Chin Hong needed to score a 100 + high score on the TOEFL iBT exam, and his weakest area of English was speaking. Therefore, during the months leading up to his exam, he started a daily routine of TOEFL iBT speaking practice in an effort to increase his speaking score from 19/30 to 26/30 points. The road to his success would not be easy, but he was persistent.
First of all, Chin Hong read several articles daily in the Wall Street Journal. His interests ranged from business and politics to sports and entertainment. During his 45 minute routine of reading the newspaper, Hong would take notes on the main and most important supporting points of the reading passages. Then, using his notes, he would record 1-2 oral responses of the passages. After, he would replay the audio recording a few times to check his delivery, language use, and topic development. At first, his notes were rather skimpy, but, in time, they became more and more accurate. Likewise, his initial recordings were characterized as having frequent pauses and hesitations, an inappropriate use of words or word forms, and some problems with topic development, specifically in that he tended to focus too much on minor details that were not important to the main points of the story. However, since his goal was to talk about a reading passage for about 60 seconds, Hong got better at separating the minor from the major details in the reading passages. Finally, Hong was surprised to learn that some of the newly acquired vocabulary that he was reading and speaking about started to become part of his own speaking proficiency. Even though he would forget about 60% of the new words he read, his vocabulary slowly began to grow.
Second of all, Hong practiced listening everyday for about 45 minutes. Since he did not have English television in his country, he used National Public Radio, an Internet news web site, as his platform for practicing listening. National Public Radio features current news focusing on politics, sports, entertainment, business, and plethora of other topics. Therefore, Hong had a wide range of choices, so he was quite happy with the web site. However, his ears were slow at first, so Hong could not quite catch the main and the most important supporting points of the listening passages. Nonetheless, he kept at with his note-taking, and eventually he learned to take notes at the same time he was listening to the passages. Using his notes, Hong started giving 60 second recorded responses of the main and most important supporting points of the listening passages. He continued to have delivery, language use, and topic development problems with his speaking responses, but, as he practiced, his responses were clearer, contained fewer grammar and word choice errors, and were more complete and more organized. In addition, he began to add to his vocabulary repertoire as he practiced listening to and speaking about the listening passages, which would also help him improve his writing proficiency.
Third of all, Hong joined an Online TOEFL Course so that he could have a TOEFL iBT speaking specialist monitor his pronunciation and speaking proficiencies. In fact, after Hong completed his pronunciation pre-tests, he was advised to focus on sentence rhythm, intonation, thought groups/phrasing, and blending. In addition, Hong also focused on several vowel and consonant sounds, and his TOEFL iBT speaking specialist carefully monitored his progress as he practiced. Furthermore, Hong began posting ONE speaking practice test per day, after which his TOEFL iBT speaking specialist monitored his delivery, language use, and topic development. After a while, it became clear that Hong had more problems with language use than with delivery or with topic development. One particular area of difficulty was subject-verb agreement, especially with the third person singular form of a verb in the present tense. Hong tended to omit the third person -s about 90% of the time. For example, when completing an integrated speaking practice about glaciers, Hong said, “A glacier have an accumulation of ice from compacted snowfall over a several year span.” Since the subject of the sentence is “glacier,” a singular count noun, the verb “have” should be changed to “has.” This was a recurring problem for Hong; fortunately, this type of error did not obscure meaning, but he still needed to minimize the problem if he wanted to improve his speaking proficiency of American English. In addition to having problems with subject-verb agreement, Hong’s iBT speaking specialist noticed some problems with parallel structure and word choice. It was a battle–Hong’s completing speaking practice tests, getting feedback from his TOEFL speaking mentor, reviewing recommended grammar lessons, and re-posting new practice tests to get more feedback–but Hong slowly began to improve his speaking proficiency.
In the end, the whole process took about 4.5 months, and eventually Hong felt more confident to the extent that he registered to take the TOEFL iBT exam. Like previous TOEFL examinations, Hong confidently excelled in the reading, listening, and writing sections of the test. However, unlike his previous tests, Hong felt calm and controlled during the speaking section of the exam. His almost five months of practice helped him speak clearly, accurately, and coherently. When he finished taking the TOEFL exam, he told a friend that he felt very good this time about the speaking section. A few weeks later he got an e-mail from Educational Testing Service, which informed him not only that he had scored 103 on the exam but also that he had scored 26/30 on the speaking section. His TOEFL iBT speaking practice had paid off: all the reading and listening practice, the note-taking practice of the passages, making self-recordings for reading and listening passages, posting independent and integrated speaking practice, tests, and getting comments back from his TOEFL iBT speaking mentor. It had all helped him reach his goal. It was not an easy road of success for Hong, but his continued daily practice over an extended period helped him improve his speaking proficiency of American English.