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Improve your IELTS Speaking Skills

Improving your speaking skills in order to perform better on the IELTS test requires first knowing exactly what we mean when we say “IELTS speaking skills.” Once you know which skills the examiner is assessing, you’ll have a better idea of what you should be working to improve.

So, which skills are important in the IELTS speaking test?

During the speaking portion of the IELTS, the examiner will be grading four individual speaking skills:

  • pronunciation
  • lexical resource (vocabulary)
  • grammar
  • fluency and coherence

Learn more about how the IELTS speaking test is marked here.

If you’re limited on time, I would suggest working on the area that is your weakest. Improving a single skill can go a long way in making you a better communicator in spoken English. For example, if your vocabulary isn’t very large, you can make use of good fluency and easy-to-understand pronunciation to communicate your ideas to your listener when your words fail you. Each of these skills support communication in a different way, so improvement in any area contributes to overall improvement in your speaking skills.

Step 1 to Improve Your IELTS Speaking Skills:
Decide What to Focus on

In order to increase your chances of success on the IELTS speaking test, you’ll need to determine which of the skills need improvement.

Is your vocabulary is limited?

If you find that you often have to talk in circles to describe something simple, perhaps you need to work on what the folks at IELTS refer to as “lexical resource.” Speakers with a large vocabulary are better at communication because they can speak with precision to say what they mean. Increasing your vocabulary will not only help you express yourself better, but it will make general comprehension easier as you will be able to rely less on context when making sense of what you read and hear. Remember that vocabulary is more than just words, but can include combinations of words and phrases. To learn more about vocabulary in the IELTS test, read The IELTS Speaking Test: Lexical Resource

Is your grammar shaky?

Give it some attention. This may seem overwhelming, but chances are, you’re familiar with your own challenges. Research has shown that awareness of a particular structural problem in your own language is a sign that your “internal syllabus” is ready to acquire the structure. If you catch yourself mixing up some specific features of English, look them up for clarity because you’re probably ready to acquire them. Revisit the rules to clear up the confusion you have and give it some intentional practice.

Do people seem to misunderstand your words?

If someone thinks you said a word that you didn’t, it might be traced back to your English stress patterns, intonation, or perhaps you need to work on differentiating your vowel sounds. (I’ll never forget the day I heard someone refer to a sloth as a “slut,” which made me gasp and ask them to repeat the word. This speaker could use work on the English “o” in sloth as well as the “th” sound at the end of the word!) If this sounds like a problem you could work on, check out Magoosh’s articles on  how to improve your pronunciation and how this skill factors into the IELTS speaking test.

Do people seem to misunderstand your point or what you were trying to say? 

If it seems like your listeners often misunderstand your point or have a hard time following what you’re trying to say, then you may need to work on your fluency. On the IELTS, this is referred to as fluency and coherence. It’s not just your words, but the speed at which you speak, the way that the things you say seem are connected, and how easily relatable your statements are to the main point of your message. If your listener doesn’t know why you’re saying what you’re saying, then it is probably because it isn’t well connected. Read here to learn more about what fluency and coherence means in the IELTS speaking test.

Remember that understanding what your examiner is looking for is key to knowing how to improve your performance. Use this information to choose your focus as you prepare for your oral interview.

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2 Responses to Improve your IELTS Speaking Skills

  1. Liesl September 13, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    Hello Magoosh geniuses, I am looking for a reliable up-to-date source of vocabulary for IELTS examination (i am a teacher) , specially for the speaking sections. Cambridge exams, for example hav a very helpful list according to level, can i find something like this, or similar? Thanks very much in advance.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

      You can find a good IELTS vocabulary list– maybe the best one– in the “word list” index at the end of Cambridge’s official Vocabulary for IELTS workbook. This book originally came out in 2008, but the IELTS hasn’t changed significantly since then, in terms of vocabulary. I’ve used this book to help a lot of my own students pass the exam, and I cna tell you it’s a pretty solid teacher’s resource.

      The British Council’s IELTS Word Power smartphone app is another good supplement from the official makers of the IELTS, although it’s not exactly print-friendly.

      When it comes to third-party unofficial IELTS vocabulary sources, I like the “vocabulary for IELTS” list over at IELTS Liz. And if I do say so, Magoosh is building up a good set of vocabulary word sets and tutorials on an ongoing basis— watch our IELTS Vocabulary archive. (And we have an IELTS vocabulary flashcard app too!)

      I haven’t seen much in the way of leveled vocabulary for IELTS specifically. But I can tell you that Cambridge, the official maker of the the IELTS, offers a guide to vocabulary by levels, based on the CEFR level framework. CEFR levels can easily be converted to IELTS bands through this handy CEFR to IELTS conversion chart on the British Council website. I haven’t tried this service myself. It seems to be free for teachers, but it requires sign up and subscription. The service is called Cambridge English Vocabulary profile.

      Between all of these resources, you can probably put together a nice leveled vocabulary package for your students. Thanks for dropping by the blog, and best of luck! 🙂

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