IELTS Speaking Test Tips: Softening your Language

Tips for the IELTS Speaking Test

Speaking Tips for the IELTS Speaking Test

Softening your Language

Hi there!  Welcome to the first day of IELTS Week here on High Level Listening with Mark, our IELTS Speaking Test expert. Please listen to the audio clips for information about today’s post, the written notes are available below to read as well:

This is the first in a series of posts, and we’re going to be looking at speaking tips you can use in the IELTS Speaking Test.  So we’ll give you a couple of tips on how to sound more natural and more conversational. We’ll also show you how to perfectly match the kind of tone that you need to score higher on the speaking test.  

A lot of students believe that because the IELTS is a formal test that they have to speak in a formal way, but that’s not actually true. The IELTS measures your control over your English language, and part of demonstrating that control is showing that you can change your tone and your register to suit your situation. That means that during the speaking test, you’re supposed to sound like you would if you were in a real conversation or just chatting with someone – not like you’re in a really serious, really academic exam.

One way to change your tone and sound a bit more casual and conversational, is to soften your language.

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For example, you can, absolutely, use contractions like: I can’t, I shouldn’t, I don’t or I won’t. You can also change your intensifiers to sound a bit more natural, so you can use words like ‘really’ or ‘so’ instead of ‘very’. You can also start sentences with ‘Because’ (although you shouldn’t do this in writing). In this post and throughout the rest of the week, you’ll see lots more examples of how to use softer language and more conversational tones to give a much stronger impression of your fluency during the speaking test.

These words and phrases also contribute to your lexical range(your vocabulary) and pronunciation scores.

Those are two categories that the examiner is listening for before they decide your final score.  So if you can do this – if you can speak casually and softly and naturally, you’ll get a better lexical score and hopefully your pronunciation will sound more fluent, and you’ll score better.


  1.  You don’t have to speak formally, but you need to show control over your English.

  2. The IELTS Speaking Test is similar to a real conversation.

  3. You can use contractions, intensifiers and phrasal verbs to soften your language.

IELTS Speaking Test Tips

Using Contractions

Can not = Can’t /  Should not = Shouldn’t / Do not = Don’t 

Using contractions shows your lexical range (your vocabulary), your pronunciation, and control of your language skills all at once.

Native Fluency Features

When you can use native fluency features correctly in the IELTS Speaking Test, you can show the examiner that you can control your English by speaking conversationally and casually, just like a native English speaker.

Try using these words: like, really, so, because

  • like instead of for instance
  • really, so instead of very
  • because instead of it is because

Mark and Kat will now use these ideas: contractions and native fluency features, in naturally spoken English conversation. Listen to the audio clip and follow along in the sentences below:

I like living in London, even though it is really expensive, there are so many awesome things here.

The countryside in Norway is so beautiful. It totally blew me away.

I only buy certain things online, like gadgets and gym equipment, you know, stuff that I don’t need to see in person before I buy it.

Kids could learn about healthy cooking at school, like how easy it is to cook vegetables and why genetically modified food is so different from natural food.

Phrasal Verbs

Using phrasal verbs is something that won’t affect your score negatively – and they are a great way to sound more conversational, while showing your control in casual speaking. Listen to the tone and formality of these two sentences, which one do you think is more appropriate for the speaking test?

Kat: #1 – I met my best friend on the first day of elementary school. She approached me and we had a conversation about our favorite toys and we have been friends ever since.

Kat: #2 – I met my best friend on the first day of elementary school, she came up to me and we chatted about our favorite things. We’ve been best friends ever since.

#1 sounds a little formal right? Kat had a little trouble answering so formally, she found it a little unnatural to speak this way!

#2 felt much more natural for her, it was easy for her to change just a few words to sound much more easy-going.

Mark: #1 – We took our backpacks and paid for a taxi to ascend the big mountain. It took us an hour to reach the Doi Suthep temple. We had to remove our shoes and conceal our shoulders to see the golden pagoda.

#2 – We took our backpacks and paid a taxi to go up the big mountain. It took us an hour to get to the Doi Suthep temple. We had to take off our shoes and cover up our shoulders to see the golden pagoda.

The #2 sentences demonstrate a much more personable, casual and controlled tone – perfect to show off your language skills!

Should I use British English or American English in the IELTS Test?

One question that a lot of students ask is “What accent and spelling should I try to use in the IELTS test?” Great question! You can tell that Kat’s American, so she will probably choose very American phrases or expressions in her answers. This is completely accepted by the IELTS organization, because they accept all forms of native-speaker English.

Fair to all

IELTS treats all test takers with the utmost fairness and respect by actively avoiding cultural bias, and  accepting all standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand English.

-Taken from the official IELTS website

IETLS Speaking Test Tips American and British English


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