By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert
Are you fluent in English? How often have you heard this question? There is a good reason it’s so common. Fluency is one of the most important skills to have as an English speaker. It’s also key to success on your IELTS exam. Fluency means you’re able to produce and understand language quickly. It means you can say what you’re thinking without pausing, repeating, or correcting yourself. To be fluent in English, you need enough vocabulary, grammar, and speaking/writing skills to discuss any topic at any time. Many of my students have studied grammar and vocabulary for years, but this isn’t the problem. They complain that they need more practice actually speaking. They need to improve the speed of connecting what they know to saying it clearly.
The best way to improve speaking fluency is to practice. As you’ve probably experienced in your IELTS preparation journey, there are many ways to practice. This could include joining an English Corner speaking group, taking a speaking preparation class, finding friends or classmates to practice chatting with, or hiring an instructor. These options aren’t always easy to arrange!
One new and effective option my students have been playing with is a self-study technique using the speech-to-text tool in Word documents. There are hundreds of document apps available, but what I suggest for these exercises is just a simple talk-to-text tool. You can find these on any smartphone and on Google. My favourite is the “Dictate” tool on MS Word. Be aware, however, because these tools will often auto-correct your pronunciation. This means if your pronunciation isn’t perfect, it will correct it. So, if you are looking for pronunciation accuracy, you should try a specific pronunciation app.
Ok, so you have your speech-to-text app open – what now? Here are five great exercises to help you practice fluency.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Tongue twisters like this are short fun rhymes that are difficult to say. Grab a tongue-twister book or run a Google search for some [tongue twisters] and read them into your speech-to-text app. Can you produce them accurately? If this is too easy, say them faster! This exercise will really build those fluency skills for difficult sound patterns and phrases.
It's well known that songs help us learn and remember language. It can also be fun and interesting, especially if we like the music. You don’t have to sing, but find the lyrics to a song, and read them into your speech-to-text app. Are you accurate? Can you keep the pace? The music and rhythm of English are all part of improved fluency.
Ted Talks with Captions
For a more advanced challenge, try listening to a Ted Talk on the academic topic of your choice. Pause every 20 seconds and repeat what the presenter says into your app. This can be a real challenge, as some Ted presenters speak quite fast. After a few minutes, replay the video with the subtitles and compare them to your speech-to-text transcript. Are you accurate? Could you keep the pace? This exercise will really challenge you to voice complex academic English fluently.
IELTS Flash Card Blast
Make a few dozen paper cards with common IELTS test questions. It’s easy to find practice questions if you do a Google search. Be sure to get a wide variety of topics and make enough cards so you don’t get bored. After you make the question cards, shuffle them. Next, randomly choose a question card. Speaking into the app, respond to the question with at least three or four sentences. Do this for five minutes without stopping. The final step is to review your text. Check to see if you used effective vocabulary and accurate grammar. You might also look to see if there are lots of repeated words, or filler words like “OK”, “So…”, or “ahhh”. If there are lots of these filler words, you need to improve your fluency.
Two-minute Fluency Challenge
As you probably know, Part 2 of the IELTS test is a two-minute long turn. Similar to the flashcards, find some common topics for the Part 2 test. Randomly select one, give yourself one minute to prepare, and then speak for two minutes into the speech-to-text app. After you’re done, check for accuracy of grammar and vocab. You should also check for word count. A native speaker will say 200 – 260 words in two minutes. How many words did you say? Finally, a fluent speaker is organized and doesn’t repeat ideas. How about you?
Using these techniques and the speech-to-text are a great way to combine fluency practice and the ability to analyze your strengths and weaknesses. For my students, these activities are also a great form of self-study, which were fun and interesting. Using these techniques will keep you motivated and give you that hard-to-practice fluency exercise. Best of luck on test day!