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Oral English Test prep

Oral English Test prepSummer College English ERRC

Two Part ExaminationInterview with your Instructor:

This part is relatively easy. I will ask you questions and you must answer them. The questions will be about you, your course of study, your family or your daily scheduleConversation with your Partner:

This part is more complex. I will introduce you to your conversation partner and you will begin discussing a topic that I have selected for you.

*There is a list of topics at the end of this ppt

Exam Organization

You will be graded on:Your active listening skillsYour transition skillsYour ability to introduce new informationYour ability to seek clarification of misunderstood informationYour ability to use effective communication strategiesYour abilities in conversation repair

Effective EnglishTo speak effectively in another language we need a variety of tools. We will be exploring some of them and suggesting ways in which you can practice and improve using them in English.

Tools for SpeakingConversation is a complex activity, even in our first language, and can cause difficulties for either speaker or listenerWe are going to look at two aspects for speaking.

Aspect #1As a speaker you may not remember the exact word or expression for what you want to say. In this case, you need to adopt one of a set of communication strategies, which involve finding another way of expressing the desired meaning in a different form.

Aspect #2When you are listening, you may not understand - or hear - the speaker, so you have to signal that there is a problem, so that the speaker and you can negotiate a way of resolving it between you. We refer to this as conversational repair

Here is an extract from a Danish students story about an accident, based on a set of pictures:They are carrying a man - in ahm - erm - in a portable bed - the one that the hospitals use to carry people that got an accident - and they're taking him - ah from the road - he was on the road - ok but they have just come because - a man - has called the police - I mean the people in charge of looking after people that have had accidents. (Bygate 1987: 46)

What was the English word he was looking for when he said portable bed? What did he mean by the people in charge of looking after people that have had accidents? Which of the Communication Strategies was he using? The first word the Danish speaker did not manage to remember (or did not know) was stretcher. In both cases he used paraphrase to resolve the problem.The second was paramedics or ambulance crew.

Conversational repairOur next example involved two native speakers of English: A, an American woman visiting Edinburgh, and S, a local resident. A had asked S for advice on where she could go for a bicycle ride.

Firth of Forth

The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland which connects Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh, with the kingdom.

What was the misunderstanding?

A: What about going down by the Firth of Forth? S: That should be fun, shouldn't it? Yes, you could. You can ride right along the edge, you know, without having to keep to the main road. That should be great, actually. You could do that. A: Is it very rough down there, though? S: Well, there are no cobbles as far as I can remember. Have you tried riding on the cobbles? A: No, but I was thinking rather more... rough in terms of the people. S: Oh I see. Well, I don't think so. I don't know. Parts of it are quite poor, particularly the Pilton area. (adapted from Brown and Yule 1983: 93)

What the Scottish woman did was reformulate (rephrase) what she has said, to make her meaning clearer. The Scot understood that the American meant that the road by the Firth of Forth is 'rough' (= uneven to cycle on); in fact, S was asking whether the local people were 'rough' (= unfriendly, aggressive).

Helping your partner out:

It is a common experience that when speaking another language we are aware of greater time pressure than when talking our own language. By the time we have worked out what we wanted to say, the conversation may have moved on, making our comment no longer relevant.

4-3-2: Speaking Under Pressure

Cultural ProblemsWesterners are unwilling to correct international students in informal conversation for social reasons.

In English, if you openly correct someone in informal conversation, you risk being considered arrogant or too aggressive.

Practical Tips for Negative FeedbackOne possibility is: ask the listeners what they thought you said. When we have said something that is not understood, our natural reaction is to repeat or rephrase what we have said, so that the listener can understand us. Asking the person to tell you what it was they thought you said will give you a 'picture' of what your English sounds like to other people. A second tactic for learning from conversation is to listen carefully to what the other people in the conversation say when they are trying to understand a word you have pronounced differently from them.

Conversing Principle: Lines as wholes

Opening: Hi; How are you?; How's it going? Taking a turn: Yes but; Well yes but; Surely... Holding a turn: er; um; anyway; you know; I mean Passing a turn: What do you think?; tag questions Closing: Right; well anyway; so; ok then

TopicsIs torture justified when used for national security?Should cell phones be banned in schools?Is peer pressure harmful or beneficial to individuals?Should violent video games be banned?Should the death penalty be taken away completely?Are beauty pageants a way to objectify women?Should cigarettes be banned from society?Is it unethical to eat meat?Should people live together before they are married?Do celebrities make for bad role models?Are credit cards more harmful than debit cards?


Should school attendance be made voluntary in high school?Is the boarding school system beneficial to children?Are curfews effective in terms of keeping teens out of trouble?Should libraries have a list of books that are banned?Will posting students grades on bulletin boards publicly motivate them to perform better or is it humiliating?Do school uniforms help to improve the learning environment?How far is competition necessary in regards to the learning process?Should the concept of zoos should be nullified?Should fried foods come with a warning?Should sex education be banned?

TopicsShould schools be required to teach arts and music?Is human cloning justified, and should it be allowed?Is pollution a real or fake problem?Should parents not purchase war or destruction type toys for their children?Should animal dissections be banned in schools?Should plastic bags be banned?Are humans too dependent on computers?Are security cameras an invasion of our privacy?Should gay marriages be legalized?Is co-education a good idea?Does money motivates people more than any other factor in the workplace?Is it ethical for companies to market their products to children?Is age an important factor in relationships?