpler way.

Asking the examiner to rephrase the question

You can ask the examiner to rephrase the question if you did not understand it. You could say:

  • Sorry, but I’m not sure I understand you.
  • I don’t understand the part about …
  • Sorry, I’m not sure I follow. Would you mind explaining the part about …
  • Would you mind explaining the question?

You can also ask the examiner to explain a word you don’t understand.
For example, the examiner asks you:

Do you think the environment has been degraded by industrialisation?

You don’t understand the word ‘degraded’. You could say:

Sorry, I don’t know what you mean by ‘degraded’.
Could you explain ‘degraded’?

Asking the examiner to rephrase the question is a useful and acceptable strategy to help you during the speaking test.

Checking that you understand

The most effective way of demonstrating your speaking ability is by checking that you understand the question. You can do this by guessing the meaning of a word or question you don’t understand and then checking the meaning with the examiner by rephrasing the question (using your own words).

Let’s look at the example question again.

Do you think the environment has been degraded by industrialisation?

In this example, if you don’t understand the word ‘degraded’ you might be able to guess the general meaning of this word.

The question is about the environment and industrialisation. We know that industrialisation can have a negative effect on the environment. Therefore, the word ‘degraded’ might have a negative meaning. From this we can guess that ‘degraded’ might mean ‘destroyed’ or ‘badly affected’.

Now you can check that you understand this question using your own words. You could ask the examiner:

Are you asking me if I think that the growth of industry has badly affected the environment?

Would you like me to say whether I believe the spread of industry has had a negative effect on the environment?

Extending your answers

In order to show the examiner your full range of speaking ability, you should attempt to extend your answers wherever possible. This is particularly important in Parts 2 and 3 of the IELTS Speaking test, which examine your ability to develop and expand your answers with little or no assistance from the examiner.

You can extend your answers in many ways. For example, depending on the question, you might be able to give reasons or examples. It is a good idea to begin your answer with a summary phrase (a short phrase that answers the question directly), and then to extend your answer.

Let’s look at an example of how to extend your answer. Read the following example question from Part 3 of the Speaking test.

How important is good health?

First, let’s check that we understand the question. This question asks you to what extent you think good health is important (e.g., very important, not so important).

Now look at the following answers to this question.

1. Good health is extremely important.

This answer is very short. The candidate, Andres, gives a summary phrase (‘Good health is extremely important’) but he does not extend the answer further.

2. Good health is extremely important for many reasons but mainly because I don’t think that other things in life have much value if you don’t have good health.

This answer gives a summary phrase and a reason (‘other things in life don’t have much value if you don’ t have good health’). However, it is still a short answer. The candidate, Judy, could try to extend her answer further.

3. Good health is extremely important because I don’t think that other things in life 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.

This answer has been extended further than the previous example. It gives a summary phrase, a reasonand an example (‘some health problems can cause pain or tiredness that lasts for a long time’). However, the candidate, Mustapha, could still try to extend his answer further.

4. Good health is extremely important because I don’t think that other things in life 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. As a result, those people may not be able to enjoy their life as much or do a number of activities that healthy people can do.

This answer is effective. The candidate, Esperanza, has extended her answer by giving:

  • summary phrase (‘Good health is extremely important’)
  • reason (‘life has less value if you have bad health’)
  • some examples of health problems (‘pain or tiredness’)
  • a result of these health problems (‘unable to enjoy life as much or do certain activities’).

Using ‘thinking time’ techniques

In the Speaking test you may find some questions difficult to answer. This may be because the topic is unfamiliar to you or because you have never thought about that aspect of the topic before. You will therefore need time to think about your answer. However, you should avoid long periods of silence during the test, as the examiner may think you are unable to answer the question.

You can overcome this problem by using techniques that give you time to think of ideas to talk about. These techniques are useful because they help you to avoid lengthy pauses or hesitation.

Listen to the following examples showing various techniques Krystyna has used to give her more time to answer the question.

Example 1

 

Krystyna Examiner: 
Who do you think should be responsible for educating teenagers about drugs?’
Candidate Krystyna:
Well, that’s a difficult question … I think that both the school and the parents should be responsible …’

In this example, the candidate Krystyna says that the question is difficult to answer (‘Well, that’s a difficult question …’). This technique is useful because it helps you to avoid lengthy pauses or hesitation.

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