TOEFL iBT Speaking Practice: Susan Has a Stubborn Language Use Problem

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TOEFL iBT Speaking Practice: Susan Has a Stubborn Language Use Problem

During her TOEFL iBT speaking practice, Susan overcame many problems relating to delivery, language use, and topic development, but one area in her language use remained a stubborn obstacle in the way of advancing her academic English language proficiency–point of view.

Point of view refers to the perspective from which someone speaks. The following chart illustrates the different points of view that may be used during the independent and integrated TOEFL speaking tasks.

1st Person Singular: I

1st Person Plural: We

2nd Person Singular: You

2nd Person Plural: You all

3rd Person Singular: He, She, It

3rd Person : They

The “I” point of view works well during the independent speaking tasks of the TOEFL iBT since its purpose is to focus on the speaker. Moreover, the speaker explains personal preferences or answers paired-choice responses, both of which involve specific experiences and reasons from the speaker’s life as supporting detail. On the other hand, the “You” point of view allows speakers to directly talk to the audience, perhaps by instructing them on how to follow certain steps or directions. Therefore, this point of view will not work well during the independent or integrated speaking tasks because TOEFLers are never asked to directly instruct the audience. The “He, She, It” point of view works well when the speaker does not want to focus on him/herself, does not want to instruct or talk directly to the audience, but wants to focus on the information or content. Thus, this point of view is especially effective during the integrated speaking tasks since TOEFLers are asked to explain reading or listening passages that are either academic or casual in nature. Furthermore, during the integrated speaking tasks, TOEFLers are asked to summarize and integrate information from reading or listening passages. However, during integrated speaking task number five, in which speakers are asked to summarize two solutions to a problem and to choose which of the solutions is better, they may use two points of view in this response: the third person singular to explain the two solutions to a problem and the first person singular to explain which solution is better and why.

Like the “I” point of view, the “We” perspective focuses on speakers’ personal experiences, thus making it more common during the completion of independent speaking tasks. It can also be used to include the audience as part of the story or ideas, but this technique has the tendency to create a less formal tone, which is inappropriate for the TOEFL iBT integrated speaking tasks. The “You all” point of view, the second person plural point of view, like its second person singular point of view counterpart, involves directly instructing or explaining something to the audience, thereby making it inappropriate for the independent and integrated speaking tasks. The “They” point of view effectively focuses on others or other information in a similar manner to the first person singular point of view, hence making it useful during the integrated speaking tasks.

During the independent speaking tasks, Susan was advised by her TOEFL iBT speaking mentor in her Online TOEFL Course “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT” that she randomly shifted from the the first person singular point of view to the second person singular point of view, sometimes causing inconsistency and even incoherence with her ideas. For example, Susan was asked in one of her independent speaking practice tests, “Describe a place you visited as a child. Then explain a favorite memory you had while visiting this place.” In part of her response, she said:

Visiting my grandmother’s house was memorable because you could eat her food, hear her thoughtful stories, and even have the chance to swim in her pool during the summer.

Her TOEFL speaking mentor told her that she should stay focused on the first person point of view since her purpose was to explain an experience from her own life and not to instruct or talk directly to the audience. Therefore, her sentence should be revised as follows:

Visiting my grandmother’s house was memorable because I could eat her food, hear her thoughtful stories, and even have the chance to swim in her pool during the summer.

Susan knew that she should not switch from the “I” to the “You” point of view, but it was a very hard habit to break. Often times in her conversations among native speakers in her job as a pharmacy technician, she and her customers would often make random switches in their points of view. But Susan reminded herself that conversational English is not the same as academic speaking, especially as it relates to the six TOEFL iBT speaking tasks. To help her become more aware of this error and how to avoid it, Susan’s TOEFL iBT speaking mentor had her write out an entire response to an iBT speaking practice test before recording it at the Voxopop Discussion Group for “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT.”

Topic: If you were to move to another city, which city would you choose.

If I were to move to another city, I would move to Buenos Aries because it offers employment and entertainment opportunities.

The first reason I would want to move to Buenos Aries is because of its employment opportunities. There are ten large hospital complexes in this capital city, and I would be able to find gainful employment as a pharmacist if I moved there.

The second reason I would also want to move to Buenos Aires is because of the many entertainment options. For example, I am a big fan of the theater, and there are many theaters with big stage productions. So, I could regularly attend the theater if I moved there. In fact, “The Phantom of the Opera” is coming to Buenos Aries soon, and I would love to watch that play.

Therefore, moving to Buenos Aires might help me to find a high-paying job and offer me plenty of entertainment in my leisure time.

With practice, Susan was able to establish better control of her point of view, and these improvements also helped her to create more unified responses with her iBT speaking practice tests.

There was light at the end of the tunnel!

In addition to having problems with point of view shifts with the independent speaking tasks, Susan needed to make some improvements with the integrated speaking tasks. Even though she knew that she should use a more formal tone when summarizing and integrating information in reading and listening passages, she sometimes would throw in a personal pronoun here or there. These personal pronouns distracted the listener from her ideas since Susan should have been using the third person point of view to focus on the information. To illustrate this inconsistency, consider the following response that Susan gave, which focused on a reading and listening passage about advertising:

Topic: How does the listening passage add to the information in the reading passage?

The reading passage discusses the political effects of advertising, and the listening passage adds to this information by explaining the economic effects of advertising.

According to the reading passage, advertising affects people’s behavior politically. For example, the author explains how television ads during a campaign season can help you get elected since name recognition is important. If people have not heard of someone running for office, you will not vote for that person, so, according to the passage, advertising can dramatically affect our voting habits.

In addition, the listening passage adds to the reading by explaining how advertising affects your behavior economically. For instance, the speaker points out that we, because we have seen a particular product advertised on television, may unconsciously pick one brand over another.

In the end, both the reading and the lecture claim that advertising influences our behavior politically and economically.`

After listening to Susan’s integrated speaking practice test, her TOEFL iBT mentor pointed out that she had shifted from the third person plural point of view “people” in the second paragraph to the second person singular point of view “you.” Then, in the third paragraph, Susan had shifted from the second person singular point of view “your” to the first person plural point of view “we.” These random shifts in her points of view had had three adverse effects on her speaking response: (1) these shifts were ungrammatical, (2) the shifts had created too much of a personal tone that should have been more objective since the purpose of the speaking was to explain the main points, and (3) the shifts had created a less-than-unified response, thus hurting the coherence of her ideas. Therefore, in a teaching moment, Susan’s TOEFL iBT speaking mentor revised her ideas and made another recording at the 7-Step System Voxopop Discussion Group, this time using the third person singular and plural points of view throughout the response:

Topic: How does the listening passage add to the information in the reading passage?

The reading passage discusses the political effects of advertising, and the listening passage adds to this information by explaining the economic effects of advertising.

According to the reading passage, advertising affects people’s behavior politically. For example, the author explains how television ads during a campaign season can help a candidate get elected since name recognition is important. If people have not heard of someone running for office, they will not vote for that person, so, according to the passage, advertising can dramatically affect people’s voting habits.

In addition, the listening passage adds to the reading by explaining how advertising affects people’s behavior economically. For instance, the speaker points out that consumers, because they have seen a particular product advertised on television, may unconsciously pick one brand over another.

In the end, both the reading and the lecture claim that advertising influences people’s behavior politically and economically.`

To sum up, the point of view shifts with which Susan frequently had trouble gradually became fewer and fewer until the point that her TOEFL iBT speaking mentor rarely if ever brought up the error during his audio feedback recordings. Of course, Susan’s frequent speaking practice test postings and her feedback from a qualified TOEFL iBT speaking specialist helped her to improve not only her language use but also her delivery and topic development. If fact, at work as a pharmacy technician, Susan was able to communicate more clearly and more fluently due to the many hours of TOEFL iBT speaking practice that she had undergone. Riding high on confidence, Susan took the TOEFL exam and scored her highest ever subtotal on the speaking section–28! Even though it was not a perfect score, Susan was proud of her accomplishment, and she knew that she would be able to speak competent English for a lifetime.

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