Manan did not want to rule the world nor did he want to earn $1,000,000 in his first year as a pharmacist. He simply wanted to get 26 on the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT. That was the obstacle standing in his way as he looked at his most recent TOEFL score: (98) R=26, L=24 S=23, and W=25. “Geez, how hard could it be?” Manan thought as he started searching on the Internet for an Online TOEFL Course that could help him improve his academic speaking proficiency. Before Manan would reach his goal, he would need a lot of TOEFL iBT speaking practice. Little did Manan know that he had to solve some delivery and language-use problems before he could improve his speaking score.
After joining the Online TOEFL Course called “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT,” Manan was advised by his TOEFL iBT speaking mentor that he had problems with sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups. First of all, Manan had a tendency to equally stress all of the words in the sentences he uttered. For example, he might say, “I PREFER BICYCLING OVER RUNNING AS MY PREFERRED FORM OF EXERCISE.” However, this equal stress did not mirror the natural rhythm of English which puts more stress on content words such as nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, and less stress on function words such as auxiliary verbs, prepositions, and determiners. Therefore, Manan’s TOEFL iBT speaking mentor told him that he should pronounce his sentence more like, “I PREFER BICYCLING over RUNNING as my PREFERRED FORM of EXERCISE.” Second of all, Manan’s sentence rhythm problems spilled over into his intonation in that he did not consider a sentence focus rule with intonation, which suggests that the last content word in a sentence should more prominently stressed than other content words in the sentence. Further, the intonation should fall at the end of that last content word, signalling to the listener that the idea was completed. Third of all, Manan also learned that he had some problems with thought groups inasmuch as he typically would pause after 2-3 content words, hence causing his speaking to have a lot of awkward pauses and hesitations. As a result, Manan was advised that he pause after 4-5 stressed words, which would create a more natural sounding pacing when delivering TOEFL iBT speaking tasks. Manan discovered these delivery problems when completing the pre-tests in his Online TOEFL Course, and, fortunately, his iBT speaking specialist created specific pronunciation lessons to address these issues. Gradually, Manan was able to improve his pronunciation to the extent that he had a more natural sounding rhythm, tone, and pacing.
In addition to having some problems with delivery, Manan was also advised that he had some language-use problems relating to vocabulary and grammar. The biggest issue with vocabulary was that Manan did not use many concrete nouns in his independent speaking tasks. Concrete nouns are important words for the TOEFL iBT independent speaking tasks since they refer to things that are experienced through sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. In other words, using these types of nouns present details that add depth and complexity to the ideas. The nouns he used in his speaking tasks tended to be less specific and generic. For example, when he was asked to describe a place he visited a child, he said, “I visited grandmother’s house as a child. It was a large house located in the country. I always had fun when I went there.” However, lacking specificity, his response, Manan’s TOEFL iBT speaking mentor advised, could be reworded as, “I visited my grandmother’s squared-shaped five bedroom, three bathroom home, whose front yard had a life-size three tier fountain, and the backyard had a kidney-shaped swimming pool around which a red and white rose garden lay.” In other words, in order for Manan to score higher on the TOEFL iBT speaking section, he would need to use more descriptive words during the independent speaking tasks. To solve this problem, Manan was advised by his TOEFL iBT speaking mentor to focus more of his time on the vocabulary section of his Online TOEFL Course so that he could develop a better grasp of both basic and advanced vocabulary. Similarly, Manan also used mostly basic grammar during the speaking section of the TOEFL iBT, adding yet another reason for the iBT human raters to score him lower than 26. For instance, when explaining which city he would choose to move to, he said, “I would move to Valencia. It has many employment opportunities. There is also a prestigious university there.” To help him use more advanced grammar and to make his ideas more concise, Manan’s iBT speaking mentor told him to rephrase his idea: “I would move to Valencia, which has many employment and educational opportunities.” To help Manan improve, he was advised to study lessons 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, and 26, which focuses on compound sentences, adjective clauses, adverb clauses, noun clauses, being more concise, and sentence variety. Armed with two important forms of feedback, Manan now knew what he had to do to improve his vocabulary and grammar limitations.
To sum up, as big as an obstacle as it seemed, getting 26 on the speaking became more and more realistic as Manan posted and got feedback on his independent and integrated speaking practice tests.