Many students who are stuck at 22-24 points on the TOEFL speaking section are unaware that they have delivery problems. However, if they speak with distracting non-native speaker accents and have several unnatural hesitations during their speaking task, they will score lower on the speaking section. For example, listen to the following recording from a TOEFL student who is explaining why she likes to study alone rather than in groups. Pay attention to the long hesitation during the middle of her response.
Example student response with unnatural pauses
Among other things, this student (and maybe even you!) needs to her improve her sentence rhythm which will help her to improve her overall intelligibility.
What is sentence rhythm?
Sentence rhythm refers to the natural flow of English by putting more stress on content words and less stress on function words. The combination of the unstress and stress words creates a natural rhythm in English.
Consider the stress words as having beats in that the stressed syllable of these words is clearer, longer, louder, and higher pitched. Read each sentence out loud according to the number of beats that you see at the end of the sentences in parentheses. Also remember to make a short pause before the “/” symbol and to use a slightly higher pitch after the end of each thought group except the last.
- John was washing his car / when a friend came over to chat. (7)
- The reading passage explains three strategies / regarding business success. (8)
- The Earth will be a better place, / and the people living in it will prosper / if they take specific measures right now / to protect the environment. (16 )
- Several states at the beginning of the new year / will increase their minimum wages / so that their workers will have a better quality of life. (13)
In the following You Tube video, an actor will read some poems out loud. Listen to and read the poems until you feel comfortable reading them at the same pace with the same sentence rhythm as the narrator. Remember to place more emphasis on the content words and less emphasis on the function words. Once you have completed this practice exercise on sentence rhythm, find more You Tube videos which contain the lyrics to other poems, songs, and stories. Make an effort to practice reading these texts out loud for several weeks. In times, you will find that you will be able to develop a more natural sounding rhythm that you will be able to incorporate into your TOEFL speaking practice.
I hope that you have found this lesson useful.
Michael Buckhoff, firstname.lastname@example.org