Four Language-Use Tips for TOEFL iBT Speaking Section

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This article is written specifically to those TOEFLers who aim to score 26 points or higher on the speaking section of the exam.

The second category in the TOEFL iBT rubrics, language use describes how well speakers control their grammar and vocabulary in their responses. Therefore, you want to make sure that you can eliminate grammatical errors during your response. Keeping this in mind, the independent and integrated speaking prompts will determine the type of verb tenses and sentence structure that you will use in your response. Consider the following independent and integrated speaking prompts and the types of grammar that you will use.

Tip 1: The “recommend or advise” type of independent speaking prompt: This type of speaking prompt asks the test-taker to recommend or give advice regarding a topic. It can phrased in the following way: “Someone you know is preparing for a job interview. What advice will you give your friend?”

In this case, since the question is using a verb of urging such as “recommend” or “advise”, you will need to use the subjunctive mood in the noun clause as you explain your ideas. For example, you might say, “If my friend is preparing for a job interview, I will advise that he practice interview questions beforehand and make sure that he wear appropriate business attire during the interview.” Notice that I used the base form of the verbs “practice” and “wear” in the noun clauses. You will use the subjunctive mood in the remainder of your noun clauses in this type of a response. For more information, using Google, type in the key words “What is the subjunctive mood in English Grammar?”

Tip 2: The hypothetical type of independent speaking prompt: This type of speaking prompt typically asks you about an unreal present condition. It may be phrased in the following way: “If you had to move to another city, what city would you move to and why?”

Answering this question forces you to use the simple past plus “would” to talk about a situation that will never happen. For instance, to begin this type of speaking prompt, you might say, “If I had to move to a different city in my country, I would move to Buenos Aires because of its employment and educational opportunities. Because I was not talking about something which was happening right now, I could not use the simple present tense. Instead, I used the verbs “had” and “would move” to talk about an unreal present condition. The reminder of your response should stay in the simple past, thus being consistent by using the hypothetical tone throughout the response. To learn more about this type of grammar, go to Google and type in these key words: “English grammar and present possible, present impossible, and past impossible conditions.”

Tip 3: The “describe” plus “personal experience” type of independent speaking prompt: This type of speaking task is asking you to describe something that you did in the past such as “Describe a favorite vacation that you went on. What is a favorite memory that you had during this vacation.”

Obviously, this two-part speaking task is asking you to describe something that has a clear beginning and end in the past, which means you will be using the simple past and perhaps other past tenses to describe the activity. To illustrate, to answer the first part of the question, you could say, “Going to the Grand Canyon is my favorite vacation I went on when I was a child.” In this case, I used the simple present “is” and the simple past “went” and “was” to begin the topic for the first part of the speaking prompt. When answering the second part of the question, you could frame the beginning of your response like this: “My favorite memory at the Grand Canyon is when my family and I went

on a hike to the Colorado River from the South Rim.” Like before, I used the simple present “is” and the simple past “went” to introduce this topic for this part of the speaking task.

Tip 4: The “discuss” or “explain” type of integrated speaking task: When completing integrated speaking task 3, 4, 5, and 6, you will be asked to explain or discuss points in reading and listening passages. For example, for integrated speaking task 4, it could be phrased in the following way: “Explain how the points in the lecture relate to the points in the reading passage.”

Since the purpose of the integrated speaking tasks is to summarize or re-explain the main points in either the reading or listening passage, and, in the case of integrated speaking tasks 3 and 4, you are explaining what the relationship is between the reading and listening passages. Therefore, I suggest that you use the simple present tense to accomplish this purpose. In addition, to maintain formality, you should also explain the information from the third person point of view and be sure to use voice markers which clearly acknowledge the sources being used. For example, suppose you read a passage which defines socialism as a form of government, and then you listen to a passage that gives an example of a country which practices this form of government. Then, you could frame your introduction in the following way: “The reading passage defines a concept called socialism, and the listening passage gives an example to further illustrate the idea.” By using “the reading passage” and “the listening passage,” the sentence is framed around the third person point of view. The verbs “defines” and “gives” appropriately explain the ideas from the simple present tense. Furthermore, notice how a compound sentence is used since the purpose is to explain the main points of both passages. Thus, the main point of the reading passage and listening passages are appropriately explained in two independent clauses joined by the coordinator “and.”

To sum up, whether you are completing independent or integrated speaking tasks, make sure you take time to closely analyze the speaking prompts so that you can determine the type of grammar and sentence structure that you will use.