Expert Advice for OET Speaking: Maintaining fluency

When entering the examination room, it is natural to start feeling nervous. Even the most proficient of speakers need time to settle-down, focus and relax before being able to show the true extent of their abilities in a foreign language. The OET exam is more generous than other exams in that it allows speakers a two-minute, unassessed warm-up before the exam proper begins, but it can still be challenging to keep those nerves under control.

What this can lead to is slow, hesitant, uncertain speech, lots of pauses, lots of “errrs”, as we mentally search for the exact word, the exact expression, to avoid making any mistakes. While this can be good for our scores in relation to resources of grammar and expression, it can cause real problems in terms of achieving a high score in fluency, so here are some tips to reflect on how we can maintain our fluency while producing accurate language.

Here is our 4-expert pieces of advice for your OET speaking exam and how to maintain fluency:

1. Don’t Obsess over “small errors”

Slow speech, even if accurate, is speech which lacks fluency, and speech which lacks fluency comes across as unconfident and is difficult to listen to. It is much better to aim to speak at a natural pace at the risk of making grammatical errors than to slow your speech to a point where it is no longer fluent. Imagine this situation: you’re at a reception desk and you ask the receptionist where the bathroom is:[Text Wrapping Break]He replies: “It’s errrrrrrr…. down, errrrrrr, the corridor, and ummmm, on your, errrr left.”

The effect on the listener is going to be poor. It seems clear that, despite not making any grammatical errors, the speaker is not confident in using English.

Now imagine you ask the same question but the response is so:

“It’s down the corridor and at your left.”

Now the first response was more accurate but it was painfully lacking in fluency. The second response, despite the prepositional error (“at” instead of “on”), was much more fluent and would leave a much better impression on the listener. Overall, it’s much better to risk making these small errors than to slow your speech down to the point where you are not able to show the fundamental and vital skill of fluency.

2.Self-correct (sometimes!)

One way in which we can address accuracy errors while maintaining fluency is via self-correction. So, from the example above, let’s imagine a third situation in which the receptionist’s response to the bathroom query is:

“It’s down the corridor and at, sorry, I mean on your left.”

Now, the speaker has spoken at a natural, fluent pace and, in self-correcting his mistake, he has demonstrated the ability to recognise and polish his own spoken language. This is an important skill which you will be credited for in the exam and which can help to maintain both fluency and accuracy. It is important not to overuse this technique, however, as using it too often starts to make your speech come across as unnatural. After all, no one wants to hear someone self-correcting every time they speak, but, used appropriately, this can be an effective way of balancing your focus on the two skills.

3. Use discourse-markers

An important way of demonstrating fluency is by being able to use common speech expressions appropriately. Discourse markers are particularly important and useful for speaking because they help us to connect, organise and manage what we say as well as helping us to show our attitude to a particular idea or course of action. Discourse markers improve fluency because they make our speech clearer, more natural and more accessible to the listener. Let’s look at example of an utterance without any discourse markers:

A patient has asked their doctor whether she recommends surgery. The doctor responds:

“Yes, I recommend that you have surgery. It will take a long time to recover.”

Now, the content here is pretty clear, but the response seems strange. It comes across as somehow robotic, we’re not sure exactly what the purpose of the second idea is. Is it contradicting the first or just informing the patient as to what the likely effect of surgery will be? Now, imagine this response instead (examples of discourse markers are underlined):

“Well, yes, surgery is my recommended option, however, do bear in mind that there will very likely be an extended recovery time.”

This second example is much better in the sense that we can clearly see the connection between the first idea and the second idea (in this case it is a contradiction;the patient will have to balance the costs and benefits), it also helps to express the doctor’s own view or attitude in the use of the phrase “very likely”. Using these relatively simple phrases in our speech can help us come across as much more relatable and fluent when it comes to the exam.

4. Take control of the pause

Speaking fluently doesn’t mean never pausing, rather, it means pausing at the right times. There will be moments when it makes sense to pause, to allow your listener to take in certain information or to help to emphasise a particularly important piece of information. A listener can easily detect the difference between a purposeless pause, such as with the bathroom example earlier and purposeful one which is designed to aid communication. The less you do of the former, the more effective will be your use of the latter.

Hopefully this was helpful for you today and please practice these tips as part of your preparation for your OET exam. That’s why as a BONUS for this blog post, we are giving you a FREE practice questionnaire where you can apply these tips that we have just given you. Click here to download the practice test!

If you’re planning to take the OET exam, we’ve got live group classes, speaking mock exam classes, video courses and writing corrections as part of our OET packages. You can click here to learn more: Swoosh English OET Courses

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