IELTS Speaking: Formal or Informal?

Formally Speaking

One of the things that surprised me when I started teaching in Asia was how many formal phrases some students used.

Phrases like ‘In my opinion….’ and ‘In modern life…’ seemed to be contained in every sentence and I heard ‘moreover’ more times in my first class than I had in my entire life.

This is not a criticism of the students- they can only use what they have been taught- but more a criticism of how they have been taught. Every course book contains phrases like ‘in addition’ and ‘incidentally’ and these are an important part of learning English, but they are rarely used in plain spoken English and used more for formal or academic writing. They are fine to use in the Writing Test, but are not really suitable for the Speaking test.

Using Them in the Speaking Test

The IELTS Speaking test is supposed to represent a normal conversation between two people and you should therefore not use overly formal language. You can’t use slang or anything too informal either, just plain spoken English. Listen to how native speakers of equal status talk to each other; you will very rarely hear them use anything too formal.

Some students believe that using the phrases on the left hand column below will impress the examiner, but you would be wrong. It just tells the examiner that you have an overly formulaic approach to speaking and you  have not been exposed to how native speakers actually talk. In other words, you are not going to get one of the higher band scores using them too much.

IELTS Speaking Marking Criteria

Under the heading ‘Fluency and Coherence’ of the official IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors it states that a Band 5.0 answers ‘may over-use certain connectives and discourse markers‘. This refers to a person who overuses the formal phrases below. Getting a Band 5.0 in one of the four marking criteria makes it nearly impossible to get a good overall mark.

I have had many good IELTS students come to my class with excellent grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, but when asked to talk they seem to use formal phrases in every sentence and this is the main reason they failed to get a good score.

How Can I Avoid This?

I have made the table below to help you. The phrases on the left side are too formal for the Speaking test and the phrases on the right should be used instead.

If you have any more phrases that you think might be too formal put them in the comments below and I will update the table with them. You can also send me a message on Facebook.

It is said that…. People say that….
It is agreed that…. I agree….
It is necessary for me to…. I’ve got to…..
In my opinion…. I think…
In my view… I guess….
There is much… There is lots of….
Whilst While
Moreover… As well as that….
In addition… What’s more….
Additionally… Another thing is….
In consequence…. So…
Therefore… So….
Hence… So….
In conclusion… All in all…
Firstly…. To begin with…
Thereafter… After that….
However… Still….
Nevertheless…. Mind you….
Incidentally…. By the way….
Regarding…. As for….
On the other hand…. While…..
It is true…. Of course….
In modern life… These days…..
Nowadays… Today…
As a matter of fact…. Actually….

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Comments:

19 Comments

  1. Kevin Dunn says

    Accent is important especially if it has an impact on comprehension for the examiner. Just be sure that your accent is not so heavy/think that it makes understanding unclear.

  2. Kevin Dunn says

    Believe me, nothing wrong with slang in the IELTS test folks. Slang is a normal part of speech. In fact, it will help you get a higher score – it’s part of what examiners consider ‘uncommon language’. Just don’t use swear words out of politeness sake.

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