Two days ago, I got a letter from a student of mine. She recently took the IELTS exam and got 8.0 in speaking with an overall score of 7.5. This is a fantastic speaking mark for a student from Vietnam, as Vietnamese students often have problems with the speaking part. In her letter, she told me that she really appreciated my tip:
Now, by natural, I do not mean too informal or too relaxed. You need to understand the exam very well, be prepared, and know how to score well in all areas: Fluency and Cohesion, Vocabulary, Grammar and Pronunciation.
I taught this student in Vietnam for one IELTS course and then she took another course with another teacher. I worked with her in many areas of her speaking, including my special pronunciation course which helps students produce natural sounding stress and intonation patterns. Her new teacher also taught many valuable lessons and at one point she sent me a message with this question:
She said: 'I have learned that I can increase my score by adding set phrases such as:
"I believe that I should kick off with the point that...."
Should I include these phrases? I do not always feel comfortable with them'
My advice was:
Be natural. Do not try and use phrases that you have not practiced many times. IELTS examiners are trained to recognize when students memorize a part of their answer. If an IELTS examiner thinks you have memorized some phrases, the words in those phrases do not count in your grammar and vocabulary score.
Also, if you are not really comfortable with any expression, you may say it at the wrong time or in the wrong way and your speaking will not seem natural.
In summary, it is GREAT to use idioms, informal language or colloquial expressions. However, you should use the ones you are really familiar with and try to use them in context (at the right time, in the right situation). You should also be sure that you can say them with proper stress, intonation and pronunciation.
Have a great day and practice speaking today