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Tips for speaking tests and contests (pt 2)
[ 2008-12-18 16:12 ]

At the start of the year I tried to givea few suggestions regarding speaking in particular as it related to the topic of the environment. In this article I would like to go into more depth regarding speaking tests as many colleges and schools will be conducting them in the lead up to the Spring Festival.

To begin, remember it is about your oral English, so ideally your performance and ability is the same whether live or recorded. These days many departments require a digital recording so your spoken English can be tested by several examiners after the event. This means that your old excuse of "that examiner didn't like me" is not valid. Often several people will listen to your speaking test so accept your score and be responsible for your success or failure.

Also, what this means is - if you are a young lady, or young Romeo and hoping to get a few extra points by wearing a short dress, tight t-shirt, putting on mountains of makeup or buckets of perfume or cologne – this strategy may not work. Actually I know some foreign teachers who immediately mark less when they think a student is trying to trick them with "eye candy" or "nasal stimulation". Ideally just dress smart, no need to try and be sexy or debonair but on the same note, make sure you wash and in particular – brush your teeth.

This last point is of extreme importance. I remember being in a staffroom once and laowais complaining that during many speaking tests their candidates had just eaten, often fish or onions or some other strong smelling food like baozi with jiu rou and spring onion filling and when they opened their mouths this wind that could knock leaves off of trees was released, like something from the film, "The Fantastic Four". This creates unease with an examiner so a good idea is to brush your teeth before a speaking test and don't eat anything until after.

Another factor to consider in any speaking test situation is that there is no need to be excessively polite. Speak when spoken to but don't be too over-active the moment you walk in the room like some wild bull let loose in the rodeo ring. Also bowing to the examiner as if you are a Japanese geisha, refusing to sit until the examiner sits, handing over a piece of identification or other material with two hands like in some formal award ceremony – this isn't necessary and has no direct correlation towards your score.

A speaking test is a measurement of your ability to answer and speak on a set of questions and topics – that's all. It has nothing to do with how much face you give or how much pigu you kiss.

Until you are asked a question you don't need to speak. Trying to talk about the weather, the number of students who the examiner has tested before you or commenting on whether or not the examiner is tired and wants to go to bed will not really help you. It's business! There are this many tests taking place in this amount of time. Get serious and adopt the right attitude. Think of the examiner as a policeman, neither friend nor foe rather merely a robot in the room who absorbs your spoken English.

It's all about time and doing your best in the time allowed. Usually a speaking test is limited, some are often a few minutes, some are five, if you are lucky you will get more than ten but as soon as you get the question get to work, try and keep talking until the examiner says stop or changes the topic.

Don't stammer and uhmm and ahhh and "hmm yes well that's a good question – let me think about that for awhile", or look off out the window as though you have just seen a flying pig cruise past. Talk, speak, use the time, blabber, and don't whatever you do, give a one word answer that forces the examiner to have to speak, think and ask another question. From what I know most examiners just want to sit back and listen, and soak up your language level.

I know some examiners who prefer to look away or even close their eyes so they can concentrate better on the actual English being spoken, and if this happens to you, it's ok. It doesn't mean they hate you or think you are nan kan, you also can look away and talk to the wall, it isn't really that important – what is important is the language and grammar and pronunciation and rhythm and tone coming from your mouth.

One issue is that for many candidates they are not familiar talking to a Laowai and just looking at one so close makes them lose their concentration, turns their mouth dry or makes their hand shake and knees go weak. So if you are one – just look away, and talk to some object behind them or to a piece of skin on their ear. Keep your cool and stay in control.

Remember it is all about your language so just keep talking as much as possible and really do your best to showcase your level. Push your language to the limit. Just like Super Voice Girl where the contestant had one song to show their beautiful voice, the speaking test is your chance to show your great spoken English.

Now if you are one of those people who gets extremely nervous before a speaking test – ask yourself the question, is it because I am not confident in my ability because I haven't prepared as much as I should have? If you have done the hard work, there is no need to be nervous. Just be yourself and jiayou!

Practice makes perfect and with time you will learn to enjoy any challenge that makes you a little nervous. Actually as life progresses you will start actively looking for opportunities to test yourself. So roll up your sleeves and take a deep breath. And as my father used to say, "Son it's not about whether you win or lose – it's about how you play the game". And speaking from the heart about what you are passionate about and about what you believe in is as a good a strategy as any for getting someone to sit up, take note and listen.



About the author:

Tips for speaking tests and contests (pt 2)

About the author: Brendan has taught at universities, high schools and primary schools in Japan,the UK, Australia and China. He is a Qualified Education Agent Counsellor and has extensive experience with International English Language Examinations. In the field of writing Brendan has been published in The Bangkok Post, The Taipei Times, Inflight magazines and the Asia News Network. He can be contacted at brendanjohnworrell@hotmail.com.


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