The speaking portion of the IELTS test makes some students particularly nervous. It is unlike the other parts of the test. The speaking part involves talking to an actual person who will ask you questions. But there is no need to fear this part of the exam! You can think of your examiner as an acquaintance who would find out about your life and opinions. Imagine that he or she is a colleague at school or work. This can help you to speak naturally and spontaneously as you would in any other conversation.
In order to speak English well, both fluency and accuracy are important. Fluency refers to your rate of speech. Some people speak very slowly and frequently take long pauses to think about grammar or vocabulary. That person is probably not very fluent. However, this same person may be very accurate. Accuracy refers to how often you use the correct grammar and vocabulary for the ideas you are trying to express. Usually, a language learner is stronger in one of these than the other. You can improve your speaking ability by focusing your practice on whichever is weaker for you.
Find out whether you are stronger in fluency or accuracy. A trained English teacher or tutor could help. However, you may not have an English teacher or tutor. You can explain these two terms to an English speaker that you know. The English speaker you choose should at least speak English at a higher level than you. A native speaker would be best. Then ask this person to evaluate your English after a conversation with you. You could find some practice IELTS speaking questions online and ask the English speaker to ask you the questions. Ask this person to consider the question, “What is more distracting or difficult to understand in my English? Is it a problem with fluency (stopping frequently, speaking slowly) or accuracy (wrong grammar or vocabulary)?”
After your conversation, ask this person to honestly answer this question for you. Even if you think you already know the answer, try this activity with a few English speakers. You might be surprised at their responses!
Clearly identify whether your fluency or accuracy is more problematic, then you can take steps to strengthen whichever is weaker.
If your fluency is weaker, it can be helpful to practice. Try answering the same IELTS speaking practice question a few times while recording your voice. Each time you try to answer the question, try to give the same information. Do not change the basic idea of your answer. By the second or third time you answer you might see improvement. You should notice that you are able to say the same information in less time and with less pausing. This repeated process is very important! You may not be able to answer your IELTS question more than once on the day of the exam. Practicing the same question more than once helps you to know what it feels like to speak English more automatically and fluently. With practice, you’ll find that you will speak more and more fluently even on your first answer.
If your accuracy is weaker, it’s important to pinpoint specific vocabulary or grammar that you are using incorrectly. Then create a new habit of using that vocabulary or grammar in the correct way. To do this, the feedback of a teacher or tutor can be very helpful. But, you can also improve on your own if you can learn to recognize your own errors. To do this, record yourself answering a question. Then with a piece of paper and pencil, listen to your recording. Do you hear any errors? If you aren’t sure, it can also help to try to write or type the words you recorded.
If you hear or see an error, think about why you made that error. Is this error a habit, or in other words, an error that you make often? If this is an error that you usually don’t make, you can ignore it. If it’s a mistake that you make often, you want to work to correct it. Write down the corrected form and then practice speaking your answer to the question again. This time repeat with the help of your written notes. Repeat this until it becomes natural to use the correct form. Then brainstorm other questions you could answer. They should require you to use the same grammar/vocabulary, and continue to record and listen to your answers. Make the word or the grammar principle you are trying to correct your new favorite part of English! Try to use it in conversation with other English speakers—and when you do, ask, “Did I use that correctly?”
Improving your speaking accuracy or fluency will not happen overnight—it takes time and consistent practice. However, it’s absolutely possible! And when you do, you’ll feel well-prepared. You will be ready to give a fluent and accurate answer to any question your examiner might ask!