The International English Language Testing System, otherwise known as the IELTS is one of, if not the most popular English proficiency test out there.
As such, it’s a common lesson among university and adult ESL learners who want to live, study, or work abroad.
For the most part, learners can study and prepare for the IELTS with the aid of materials that can be purchased online or in bookstores.
But the speaking section is a different story. Test takers need to be able to practice their speaking skills with someone.
And that makes the speaking section more of a hot item for ESL classes.
However, a lot of teachers have heard of the IELTS and may even be teaching it, but may not know what it’s all about.
Today’s blog is for such teachers—those teaching IELTS Speaking, but not sure how to go about managing the classes.
We’re going to break it down into parts: IELTS Speaking 1, 2, and 3. But first, let’s review.
The IELTS Speaking Test
The IELTS speaking test is an 11-14-minute examination of the proficiency level a speaker has when engaging in verbal interactions using English. Examiners assign performance with a band score that translates to the test taker’s proficiency level. That’s a technical description.
To simplify it, we could say it measures how well a test-taker might be able to function in an English language environment.
As such, we must understand, that the IELTS is not a pass or fail test. Neither is it a test in the traditional sense of the word.
That’s because test-takers need to get specific band scores for specific purposes. It doesn’t mean they pass or fail when they do or don’t get the band score they want.
Helping learners understand this can help them view the IELTS Speaking test differently.
Furthermore, the IELTS test measures more than just grammar.
Many teachers tend to over-emphasize this point.
The IELTS Speaking test, for example, measures fluency, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
Each point is given a weight of 25%. So, grammar is not the end all be all of teaching IELTS Speaking.
Part 1–Questions and Answers
Part 1 is a 4-5 minute question and answer time between the examiner and the test-taker. Here, they will be asked questions about themselves.
Things such as their hometown, free time activities, work, studies, and more may come up. We must remember, that any number of questions could pop up.
So, it would be impossible to go through these questions one by one in an IELTS Speaking training class.
The only way to prepare students for the test is for them to have a solid foundation in English before stepping into the IELTS class.
Students, academics/schools, and teachers must understand this point. The IELTS class is not the place to improve English.
The IELTS class is where people learn strategies for successfully maneuvering the IELTS test. Therefore, if necessary, you may need to suggest the student enrolls in conversation classes as well or before an IELTS Speaking class.
What’s more, there are no right or wrong answers to, “describe your hometown,” or “what you like to do in your free time.”
That’s why we must help learners understand that from the very beginning, the introduction sets the tone for the remainder of the test.
The most important part of the IELTS is not the discussion or the long turn, but the introduction. This is because if a speaker cannot talk freely about things that are familiar to them, much more they will be unable to talk at length about things that are not familiar to them.
So, the IELTS Speaking section is not about having the perfect vocabulary, perfect grammar, or perfect sounds.
It’s about how well you can put it all together, communicate, and be understood. And it begins in Part 1! That’s why a solid foundation in English conversation classes prepares the way for IELTS Speaking training.
Part 2–Long Turn
Part 2 is an opportunity for speakers to demonstrate their ability to speak for a prolonged period of time about a subject familiar to them.
It’s a chance to improve their initial informal band score. I say informal because, after Part 1, the examiner already has a pretty good idea of the band score.
Test-takers may be asked to speak about something such as a book they’ve read recently. The caveat is that they’ll need to include answers to wh-questions. They have 1 minute to prepare to speak for 1-2 minutes.
You can help prepare learners by providing them with note-taking strategies and drills that focus on keywords only.
You can also help learners get a feel for the timing—all the while, providing feedback on grammar points, vocabulary use, pronunciation, and overall cohesion.
But don’t dwell on individual issues only. Focus on whether the overall message the student is expressing is intelligible.
Don’t be nit-picky about every single flaw in their speech—that’s not the point of the IELTS Speaking training class.
Take note of the obvious and repetitive issues and try to get them ironed out. If you point out every single thing they do wrong, you’ll probably end up decreasing their confidence.
Part 3 is a 4-5-minute opportunity to polish and fine-tune the speaker’s informal band score. Here, they may be asked difficult questions they may be hard-pressed to answer.
But that’s okay. What the examiner is looking for is how well the test-taker can manage it.
So, for example, the interviewer may ask, “what effect do you think prolonged exposure to repeatedly stressing news in the media has on the emotional well-being of people?” That might be a pretty tough question to answer, even for a native speaker.
But that’s expected.
The people behind the IELTS know that. What they want to observe is how people respond to such questions.
For example, does the speaker stutter and fumble through a discombobulated response inserting periodic attempts at perfect grammar with highfalutin vocabulary? Or, do they begin their answer with a friendly, “I think that’s a pretty good question, especially these days. Well, in my opinion, …”? I think you can get the idea of which one carries more weight.
So, teaching learners to be natural in their responses can help them tremendously.
And one final point—there are no wrong answers. There are only answers. This is where many test-takers and teachers get distracted.
Examiners do not expect a perfect answer. Plus, how can you possibly prepare for a text bank with thousands of questions?
The only way is to prepare the learner, not prepare answers. An educated answer is not even expected. If the test-taker doesn’t know, they don’t know.
But, how they respond to it is the key.
Some teachers may mistakenly be spending too much time on parts 2 and 3 when they should be helping test-takers master Part 1.
These ideas represent a condensed version of IELTS Speaking teacher training that’s been tested and proven over the years.
If you follow the concepts listed here, you’ll be a leg up on other IELTS Speaking teachers. Not only that, but your students will also appreciate your classes more.
And finally, they’ll have more confidence and possibly less stress, which can lead to higher band scores—the band scores they’re looking for.
So, all in all, this is a win-win way of teaching IELTS Speaking.
Feel free to share your thoughts with us about today’s blog. And if you’ve tried the ideas listed here, tell us how it went. We’d be happy to hear from you.