Giving Full Answers in Speaking Tests – by Mark Feeley

Hi everyone, and welcome to the instructor blog! I hope your studies at Agos are going well.

I’m Mark, and today, I’m going to be talking about the importance of more fully explaining your ideas in speaking tests, and how this can help you to improve your score. Although I’ll be using an example from an IELTS test, you can use a similar approach to the TOEFL Independent Speaking tasks.

A lot of test takers in Japan struggle to give full answers in the IELTS or TOEFL speaking tests, but it’s very important to fully explain your ideas. This is true for the IELTS or TOEFL tests, but is also crucial in MBA interviews and in the university seminars you will attend in the future.

Take the following example. Here is a typical IELTS Speaking Part 1 question (you may also get similar questions in TOEFL Speaking Task 1):

‘What do you like about the area where you live?’

A typical answer might be:

‘I like my area because it is convenient, and… er…’

The problem here is that a word like ‘convenient’ means many things.  It can also mean many different things to different people, so you should explain what you mean.

A much better answer to this type of question might be something like:

‘What I like about where I live is that it’s convenient. For example, it’s close to the shops, so if I need something to eat I can quickly nip out of my apartment and grab a bite to eat at a local store. Also, there are loads of clubs and bars near where I live so if I want to catch up with my mates at the weekend it’s quite easy and I know it won’t cost me a fortune for a taxi back home.’

As you can see from this example, not only is the answer more clearly explained, but giving a full answer gives you the opportunity to use a wide range of vocabulary (and grammar), including some less common phrases such as ‘nip out of my apartment’*, ‘grab a bite to eat’* and ‘mate’*. By more fully answering questions, you will also therefore be able to demonstrate to the examiner or grader the range of vocabulary that you are able to use.

Also notice how we can use fairly simple linking words (marked in bold in the example) to expand and join our ideas together. The example above uses a simple way of expanding your ideas, like this:

Example 1 → so…→ and…         Example 2 → so…→ and

So how can you improve? The most important thing is to practice a lot, and try recording your speaking. After you have finished, listen to your speaking and ask yourself whether there is anything that you could add to more fully explain your answer. Better still, ask a classmate or teacher to check for you, as they may be able to notice something that you can’t.

I hope you find this useful. Good luck with your studies at Agos!

*‘nip out of my apartment’ = leave my apartment for a short time and come back

*‘grab a bite to eat’ = quickly get something to eat

*’mate’= British English (informal) meaning ‘friend’ – US English equivalent is ‘buddy’

Imagine yourself as the grader – by James Giguere

Hello, and thanks for visiting the instructor blog! Are you enjoying the autumn foliage (紅葉)? I recently took a quick trip to Gujo in Gifu-ken, and the leaves were already starting to turn red and yellow. I definitely recommend visiting there if you can find the time.

My name is Jim, and I teach TOEFL and SAT here at AGOS. I want to write a little bit about a trick that I use whenever I take a standardized test, especially a language test: just imagine that you are the grader.

This applies to both TOEFL and IELTS, and can be used for all sections, but let’s take the TOEFL Speaking test as an example. Imagine yourself grading a similar speaking test in Japanese. What features would prove to you that a speaker is comfortable and confident speaking Japanese? Would you be listening for their vocabulary and grammar, their ideas, or their delivery? What kinds of common mistakes do you think test takers might make?

Thinking about the TOEFL speaking test from this perspective will help you realize what’s most important to graders. The skills that you’re focusing on while you study may be different from what the graders will be paying attention to. There are some common themes, though. Here are a few points that will always catch a grader’s attention:

• Basic grammatical errors. As you’re practicing your speaking and writing, try to catch yourself every time you make a subject/verb agreement error (“she go” instead of “she goes”), singular/plural error (“I bought two book”), or other common error. One or two of these mistakes may not affect your TOEFL speaking score, but making too many will show the grader that you aren’t comfortable with English grammar. Think about a foreign person speaking Japanese – a couple of mistakes wouldn’t be too bad, right? But mistakes in every sentence would probably make you doubt their language ability. Overcoming this takes practice, practice, and more practice.
• Nervousness. Everybody gets a little bit anxious during a test, and the TOEFL speaking test can definitely make you nervous, but do your best not to think about it. Imagine that you’re talking to a friend, colleague, or classmate rather than a computer. As a grader, wouldn’t you give a higher score to someone who seems comfortable and calm while speaking Japanese?
• Memorized lines. Remember: TOEFL speaking graders often listen to dozens of responses per day, and they can usually tell when a line is memorized. If you memorize a line, make sure that your delivery sounds natural and not too different from the rest of your response. Otherwise, the memorized lines may actually hurt your score rather than help it. Try to imagine what it would sound like listening to someone robotically repeating obviously memorized lines of Japanese, rather than natural, fluent Japanese. Which would you give a higher grade to?

These are just a few of the things that TOEFL graders listen for, but spend a few minutes thinking of what you would pay attention to as a grader, and I’m sure you’ll come up with some more!

スピーキング・テストの大きな誤解 — by 柳沢洋美

皆さん、こんにちは。TOEFL/IELTS講師の柳澤です。

TOEFL/IELTSのスピーキング・セクションは、日本人にとって立ちはだかる壁ですね。でも、これはすべてのノン・ネーティブ受験者(つまり非英語圏の人々)にとって悩みの種です。実際に私がニューヨークで英語を教えていたときも、スピーキングの点数が上がらないという悩みは、南米や中国、ロシアから来ていた生徒からも相談を受けました。さて、ここで1つ!スピーキングのスコアアップのためのコツとして、「ネーティブのように話そう」と思わない!ということです。

受験者の中にはネーティブっぽく話したい、話せれば23点越えるのになあ~と思っている方も多くいらっしゃいます。具体的に言えば、「スピーディーに、Rの音をカッコよく…」。実はこれが高得点を狙えない原因の一つです。

まず、日本人によくあるのが巻き舌です。よくある巻き舌単語?がbecause(なぜなら)です。巻き舌の方は「ビコォーrズ」と発音されます。スペルにすると、becauRseです。あるいはso(だから)がsoR「ソォーr」。こういう方は、いたるところにrが混ざってしまいます。これも採点官にとっては非常に聞きにくい英語になります。巻き舌を直すのは時間がかかります。でも直せます。ご自分の英語を音声として録音して、聞いてみて下さい。あるいは人に聞いてもらってみて下さい。ちなみにアゴスには発音矯正のクラスがあります(あ、宣伝になってしまったJ LOL )。自分ではなかなか直すことは難しいときはプロの力を借りましょう!

さて「スピーディーに話せばいい」と考えている生徒さんもいらっしゃいます。もちろん、「ペラペ~ラ」と話せるなら苦労しません!ただし、私たちはノンネーティブですから、悪く言えば、英語に難があるわけです。難のある英語を早く話せばどうなるか?難を隠すどころか、さらに難は露出します。スピーキング採点官は「この生徒は何を話しているのだろう?」となるのです。これの手っ取り早い解決策は、ゆっくり話すこと。といっても一語一語ゆっくり話すのではなく(英語のリズムがなくなります)フレーズの切れ目(カタマリごと(chunking))で0.5秒くらいあけるつもりで話します。以下の文章を音読しましょう。そのとき、スラッシュのところを0.5~1秒あけます。

Traveling is something / I really enjoy doing. / I travel / whenever I have the chance. / Yes, / traveling is expensive / so I cannot take trips all the time. / But every month / I try to take a short trip / somewhere new in Tokyo.

もちろん帰国子女の方、あるいは何年か海外に住んでいましたという方なら、ある程度のスピードがあってもいいでしょう。でも、そういう生徒さんにも、「ゆっくり、威厳を持って、自信のある話し方をしてください」と私はお話しします。母国語でも、相手に伝えたい、分かってもらいたいと思えば、自然とスピードを落として話しませんか?

TOEFL/IELTSのスピーキングテストでは、皆さんが「英語圏の大学・大学院のネーティブのクラスメートと一緒にやっていける」かどうかを測るテストだと思ってください。分かりづらい発音や、メッセージが伝わりづらいと判断されないように、しっかり対策をしましょう!!