Take the initiative, how to extend your answers for speaking!…

My tip for today comes from a recent lesson I had for the speaking section, in particular the introductory questions in part 1.  As you know, the common advice most of the course books and teachers give is to avoid short, closed answers. These questions are the ones which ask you some personal details, where do you come from, what is your apartment like, do you have any brothers or sisters etc,

So the idea is to give fuller , more complex answers, not, “yes”, “no”, I come from China”, etc. Now this is something that a lot of candidates have trouble with, especially if they haven’t had any preparation course where the teacher encourages them to speak and gives them guided practice about what and how to answer.

As I tell all my students, this is not an interrogation, the examiner doesn’t really want to know where you live nor about your family. The questions have a purpose, to get you in the mood for speaking, to warm you up as it were. So, as with all the questions, you should view this as an opportunity, not a test, to demonstrate to the examiner just how good your English is. What I recommend to my students is this simple formula, answer, explanation, example. Answer the question, expand on your answer, say a little more, then give an example of what you mean. So, if the question is, do you have any brothers or sisters? I might say: “Yes, I have a brother, a younger brother actually, his name is Martin and he lives in England, so I don’t see him very often these days. We used to be quite close at one time, but as I mentioned, we don’t see each other much as I live in The Czech Republic”. I answer the question, then say a little bit more and expand my answer.

You can try this too, you need three sentences or maybe four, if you get stuck, consider this, the question words: who, what, how, why, when, etc….who are you talking about?, what do they do, what is their relation to you?, how do you know them, or how long, why do you like them, you get the idea.

Also, try to use more descriptive adjectives and adverbs, more emotive language, “it was really great”, it was fantastic”, not it is/was “interesting”. Try to put some enthusiasm into your answers as the interviewer will respond accordingly, don’t forget that a message is conveyed not only by what we say but how we say it. The pronunciation features which give you a quarter of your speaking mark, this means speeding up when something is not important and slowing down and using a nice, bright rising tone when something is interesting.

Anyway, to give another example, the questions my student was answering were about animals. What’s your favourite animal and why? However, she answered with a very general “My favourite animal is the dog, I have a dog, …..etc.

What she could have said was, “yes, actually, my favourite animal is the dog. I have a dog, his name is ,,,, he is a ….., I love him very much, he is such a mischievous dog, he is always getting into trouble, I remember a time when he…..etc.

You see my point? Instead of only giving the bare minimum to the examiner you can take the initiative and show him/her how good your English is. They will not penalise you for this, on the contrary. So, don’t be shy, speak up and blow them away!…..