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TOEFL Listening Question Type: Attitude

Attitude questions, like function questions, often deal with information that’s given not just by what the speaker says, but also by how they say it. They will ask you about the speaker’s attitude–that is, what information the speaker’s intonation and word choice give you about the speaker’s feelings and relationship toward the subject s/he’s discussing. Attitude questions may also ask you about feelings that are directly stated or strongly implied, as in the following example from the Official Guide (page 135).  In this conversation, an academic advisor and a student are discussing the student’s job.

Advisor: Well, good. So, bookstore isn’t working out?

Student: Oh, the bookstore’s working out fine. I just, I—this pays almost double what the bookstore does.

Advisor: Oh, wow!

Student: Yeah. Plus credit.

Advisor: Plus credit.

Student: And it’s more hours, which…The bookstore’s—I mean, it’s a decent job and all. Everybody I work with…that part’s great; it’s just…I mean I’m shelving books and kind of hanging out and not doing much else…if it weren’t for the people, it’d be totally boring.

What is the student’s attitude toward the people he currently works with?

A. He finds them boring.

B. He likes them.

C. He is annoyed by them.

D. He does not have much in common with them.

The trick in this question is to keep straight how the student feels about his job and how he feels about his coworkers. Although the job itself is boring, the student describes his coworkers as “great.”

As we see in this example, some attitude questions deal with such simple attitudes as approval/disapproval. Others, however, may deal with more complex relationships like degree of certainty, irony, excitement, and confusion. The best way to practice attitude questions is to listen to as much natural speech as you can and pay attention to how intonation and vocal quality change with the speakers’ moods.

For example, the speaker may imply an attitude of irony or disapproval by exaggerating his or her intonation. If the speaker speaks haltingly (pauses frequently), s/he may be confused or unsure of what s/he is saying. We usually show excitement by becoming very animated, a change that will also be noticeable in the sound of the speaker’s voice. With practice, you will learn to recognize these nonverbal cues and combine them with the words that the speaker uses to understand exactly how the speaker feels.


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