One of the most common problems for IELTS candidates is not having the opportunity to practise speaking simply because you live in a country where there are few chances to speak English. Reading and listening are easy enough, you can find books or internet sites. For writing all you need is someone to send your writing to. But speaking? Well, I’ve a suggestion for you. It may sound mad, but it isn’t – learn to speak to yourself.
Let me explain why it can work and how you can do it. I’ll also try and give you a few practice ideas so that you can make it work for you.
My experience – it builds your confidence
Part of the reason I suggest this technique is that I too am a language learner. I am trying (and mostly failing) to learn Chinese. Part of my problem is that (after 6 weeks) I still can’t really make sentences. This is very frustrating for me. I don’t want to appear stupid. So what I do is talk to myself, I give myself (a little) confidence by practising conversations in my head so that I can talk with other people. Just like IELTS – but only at a much, much lower level.
Learn to think in English
One way speaking to yourself can help is that it trains you to think (better) in English. This is a key step. In the exam, you get almost no thinking time (apart from the long turn) and so you need to put your thoughts into language almost immediately. The idea is that if you speak to yourself in English (in your head), you will slowly begin to think more in English.
Make it personal – speak about your possessions and life
Another way this can work is that in the exam you are always speaking about yourself. In part 1, it is really about who you are, what you do and where you are from. In part 2, it is about your experiences, people you know and places you have been to. In part 3, it is about what you think about some issues – your opinions. So here is what I suggest for part 2:
- Look around you and talk about what you see – your possessions. The typical questions are “what is it?” “”where did you get it?” “why is it special?”
- Go through your photos and think about people, places and experiences. The typical questions here are: “who are they?”, “how long have you known them?”, “where is it?” ,”what happened?”, “who else was there?” “why do you remember it?”
For part 3, I suggest that every time you read something, you simply try and summarise the main point and say to yourself whether you agree with it. What you are doing here is the opinion giving thing. I like this exercise because you will also be learning some by vocab, as you will naturally use some of the words you have just read. You don’t always have to practise exam questions.
Improve your vocabulary – learn some phrases and reinforce the words you “know”
A lot of the difficulty with the speaking is that you don’t have enough words. Very often if you make a grammar mistake, it’s not because you don’t “know” the grammar, it’s because you are having difficulty in finding the right word. Speaking to yourself can help here too:
- You learn words by using them and every time you say a word, you are that much closer to really knowing it. Saying a word – even in your head – is twice as good as exercise because you are making it personal.
- You will probably find yourself repeating some phrases a lot, if you force yourself to keep speaking, you will need phrases like “What I’m trying to say is” “What I mean is”. These are helpful phrases, they make your speech more coherent.
A simple exercise – time yourself – improve your fluency and coherence
A very simple exercise you can do is to time yourself speaking – especially if you are lower level. Look at a photo and see how long you can speak about it. One idea is this:
- try and talk about it for 3 minutes – don’t worry of you pause a lot
- now try to talk about it for 2 minutes
- then 1 minute
- then 30 seconds
Record yourself – how do you sound?
Something else you might try is recording yourself – most phones nowadays allow you to do that. This is a good idea as it really does help your pronunciation to sound out the words aloud. Listen to yourself. If you don’t like the way you sound, try re-recording yourself. In my experience, you won’t like the sound of your own voice – few people do. You will find yourself automatically trying to improve the sound of your voice. That’s good. Pronunciation is 25% of your speaking score remember.
Amuse yourself – listen to me trying to speak Chinese[audio:http://www.dcielts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/chinese.mp3|titles=Chinese!!]
In fact, there is a serious purpose to letting you listen to this. Obviously, my Chinese is rubbish (this was about 2 weeks into learning), but this is what I learned from speaking to myself and listening back.
- My pronunciation is awful – I can hardly understand myself – I need to work on it
- There are words I learned but don’t really (eg “because”)
- There are things I want to say, but don’t know how to (eg”I live in China”). By speaking to myself about things around me, I find the words I need. That should be the same for you in IELTS.
- This is just a brief extract. I managed to keep going for around 3 and half minutes. I was quite impressed with myself.
- Practising by myself has given me a little more confidence. I feel able to go and speak Chinese in the real world sometimes. (I am now the proud owner of a fish tank and 11 fish. I can also now ask how much water my plants need.)
Are you looking for someone else to talk with?
If you are looking to find a partner, you can of course leave details below as a comment as many have done. Better I think is to do it securely. I strongly suggest this service:
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