This post is part of my ongoing series on the skills measured by the TOEFL and how to practice them:
- TOEFL Reading Practice: New Information and Inferences
- TOEFL Reading Practice: Adding New Information to What You’ve Read
- Everyday TOEFL Listening Practice
- Academic TOEFL Listening Practice
Today, we’ll look at the skills that are measured in TOEFL Speaking. I will show you a number of practical ways to build those skills.
Independent Question Skills
TOEFL Speaking Section Questions 1 and 2 are in the “independent” subsection of TOEFL Speaking. These two questions ask you to create completely new information of your own. The first question measures your ability to talk about something that is personal to you (such as a person, place, or object from your life). The second question measures your ability to offer a personal opinion on a general issue. Here is a typical second Speaking Section question: “When some people visit a city or country for the first time, they prefer to take an organized tour. Other people prefer to explore new places on their own. Which do you prefer, and why?”
The independent speaking questions are conversational in nature. It’s common to talk about your personal life and your personal opinions when you are chatting with a friend. To build this skill, have as many English language conversations as you can. Try to focus your conversations on your personal life and opinions. Ask your conversation partners about their personal lives and opinions too. This is not just good TOEFL practice. It’s also a good way to get to know someone. Native English speaking friends make good conversation partners. So do other ESL students who speak English above the beginner level. You can also practice English conversation at free language exchange sites like MyLanguageExchange.com and The Mixxer.
Integrated Reading/Listening/Speaking Skills
Questions 3 and 4 measure your ability to speak about topics you have both read about and heard about. This task is far more academic than the independent task. Instead of looking for an ordinary conversation partner, find a study partner or tutor to talk to. For discussion materials, find reading passages and listening clips on the same topic. Many news sites have matching videos and reading passages. CNN is especially good for this.
This subsection asks you to identify speaker opinions and connect them to what you read. To find materials for practicing this skill, look for videos where people express their views. Once you’ve found an opinion video, find an article on the topic it references. For an example of how this works, I found this news video where two reporters discuss their opinions of microphones and cameras on public buses. Then I Googled “microphones and cameras on public buses” and found this news article, which is less opinionated. Discuss pairs of videos and articles like this with a study partner. You’ll learn more about the world and build your TOEFL Speaking skills at the same time!
Finding practice materials for integrated listening/speaking is much easier than finding the paired readings and sound clips described above. Here, the TOEFL simply measures your ability to speak about conversations and lectures that you’ve heard. To practice these skills, use the same audio sources I recommended for practicing TOEFL Academic Listening Skills. Discuss these videos with a study partner.
For question 5, there are some additional practice materials you should use. In this question, two speakers propose two different solutions to a problem. You must choose the solution you agree with. This measures your ability to identify and understand different ideas, and form an opinion about which idea is best. To practice this skill, go to Youtube. You’ll find a lot of videos that suggest different ways to solve well-known problems. (Videos on losing weight and overpopulation are particularly common.) Compare the solutions in these videos. Which answers seem the best to you? Discuss this with a study partner.
The activities I’m suggesting are useful on so much more than the TOEFL. This kind of speaking practice gives you fun chances to express yourself, meet new people, and learn new things.