Looking at her overall TOEFL score of 104, Jana thought to herself, “What’s wrong with my English skills?” Jana had met all her requirements except for the subtotal requirement of 26/30 on the speaking section. To make matters worse, Jana had scored 24 pts. consecutively on three TOEFL exams over the last six months. However, after joining an Online TOEFL Course “The7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT,” her bad luck was about to change.
When Jana joined the Online TOEFL Course “The 7-Step System to Pass the TOEFL iBT,” she had no idea why she was not reaching her mark on the speaking section. However, she was surprised when her TOEFL iBT speaking specialist requested that she take two pronunciation pre-tests. Jana had used many TOEFL books and had taken other Online TOEFL Courses but had never taken a pronunciation pre-test. The first pronunciation pre-test focused on vowel and consonant sounds, and the second one focused on syllable division and grammatical word endings, word stress, sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups and blending. Jana thought that her pronunciation was fine since she was able to communicate as a pharmacy technician with few difficulties.
After the first pre-test, her TOEFL speaking specialist explained to her that she was having trouble differentiating between the lax and tense vowels [I] and [i] as in the words “bit” and “beat.” Moreover, she was not able to pronounce [U], [u], and stressed schwa sounds as in the words book, boot, and among. Other sounds that Jana needed to practice were the “ch” versus “sh” sounds as in the words “choose” and “shoes.” There were more than 26 pronunciation videos designed to help Jana master the vowel and consonant sounds of American English, so she started watching each video, and, at the request of her TOEFL speaking mentor, she read out loud as she practiced the minimal pairs, sentences, and paragraphs in each video. But that was not enough. Once she had thoroughly studied a pronunciation lesson, she posted a voice recording for her speaking mentor, who would listen and provide audio feedback to her the next day. All of this practice was done at Michael Buckhoff’s Voxopop Discussion Group for TOEFL iBT practice. Sometimes, it was frustrating for Jana because she had to re-do some of her voiced recordings that, according to her TOEFL speaking mentor, were not completed with near-native speaker pronunciation, so she practiced and practiced and practiced.
Eventually, Jana became much more comfortable pronouncing all the vowel and consonant sounds of American English and then completed the second pronunciation pre-test, this time focusing on syllable division and grammatical word endings, word stress, sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups and blending. Again to her dismay, her TOEFL iBT speaking specialist evaluated her pronunciation and pinpointed problems relating to sentence rhythm, intonation, and thought groups and blending. In this case, her TOEFL speaking specialist was asking her to review more than 15 different lessons, and yes, she was expected to post the voiced recordings at the end of each lesson so that her TOEFL speaking mentor could monitor her pronunciation progress. During some of her homework assignments, Jana encountered difficulties when completing some of the thought groups speaking assignment. Her goal, as instructed by her speaking mentor, was to group ideas into 4-5 content words followed by a half pitch rise in her tone, except for the last thought group, at which time she would need to end the idea with a half-pitch fall in her tone. She posted several different homework exercises with thought groups, each time making too many pauses and hesitations. In addition, either she was completing the practice exercises in a monotone voice or she was putting the rising and lowering inflections in the wrong parts of her speech. How could she ever get rid of these mistakes?
Hearing this feedback was hard for Jana. However, she had taken the TOEFL exam three different times and kept getting 24 points on speaking. Her speaking mentor informed her that she had good control of both her vocabulary and grammar and organized ideas coherently with relevant supporting details. In fact, her TOEFL speaking mentor made a promise to her: “If you can speak more clearly and solve the problems as I have identified in these two pronunciation pre-tests, you will be able to score 26 pts or higher on the speaking section.” Consequently, Jana maintained her motivation and kept practicing all the pinpointed pronunciation exercises addressing her weaknesses. It was tedious, strenuous, and required her to practice more than 79 hours before getting the “Thumbs Up” approval from her iBT speaking specialist. In addition, following more recommendations from her TOEFL speaking mentor, Jana watched 4-5 movies weekly, and she listened to the radio daily. More importantly, Jana found new opportunities to speak English with native speakers. All of the activities together helped her to improve her speaking. Finally, on her fourth attempt, Jana scored 27 points on the speaking section of the exam. Now the TOEFL test and all the preparation that went with it was over, and she could now move on to her next step in life.