Pausing to Think during the IELTS Speaking Test

IELTS Pausing to think, Fillers and Hesitation

Pausing to Think during the IELTS Speaking Test

Using Fillers, Intonation and Linking Words
or What to say when you need a few seconds to think

As teachers and native English speakers, we realize that sometimes our students need a few extra seconds to think about what they want to say, it isn’t easy! Even if you don’t tell or show us, we trust that you’re simply pausing to think and that you’re going to continue speaking. Your IELTS examiner will probably do the same thing, but, especially in the short answers of Part 1, you might worry that they’ll continue before you’ve finished.

Today we’re gonna talk about natural ways to use your words and your voice to let others know that you have more to say in English, even if you pause to think. These techniques are especially useful in the IELTS Speaking Test and other standardized English tests, when the questions can be really difficult.

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were finished.”

The problem is, most people (especially when you’re in a group of English speakers) may think you’re finished speaking, when you’re really just getting started. It can be really frustrating, especially when you needed just an extra second or two… but now the moment’s gone!

Native speakers naturally use their voice (intonation), fillers (uhm… annnnddd…. sooooo…) and linking words to let others know that they are taking a moment to think or that they would like to keep speaking… So… today we’ve got some incredibly useful tips to use with your words AND with your voice to help other English speakers, like your IELTS examiner, understand that you’re going to keep talking.

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Technique #1: I understand, but I need time to think.

The easiest technique that we’ll start with is to use a few fillers when you need a little extra time to think, at the beginning of your sentence.

Here are four of the absolute basics:

  • Well…
  • Okay…
  • So…
  • Hmm… (our go-to word when hesitating or thinking)

They’re great to use instead of a long awkward pause. In general, and in any kind of conversation, these words immediately tell the other person that you understand the question and that you’re thinking about your answer. A long pause makes most people feel uncertain, and they may try to keep talking or may continue on to another question/topic to avoid being awkward!

For the IELTS Speaking Test, a good technique is to repeat the keywords in the question out loud. It isn’t necessary to repeat the entire question, that can be difficult!

Here’s a couple of examples you can listen to: 

Q: How do you think technology has changed education in the last few decades?
A: Hmmokaywelltechnology and education…well, when I was at school we only had a small computer lab which we could use about once a week, but nowadays I see that there are computers or laptops in almost every classroom…

Q: How could the public transportation be improved in your city?
A: Hmmpublic transport in Sao Paulo…well first of all the city should make it cheaper to use. Right now it’s too expensive to take a train to work, that’s why I take the bus instead.

Technique #2: Voice Intonation

Using your voice to go up at the end of a phrase indicates that you intend to continue talking.

A lot of students worry that the examiner is going to cut them off before they can finish their full answer. This is probably more likely in Part 1, where your answers are expected to be shorter and more concise than in Part 2 and Part 3.

To show the examiner that you have more to say, and you just need a second to think about your next sentence, use a rising intonation at the end of your sentences.

Checking out these listening clips to hear the intonation:

How often do you exercise each week?
A: Uhm… exercising each week… well, I’d like to exercise more… , but I just don’t always have the time during the week.

What’s your favorite way to travel?
A: I guess I used to like travelling by bus but…I think I prefer trains and planes now because they go so much faster. And, I can start my vacation right away.

A falling or deepening tone marks the end of a phrase or answer. So naturally, use that at the end of your answer, when you’re finished, and you feel you have nothing more to add. The examiner should pick up on the cue, and ask you the next question.

Technique #3 – Use your Linking Words

Another option is to simply use Linking Words to give yourself a little more time to think and to show the examiner you have more to add. A lot of speakers use both intonation and a linking word to think about what they want to say.
You can hear this technique used in Mark’s answers:

What’s your favorite way to travel?
A: I think I like to travel by car, because…it’s so much easier to get around, and..I can go wherever I like – I don’t have to follow a timetable – I don’t have to follow a schedule, and I can go to places that are off the beaten track so…cars are my favourite way to travel.

How often do you exercise?
A: I used to go to the gym about twice a week, but since I started my new job, uh, I don’t really have time so… I just go jogging a couple of times a week.

Now remember, Kat and Mark are native speakers, so there are only small pauses in their recordings… but the fillers, linking words and intonation will help give you a second or two to pause to give you the important time that you need to finish speaking!

So these are the basic tips and tricks you can use with any Part 1, 2 or 3 question as well as in any conversation with English speakers. So now you know how to buy yourself a little extra time, sound more casual, and show that you have more to say!

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